Monday, August 12, 2013

Teams must have individuals, too

My neighbor Paul Doherty wrote the following sestina after reading my book Goal Play!, which has lot to say about the kind of leadership that promotes effective teams. He noted:

I enjoyed reading your book.  I find it interesting to compare children's sports these days--and I coached youth baseball here in Newton for a dozen or so years--with my own growing up experience.

Before I turn to Paul's poem, I also want to relate a comment I received from a distinguished and thoughtful clinician, in response to my blog post below:

Interesting. I think the profession has bent over backwards to focus on systems contributors in a way of fostering more error reporting, less blame, and greater participation. When I make a mistake it is satisfying to identify systems issues, but ultimately I made the mistake and my skill set must learn to think about that when making decisions. 

I think the two are related in a way, and am honored that Paul has allowed me permission to print his piece here:


On late spring afternoons, after school and on into the summer,
my friends and I would show up at the schoolyard to play
baseball. Two of the older players, thirteens, would buck up
sides, and the game would begin on that improvised field,
flat rocks or folded jackets for bases, a friction taped ball sometimes
often a taped bat too. Four or five players on each team.

None of us in those days played for a real team;
Little League did not exist that distant summer.
So this was it, and I ask myself sometimes
if any of us could imagine that kids like us might play
some future time on a green and fenced-in baseball field,
parents cheering in the stands, umpires barking “Fair ball,” and “Batter up."

It was our self-asserting captain who decided who was up
when and who would play what position on his chosen team.
Big kids pitched and played short, lesser kids were in the field--
“the daisies” we called it--all that spring and summer,
though if you kept showing up day after day to play,
you might just get to pitch a little sometimes.

When I recall our games as I do more than sometimes,
in my mind what again and again keeps turning up
is just how little time we’d spend in actual play
and how much time we’d spend in arguing--which team
should bat first, fair or foul, safe or out--all summer.
Endless negotiating at that makeshift field.

No grownups ever visited our quarrelsome field
or indicated any interest in our games, not even sometimes.
Most men were away at war--it ended in August that summer--
and no one, in Arlington at least, had yet thought up
the notion, now de rigeur, that parents ought to coach the team
their kid is playing on on. No, we were unorganized in our play.

More than a little ironic even to call it “play,”
for we were clever little Hobbesians at Brackett field.
We learned to fight our battles on our own, not as a team.
We learned to assert sometimes, and to hold back sometimes.
We learned that when our case was lost to just shut up
and live to fight another day that summer.

We learned life lessons at Brackett field that wartime summer,
dark values, but as important, I’ve come to believe, for our growing up
as those nobler ones about sportsmanship and team play we hear sometimes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post fits what I am reading now, "The instrumental value of medical leadership" by Harward's Rich Bohmer. A quote you will like from that publication: "if clinical front-line staff decide they do not want to make changes then no one outside the healthcare system can be powerful or clever enough to make them do so (Berwick 1994). I am an MBA candidate from Kellogg and Prof Bob Duncan taught everything of you and now I am religiously following your blog. You are phenomenal and inspiring. Marco Fisichella, MD