By Dan Rootenberg
This is the first year that I’m managing Tee ball for my son’s Little League team. Most of the kids are five and six years old. For the past few years I’ve been caught up with my own declining level of play that is typical for an athlete turning 40 in a power and reaction sport like baseball. I find myself eager to narrate and analyze the slow often imperceptible but undeniable decline in skills for the sport. My own experience feels corroborated when I heard Andre Dawson, Hall of famer describe it as a millimeter slowing of your reflexes that becomes the difference between a home run and a pop up.
Frankly it has been a breath of fresh air to shift my baseball focus away from me and instead towards working with kids with whom I can share my love and passion for the game. I recently sent an e-mail to the parents of my team giving them some insight into my coaching philosophy which I discovered after our first game.
You will notice that many of the other coaches will handle the kids more when they come up to bat at home plate. They will put their own hands on the bat along with the kids’ hands to show them the correct swing plane. I have a different philosophy, born from my own playing and coaching experience. I try to make sure that the child is positioned properly and is able to use their natural swing tendency to their advantage. I try to free up that natural swing with optimal placement of their hands, feet, and batting tee, oftentimes making minor changes to their setup. But after that, I want to facilitate and allow the child’s own natural instincts to take over. Each player will develop their own signature style that needs to be fundamentally sound. I don’t want you to misinterpret seeing other coaches as more “handsy” and think they are coaching more. I want to put each child in the best position for them to succeed. You will notice that our lineup moved a bit faster than the other teams and that may happen and it’s a good thing. I also believe in positive reinforcement and teaching kids to think positively on the field.
– Coach Dan
It struck me that this wasn’t just my coaching philosophy, but also my parenting philosophy, my management philosophy and also has been my treatment philosophy with patients. I always felt my job was to put my patients’ bodies in their best position to heal themselves. I’ve seen my role as facilitating the healing process, rather than considering myself the vehicle that achieved healing for my patients.
As health care providers I believe we must acknowledge that our patients’ bodies own ability to heal itself is more powerful than any intervention we provide. In physical therapy, orthopedic surgery, and even in cancer treatment we need to prepare the body for optimal healing and recovery.
In writing this piece I became aware that this approach is like a fractal permeating multiple aspects of my life. Much like you can see a coast line and it looks the same from the air as it does from up close, or a snowflake or a lightning bolt that looks the same however closely you zoom in or out, this fractal, albeit a philosophical one, is an essential element to how I approach various roles in my life.
As a parent, I try to provide a good example to my kids, and model for them, how to treat others. I want to facilitate and allow them to develop their own styles and personalities.
In the office, when training our care coordinators at SPEAR, we don’t train them with scripted answers to common questions but free people up to use their judgment when dealing with patient issues as long as they keep two things in mind. First, do what is in the best interests of the patient, and second have the best interests of the practice in mind. Keeping those two concepts close as their guide allows people to use their best judgment and their own styles to solve issue and create a great environment for both patients and employees alike.
That’s my fractal! Making sure your approach whether at the plate, at home with the kids, or with our patients at the front desk is fundamentally sound and then allowing peoples styles and personalities to shine through. To me that is the ultimate success which creates interdependence and confidence in ourselves and in each other.
Acknowledgement: I may not have made my fractal observation had I not listened to a speech delivered by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and read his book Delivering Happiness, where he articulated his own observation of a fractal at Zappos that exists between what research has found makes people happy and what research has found makes for great companies.
Dan is the President and co-founder of SPEAR Physical Therapy. On a baseball note he captained the Binghamton University team in ’94, breaking the school record for hits/season. Dan played pro ball on three continents, won a silver medal in the European Cup tournament for the Zurich Barracudas, and recorded the first hit for the Netanya Tigers in the inaugural and final season of the Israel Baseball League, the first pro league in the Middle East.
Postscript: It looks like the Tigers of the Peter Stuyvesant Little League Team appreciated Dan’s approach: