What can the arts learn from softball?

I’m watching softball—the Women’s College World Series—and have watched almost every game that led up to the Championship. Even the one that went 17 innings. I’m a fan.

I like softball for many reasons, mostly because I get it, more than I get baseball. I can see what the pitcher is doing. People get more hits. When the ball leaves the infield, I can follow it right out of the park, because everything is closer in softball and the softball is big.

Best, though, are the backstories about coaching and players, why they play, what they hope to gain, and underneath it all, what leadership means in a way that really counts.

How do you keep a squad of people, each with their own reasons for playing, focused on a larger goal? Each has personal goals—an extension of their career in the pros, coaching a team of their own, going into sports management, or into a career in politics or medicine or whatever they can bring all they learned about working together to bear on changing the country and maybe the world.

There is talk by the announcers of “leadership” in the team. A pitcher usually has it. You’ll often hear a winning pitcher credit her teammates, that she was successful only because they “have her back.” They talk of loving the game.

A regular player often emerges as a leader, just by igniting the team’s enthusiasm for playing the game. Kaitlin Lee, Ole Miss’s ace pitcher, does this. Just watch her in the circle, smiling, even dancing, acknowledging everyone on the field, making everyone feel like they are really contributing, and they are, maybe even surprising themselves as to how far they came in the run up to the World Series.

The coaches, of course, are cited as leaders. Larger goals, those beyond winning the next game, may come from the head coach. Besides instilling good sportsmanship and developing innate skills, the coach needs to do it to enhance the reputation of the college for its commitment to sports as a way to develop students, and to keep money flowing in to support those efforts.

Some coaches, the really great ones, do it for something even higher: to keep the game going. If you win this season, loads of people will be watching next season to see how your team does, and then may look to the Pros to watch softball at an even higher level. The game gets its own webcasting channel you can watch almost every game on. Softball gets stronger and more popular. Even better players are then developed by even better coaches and the audience for the game grows. It is even going to be part of the Olympics in 2020.

So the performing arts? Keeping it going? Of course, every hit show on Broadway makes that the theatre capital in the USA. Every time there is a good production of a significant play or musical, it makes the theatre popular and thus, stronger. It doesn’t happen just in New York. Just as community theatre is a local place to see those same shows put on by your neighborhood talent, regional theatre boosts the non-Broadway appetite for theatrical excellence.

Everyone, pro or not, who pays attention to details that make the production memorable, keeps the game going. The theatre will be stronger in the community, in the region, on Broadway, in London or Delhi or Beijing, because of the care of the theatre coach who keeps everyone inspired and working to their potential by seeing how each individual contribution makes the whole better. The leader lets each person bring out their unique and individual talent for the good of the whole production.

And the leader can come from anywhere. It isn’t always the person being paid to lead. You could be a leader by doing your job well and communicating your intentions to make this the best show you have ever done. It happens when you set an example by listening and seeing and understanding what those around you are doing, cheering them on by picking up where they leave off. You know it isn’t all about you, but what talent you bring to the production makes the whole better, especially if everyone else “has your back,” which they will when they see you have theirs.

The game of theatre goes on, way past an individual ambition to be a Broadway star. It becomes timeless because of the efforts of those who see beyond.

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