Don’t Widen the Plate

I received this story from a friend and thought it worth sharing. While the story and analogies center around the game of baseball I think the message applies every aspect of our daily lives – both personally and professionally. I hope you will take a few moments to read it.
– Roger R. Mayer

Twenty years ago, In Nashville, TN, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment – “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare.” Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter; I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung – a full sized, stark white home plate. After speaking for 25 minutes, not once mentioning the prop handing around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew him had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on in age. Then, finally…

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “seventeen inches?”, more of a question than an answer. “That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Another long pause. “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach. “That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?” “Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident. “You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?” “Seventeen inches!” we said in unison. “Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”… “Seventeen inches!”

“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide is home plate?” “Seventeen inches!” “SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “What do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches? They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.

“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target, we’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.” “Coaches, what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice? or when our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?”

The chuckles gradually faded as 4,000 coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We just widen the plate!”

To the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”

He replaced the flag with a cross. “This is the problem in the church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it.”

“The same is true with our government. Our so called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer serve us. We allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch.”

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools & churches & our government those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to…”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around and revealed its dark black backside, “… We will have dark days ahead!”

Note: Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach. His message was clear:

“Coaches, keep your players – no matter how good they are, your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”


Fostering Creativity in Your Team

An offsite meeting held at a location which fosters creativity can produce surprising results. That quiet reserved employee may openly offer a creative suggestion when he/she is away from the formal cultural environment of the office building.

When the attendees are met with a welcoming atmosphere instead of just a handshake and a standard meeting room when they arrive, the tone of the entire meeting can be energizing.

A location with multiple settings can be beneficial. Your agenda can be set so that the meeting areas reflect a wide range of functionality from formal to totally casual.

A room with the conference table(s) can be used for the nitty gritty business discussions and processes. However, there are locations having rooms with more than just conference tables in them. Some have more homelike settings with softer furniture along the walls, a coffee table and even a fireplace.

A meeting area that has a living room type setting with arm chairs and couches can create a more relaxed atmosphere allowing for unstructured free flowing exchange of ideas. The lighting in this type of room can also be from sources other than the glaring overhead fluorescent lights of a conference room. Windows let in warming sunshine during the day and the softer lighting of table lamps or chandeliers for any evening sessions can be a welcome change.

For some of your activities you may want to have a meeting space outdoors. Fresh air, green trees and warm sun create a country setting that will be inspiring. If you choose to do so, be sure to let your attendees know ahead of time so they dress appropriately. For example, if you are going to be using a landscape that is built with flat rocks around a pond or bubbling brook for seating or on a grassy hill, the attendees may not want to wear office type clothing.

No matter what your agenda or the ultimate goal of your meeting, a creative location can excite your attendees, generate improved participation and achieve higher than normally expected results.

Colerget Conference Center has several meeting rooms available. Call today to schedule your free tour of our facaility and gardens.

Tips For Successful Offsite Meetings

Skip the conference room and take a field trip! Hold your next company meeting away from the office. You will find that it will create energy among your staff, promote camaraderie, and offer an environment to more creatively “think outside the box”.

An offsite meeting is an opportunity to generate new ideas, build enthusiasm, and reaffirm commitment to the ultimate goals of the company.

The following are some helpful tips to consider when planning an offsite meeting.

Choose a location that fosters creativity– pick a physical location for the meeting that is exciting but has a relaxed atmosphere.

Preview the facility– check out the facility to be sure that it will meet your needs and make your employees feel comfortable.

Remember the budget –many venues have a package cost that takes into consideration the cost of the venue along with meals and/or refreshments. These types of venues tend to be the most cost effective. Transportation if necessary and perhaps a guest presenter are other costs to consider when planning an offsite meeting.

Give two options for a meeting date – everyone has busy schedules and project deadlines, so give a choice of two dates for the meeting to be held.

Plan to accomplish more– too often meeting planners plan for minimal results. With a solid strategy, the offsite meeting can accomplish much more. In addition to building a more cohesive team, it can be an opportunity to discuss new ideas, resolve business challenges, and provide your employees with skill development.

Business time, fun time – build some fun group activities into your schedule. A team exercise at the beginning of your meeting can set a relaxing tone for the accomplishment of your planned goals.

Small details add up to big success – an offsite meeting requires a bit more detailed planning than staying “home” at the office. Plan backwards from the date of the meeting to be sure every detail is covered.

Smart scheduling is important– When planning your schedule, there are a few important things to take into consideration. Be sure to allow time for your attendees to get to the venue on time. Think about the distance and mode of transportation they will need. Also what type of environment do you want to create. Is your meeting an intense all work event, time to relax or a little of both?

Promote your meeting in advance – when you have your meeting agenda complete, be sure your attendees receive a copy well in advance of the meeting date. This will let them know what your objectives are, give the attendees time to prepare any resources they may need, and complete any pre-meeting assignments you may choose to give. It also helps to generate some excitement about the offsite meeting.

Following these guidelines for an offsite meeting can result in higher than average goal accomplishment and have your attendees talking about the best meeting they have ever attended!