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A Great Year to Study Leadership


Teaching leadership is a vital component of our Pinkman Baseball Academy program. It's important because when we walk onto the field of play the game offers us a choice: to become a leader or a follower. If we don't make that decision on our own, someone will very quickly make it for us.

I think we all understand that everyone doesn't have to be a leader. Many young people avoid leadership for any number of reasons. My personal feeling is that no one gives them the opportunity; no one teaches them how. On the other hand many children are thrust into leadership with no training and for no apparent reason other than they're talented, good looking, big, or the child of the coach.

Baseball coach and runner

I'll be the first to admit that the broad percentage of sports programs fail this responsibility. There are, of course, outstanding programs that teach leadership and instill athletic values on the field which build off-the-field leaders. But in my experience it's rare and not a priority.

Parental Fear

As the father of three grown children and seven grandchildren, I believe one of the biggest fears parents have is the inability to choose our children's friends. Oh, we try to pick the best neighborhoods, the best schools, the best organized activities, but in the end they really choose their own friends. It's risky, it's a gamble, it's nerve-racking! So far we have survived, and with some modesty, succeeded. (But like you, we are ever vigilant)

This presents our biggest challenge. As a teacher I have observed that students often have difficulty identifying a good person who is a bad leader.

As hard as we try to escape the leadership debate in this political season, we are presented with an election saturated and with numerous examples of poor leadership and public behavior in that role. Therefore it should be even more important to us as parents and coaches to first acknowledge and use sports as an opportunity to teach leadership skills and the positive aspects of becoming a leader.

Begin with simple ones like truth, expertise, and accountability. It will be easy for those impressionable youths who are inclined to leadership to mimic leadership as what they see demonstrated in the political world, where they are presented with the abundance of bad role models. It is necessary to confront those values 'de jour' with your common sense and mature values. Likewise, while becoming a leader may not be important to some, teaching positive leadership skills and values to follow is an important parental/coach responsibility.

Defining leadership 

In our program we define a leader as a person with a vision - one who crystallizes the vision into reality and then communicates it to others. When others take action on that idea or vision they become followers. A leader must have followers.

Recently I've noticed other definitions of leadership involving the word influence; "A leader is one who has the influence over a group of people." It's always in the context of an adult conversation. The word influence has a broad interpretation; even for adults. Youth sports has a problem when adults use their adult context to try to relate to the child or the youth experience. That goes for teaching players how to throw a pitch or teaching them life skills. We lose them when the conversation is way beyond their ability to conceive, achieve or to expect successful results.

One of the bizarre facets of the definition of leadership is that it does not include the concept of morality. An honorable person could be a horrible leader and an evil person could be an excellent leader. It's been our experience that this confuses young men and women. They associate all good people as good leaders and all bad people as bad leaders. They also confuse role models as leaders.

Living in the Washington metropolitan area, leadership may even be more confusing to our youth. It's confusing because of the display of political leadership presented by Congress contrasted with the tens of thousands of individuals they do not see who provide excellent governmental leadership and service to our country on a daily basis. In our local case, our neighbors.

The nightly news reveals to them leadership discussions that have devolved into bar-room slang with an accompanying lack of intellectual comment based on facts. The truth doesn't seem to matter. Re-organizing the truth, and flat out lying is considered to be artful. Surgically carving someone else's statements to render the original statement completely false is not positive leadership; it lacks integrity. Few are held accountable for the truth. Sadly, many rally around absolute distortions and blatant lies. I refuse to accept it as "normal politics".

it is important for teachers (parents, coaches, educators) to actively incorporate leadership skills in their students' lesson plans/practices. In our experience athletic leadership is the most viable, visceral, and visual example of leadership that many students witness. As I ride to work each day I merely have to turn on the sports news and find numerous examples of corrupt, failed leadership in sports. It provides me with an easy one-hour class lesson. Frankly, unless someone is try to sell something, we are seldom presented with positive examples of leadership in the sports world.

Observe Positive Leadership

We must present examples of positive leaders with integrity and the values we want to instill in our children. The athletic field provides players with the opportunity to learn and test those values. Of course they may occasionally fail. But there is always an opportunity to come back tomorrow and try to improve; just as we would expect them to with their individual sports skill.

Leadership is not a talent, it is not a birthright; it is a skill that can be developed. It is not solely for the biggest and most successful, the prettiest or most handsome, or the child of another leader. We understand that not everyone chooses to become a leader. However, it is vital that players and students understand and recognize excellent leadership in order to follow positive people.

I would invite you to have frequent discussions with your players and children this year during this presidential election year. Set aside personal political agendas (that's hard) and discuss the details of leadership.

Cultural Change

The concept of positive leadership for change can get muddled in the process of personal politics and winning an election. So, too, can a coach who is solely focused on winning or the teacher solely focused on grades. There is a distinct and identifiable difference between a self-centered politician and a statesman. The same is true for a self-centered ‘my way or the highway' coach versus a skilled instructor whose focus is on developing the total athlete.

I've always found a quote from the movie "The American President" valuable: "There are leaders who have no intention of providing solutions to our problems. They simply want to make you afraid of them and find someone to blame for them."

Anyone can restate the problem. Successful, respected leadership, whether in sports or on the national level, depends on successful results. Results that benefit the country as well as building the team. Results that uplift everyone.

Since 1982 John Pinkman has conducted countless coaching clinics for all levels of the baseball experience. Coach Pinkman is a nationally recognized teaching professional, journalist, and legal consultant on catastrophic baseball injuries. In 1992 he founded Pinkman Baseball in Reston, Virginia, now the oldest baseball academy in Northern Virginia. After their careers as NCAA Division I pitchers, his son's Jeff and Pat joined the family business.

John is a pioneer in teaching technologies and video analysis. He is the founder of the annual College Pitching Coach of the Year Award and the Tom House Teaching Professional of the Year Award. He also conducts the popular Pitching Hot Stove session, which draws 400 committed pitching coaches during the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention. For over a decade he has chosen the Best in Show products at baseball's largest trade expo.

Pinkman Baseball has helped launch the careers of over 250 young men to move on to college baseball. Currently #1 MLB collegiate prospect in United States is a Pinkman student and has been since he was eight years old