What Leaders Can Learn from the Pittsburgh Pirates

Published: Apr 10, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Bill Treasurer

The quickest way to turn a 51-year-old man into a 10-year-old boy is to bring up baseball. And that’s exactly what happened when I received a call from Kyle Stark, the assistant general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. At the request of Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, I was invited to spend two days at Pirate City, their spring training camp in Florida. My new book, Leaders Open Doors, had resonated with Clint, and he had purchased copies for his coaching staff.

Spending two days at spring training was a big departure from my “real” job. For two decades, I have been designing, developing, and delivering leadership and succession programs for corporate clients. They’ve taught me a lot about leadership and performance over the years. But not as much as I learned during two days at spring training. Here are some lessons and drills that you can take to be a stronger leader or player on and off the field.

Bring Your Values to Work: To start the day, the coaches gather the players and discuss one of the key values that everyone is expected to embody. After the game, the first thing the team reviews is how well they lived their own values. “Relentless” was the camp focus during my stay. All the values come together toward one common purpose: Build a consistent championship organization.

Conditioning Drill: List the values you aim to embody. Start and end your day by intensely focusing on one value. Rate yourself each day by how well you live your values. Do better each day.

Embrace Hardship: After 31 spring training games, the team will play 162 games in 180 days. The schedule is unrelenting. Rather than bellyache, the coaches highlight the character lessons that are gleaned from “embracing the suck” – accepting and working through hardship, instead of skirting it. As said on one of the locker room posters, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Conditioning Drill: Stop using the word “problem” and replace it with “opportunity.” Identify the biggest challenge you’re facing at this moment and list the character lessons you’re learning as a result.

Get Mental: Performance pressure is intense in baseball, and the #1 cause of choking. The Pirates may be the only team with a “Mental Conditioning” coach. His sole job is to build player’s mental toughness, resilience, and agility. After a weak pitch, for example, pitchers learn to “reset” by kicking dirt off the pitching mound to symbolize creating a clean slate so they can focus on the next pitch. As one coach said, “Better to throw the wrong pitch with conviction than the right pitch with doubt.”
Conditioning Drill: The next time you make a mistake, reset your mind by doing something to symbolically clean the slate – for example, wipe your feet in a patch of grass. 

Control What You Can: Even the best bookies can’t predict at the start of the year which team will ultimately win at the end of the year. A lot of variables are beyond the team’s control, most notably the weather and injuries. Great teams focus on the things they can control. How hard the team works is one of those things.

Conditioning Drill: Review your current goals. For each goal, list the specific actions you can take that aren’t influenced by outside factors. In other words, know what you can control and control it.

Remember to Play: Faced with such a grueling schedule, players become in danger of losing their love for the game. Coaches make sure the players have fun. After all, it was the playful fun that drew the players to the game in the first place. Keeping the locker room atmosphere full of pranks, joking, and good-natured ribbing provides much needed stress relief. 

Conditioning Drill: Dust off your old baseball glove and go play catch with a kid!

About the Author(s)

Bill Treasurer  is the chief encouragement officer of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company. His newest book, Leaders Open Doors, became the #1 bestselling leadership book on Amazon.com. Of the book’s royalties,100% is being donated to charities that support children with special needs. Learn more at www.leadersopendoors.com and www.couragebuilding.com.