Five Lessons Higher Education Could Learn from America’s Favorite PastimeEdward Abeyta | Assistant Dean for Community Engagement, UC San Diego
It is also the start of a new season of America’s favorite pastime: baseball.
The development of young ball players takes place in the minor league “farm system,” with an understanding that successful players may be promoted to a higher level. The ultimate goal is to reach the major league level, known as “The Show.”
The farm system is a metaphor for any organization that serves as training ground for higher-level endeavors. Postsecondary institutions are often referred by this term. But what are some of the lessons higher education could learn from baseball? Below are five of them:
1. Responding to Failure
Baseball involves learning from failure. Even Hall of Fame hitters fail seven out of 10 tries. Like baseball, business magnates have long promoted the mantra “fail fast and often” as part of their business development plan.
Higher education has also followed this approach in a quest to uncover new discoveries built on trial-and-error research. Baseball players, entrepreneurs and researchers share the same euphoria when the sum of their hard work produces a “home run.” As inventor and scientist Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
2. Knowledge is Power
Baseball is known as a thinking sport where strategy can trump talent. Scouting reports, video review and situational statistics are just some of the tools used to win games. Billy Beane, a major league first round pick by the Mets, failed to meet the expectations of the scouts, who projected him as a star. Although he failed on the field, the applied statistical analysis or “Sabermetrics” he used as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics transformed how teams evaluate players. His impact on the game of baseball is the subject of Michael Lewis‘ 2003 book on baseball economics, “Moneyball.”
Beane’s innovative approach is a great lesson learned. Just because one may fail meeting expectations in one domain, acquired skills have the capability to cross over to another domain.
3. Evaluation and Success Metrics
Baseball players are evaluated on a variety of skill areas needed to help a team succeed. Scouts look for on-base percentage, speed, fielding percentage and many other factors to meet their organization’s needs.
Similarly, students today are often evaluated solely on grades and test scores. One must question if this is the best means to evaluate a student’s talent. Could an academic transcript include other factors employers could use to evaluate and recruit talent? There are emerging efforts in academia to showcase academic course credit as well as co-curricular activities and achievements. This effort provides an opportunity to showcase a more holistic portrait of a student’s capabilities and talent.
4. The Little Things Matter
In addition to completing a college degree, students must also ensure they understand the value of mastering the little things, such as teamwork, problem solving and communication (both oral and written). Sure, the flashy plays might get a ballplayer or student noticed, but it is a rare one who gets the chance to hit the game winning home run. Instead, focusing on doing all the little things as best as you can provides the optimal opportunity for advancement.
There have been scores of baseball players and leaders in industry who were never household names, yet managed to be successful because they did the small things that make teams and companies winners.
The skill of working as a team is reflected in relationships, community engagement, sports and particularly in business and life after sports. Baseball, like all sports, is well known for leveraging individual strengths into a cohesive group focused on a common purpose or goal.
This mindset is much more constructive and rewarding than having a group of individually-minded players. Incorporating this skill in the student evaluation process is critical to industry, where more and more teams from diverse backgrounds and disciplines are put together to solve to find innovative solutions to complex problems. Reducing silos between various elements of the institution will go a long way to supporting teamwork and improving student success.
The list of lessons connected to baseball metaphors could go on. In the end, lifelong learning is an ongoing process. As baseball great Yogi Berra said, “It’s not over until it’s over.”
The opportunity for individuals to follow the lessons of baseball and start a new season each year with a sense of optimism and hope is exciting. This mindset is something educators should embrace given their role as the workforce talent “farm system.” They should take pride in developing students and getting them ready for the big leagues.
Author Perspective: Administrator