Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rookie Nerves

The 2013 baseball World Series (Snopes article HERE regarding the origin of the name.) begins tonight between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. The teams seem to be pretty evenly matched and it should be an entertaining series. (A great series if the Cards win!!)

One of the remarkable aspects of this matchup is the youth of many of the Cardinals key players. Two years ago Michael Wacha was pitching for Texas A&M. Tomorrow night he'll start in Game 2 of the World Series. He's 22 years old, and has played just 18 major league games, and now he's an ace pitcher in the World Series.

But Wacha isn't the only youngster on the team. The Cardinals have 6 rookie pitchers of the 12 on their playoff roster. (This article provides a good summary.)

On any given night Carlos Martinez will relieve Wacha. Martinez is 23 and just made his major league debut in May. Oh, and his fastball sits above 95mph occasionally touching 100mph. In September Kevin Rosenthal made the move to closer. He's also just 23 and still classified as a rookie by MLB. Oh, and his fastball will also top 100 mph from time to time.

It's risky to trust such youth with such great responsibilities during the baseball playoffs. Particularly during  playoffs when scores are low and runs are so hard to get, one disastrous performance or a key mistake by a novice could cost the team the series. Fans undoubtedly feel more relaxed when veteran star Adam Wainwright takes the mound. He's done this before. There's a sense that we know what quality of performance to expect. Or when the King of October, Carlos Beltran, comes to the plate fans expect that somehow he's going to find a way to score a run. That's his track record, big hits in big situations.

But when a rookie pitcher takes the mound more questions than confidence fill the air. Will the moment be too big for him? Have opposing batters figured him out? Has his luck run out? Can his nerves handle this situation? How will he respond if he gets off to a rough start? And when he hands off to a rookie reliever, and another, and another... Those nervous questions become amplified.

But look where the Cardinals faith in their rookies has gotten them.

Many times in life, and in our churches, we fail to trust the rookies. Most church leadership teams are made up of veterans aged 50+. That's not a problem. Their experience provides a valuable asset. The challenge they face is to give the rookies responsibilities. So often we want to avoid failure at all costs, so we go with the "reliable" option.

Good leadership isn't just about achieving reliable outcomes. Good leadership also involves realising the potential of those they lead. Healthy leadership creates an environment where rookies can "fail forward". (For additional reading try this overview of John Maxwell's book "Failing Forward".)

It's interesting how quickly we'll grant grace to Michael Wacha if he fails miserably in Game 2 of the World Series. Fans and teammates will say things like, "Hopefully he learned from this experience," or "He'll be better next year." Yet around the church we might hear, "That was a disaster, we need to do something different next year." or "Who can we get to run it differently next time?"

The big difference in sports is that when a player fails to meet expectations, all sorts of coaches will encourage and advise him. If the player listens and commits to appropriate training habits there's every reasonable expectation that he'll improve.

When someone fails at church or another area of our lives, do we surround them with coaching and encouragement? Or do we just criticise or turn our attention to the next rookie or to the reliable veteran?

Jesus took a risk with 12 rookies. He surrounded them with encouragement and coaching. One couldn't get on the same page as his coach and lobbied for his removal, but the other 11 turned the world upside down.  Who are you coaching?

Here's a couple of videos on failure featuring none other than the great Michael Jordan. The first is a commercial by Nike. The second reflects on his foray into baseball.

No comments:

Post a Comment