Monday, January 5, 2015

Lessons from the Pickleball Court

"Everything rises and falls on leadership." ~ John C. Maxwell

I believe that this past weekend I was able to see John C Maxwell’s quote in action and gained some valuable leadership and management techniques in action.  Was I in at a business conference?  Was I in a classroom?  Was I reading a book on this subject?  No, I was deeply engaged on the Pickleball court.  Who would have thought?
OK, I guess that I should briefly explain this game.  The basics, as listed on the official US Pickleball website (
1.       A fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
2.       Played both indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net.
3.       Played with a paddle and a plastic ball.

Looks simple enough, so where are the lessons?  Below are some of the tenants of leadership and management as reference points:
1.      Vision: A leader has vision.  In this case, one of the guys in one of my groups of friends was looking for an activity that we could all participate in.  He took the initiative to make this happen.
2.    Gathering followers: A leader knows his audience and has the ability to talk up the idea to likeminded people.  In this case, Jewish men over 50 that no longer know what running is.

3.  Vetting Process / Research & Development: It is always good to test any product before bringing it to the market place, to ensure that the correct materials are available and that there is a demand.  The leader, in this case, set up a prototype, a game with a limited number of participants and a court that he was able to MacGyver together.
4.  Communication: This is where the leaders spreads the word, gathers support and gains followers.  As if this was one of Nathan Detroit’s floating crap games, the leader covertly tells everyone in our group where and when we will be meeting.  On the court, communication between players must exist, usually consisting of lots of “oys”, grunts and prayers that no one gets hurts.
5.    Teams: A team has two participants, where the players must work together towards a common goal of minimizing movement, while attempting to beat the other team.
6.    Know your limitation: All members of a team should know their strengths and weaknesses.  When certain body parts, that are usually silent, make a loud popping sound, you are finished.  Fortunately, only one man went down from a pulled muscle, but he did fall like a seasoned professional and confirmed he is allowed to come out to play with us next time.
7.     Help out team members: If someone has troubles, all of the group should support in times of need.  Our fallen man had good support, help and advice in his time of trouble – “Sit down and rest”, “You should walk it off”, “Get back up, you’ll be OK”, “Put ice on it”, “Don’t put ice on it”, “You should not ride the bike tomorrow”, “At least he didn’t break anything”…
8.      Barriers to success: It is inevitable that something will come up to derail our combined objectives.  In this case, flat balls with no bounce.
9.    Mitigating factors:  A group with a strong “Why” and passion about their goals will always figure out how to overcome risks. The promise of new, better, bouncing balls next time will do the trick.
10. Enjoying the journey:  A group that is working together should have fun.  A group is more productive when they enjoy what they are doing instead of feeling as if it is work.  In our group, that meant a happy group of sweaty middle-aged men trash talking about kicking butt next time as we all hobbled out to our cars.

What did you learn this weekend?