A Lesson from the Mound

It was during the 2017 World Series, and it was a familiar scene – the pitcher was in trouble. I’m not sure now looking back who the pitcher was, or whether he was pitching for the Astros or the Dodgers. But I remember the tension had been building after too many bad throws. It was the moment when everyone was wondering if his time in the game was up.

Then the coach appeared, out of the dugout and striding toward the pitcher’s mound. It wasn’t clear at that moment if he was going to take the pitcher out of the game. I remember the commentator betting that the pitcher would stay, and that the coach’s trip to the mound was simply to “re-set the pitcher’s brain”.

He was right. The pitcher did stay in the game, and proceeded to throw some great pitches, retiring the inning with no runs. What happened during the coach’s trip to the mound? What was the commentator referring to when he said that the purpose of the visit was to “re-set” the pitcher’s brain?

Let’s go back to the pitcher’s series of bad throws. This is a common challenge we all experience, while it may be especially visible with athletes. It happens when, for a myriad of reasons, we find ourselves not performing at our best. Perhaps a situation or decision has not gone well, or as we expected. Or we find ourselves uncharacteristically frustrated and reactive. This has obvious implications for those in leadership roles. In those moments, what can we learn from the coach’s strategy to get ourselves back on track? As it turns out, we can duplicate this strategy by following this simple sequence:

Interrupt the Pattern. The visit from the coach forced the pitcher to stop what he was doing and pay attention in a different way. It also signaled an “ending” for the pattern of activity that had been going on.

Get Fresh Input. In this case the coach and the catcher engaged the pitcher in some exchange, presumably to assess the situation and determine where to go from there, and to serve as an energy boost for the pitcher should he continue in the game.

Pause Before Resuming. The pitcher had a few seconds to settle in while the coach returned to the dugout. These few seconds allowed him time to solidify the new direction before his next pitch.

Try it out for yourself. And if you’d like to share your experience, or learn more about how to implement such a strategy, I’d love to hear from you.