My son played in a baseball tournament this weekend. His team did well, and finished as the runner-up. The team that beat them in the finals played really well, but more importantly, it was obvious that they had a strong culture of success.
From the moment they walked on the field, they had a noticeable “bounce”. – they were literally bouncing around with energy and excitement. When they started warming up, it wasn’t haphazard and sloppy, but rather organized, energetic, and purposeful. It was clear that they had a warm-up routine designed to instill focus. It was led by the kids themselves. They had a huddle before every inning at-bat ending with a cheer of “hit!” and boy did they hit the ball well (better than any team I’ve seen all season). They cheered every kid on in a major way, and bounced in celebration when they scored. When they won, they posed for a team photo and the coach said “ok, time for your first Legends’ point” and they pointed to the camera in a victory celebration (the club was called the Legends) — teaching the kids that not only were they part of a long-term culture of winning, but that this was just their first step on their path. Even when they were sitting together before the game eating lunch, they had togetherness and winning baseball in their eyes. They were having fun the whole time, and it was clear that at every step of the way, the club’s culture was behind it.
I looked through at the club website, and it became clear that what I witnessed was not a one-off moment, but part of a bigger culture. This club has a practice facility where they do game situation indoor practice all winter long (with trophies conspicuously mounted). I saw pictures on the website of older kids doing the same pre-game drills in that facility, with the same intensity. They have camps, and dinners, and skills clinics. I can just imagine the youngest members of the club (my son’s age) watching the bigger kids do the drills, and the chants, and the movements & motions.
Having coached baseball for 10 seasons now (5 years x 2 seasons per year), and having played high school ball on an pretty good team and little league ball on a very good travel team (1989 NYC Federal League champions, 46-5 record — yes, I am still proud of that), I am particularly attuned to the dynamics of winning (and less winning) teams.
And now, working in the startup / VC world, I see from the inside what winning (and less winning) teams look like. USV has built a culture of success over the last 15 years, which I am hell bent on carrying forward to the next generation.
Success is one part ability/skills and one part culture. The skills are the raw material and the culture is what makes it great. So what makes for a culture of success?
This is material for a series of posts rather than just one, but I’ll focus on a few observations & memories here:
1/ Legend & lore — winning begets winning, especially in generational enterprises like companies and sports clubs (just look at the Yankees, or Duke Basketball). The younger generation needs to look up to the older one and learn what success looks like and how to model it.
2/ Body language — so much of success is about feeling poised and energized. Think “power pose”. The team this weekend had it.
3/ Structure — complex tasks like building a company or hitting a baseball need to be broken down into pieces so they can be understood and mastered. Figuring out how to do this in the right way is the magic of coaching, and it’s not easy. How can you take an amorphous goal and break it into understandable pieces, ideally explainable with metaphors, analogies, and anecdotes?
4/ Fun — this seems silly but it’s really important. Teams succeed when they are having fun, and they have fun when they succeed.
That is it for now. I’m heading into my week energized and inspired.