For two Little League teams in New Jersey, two different managers varied in how they encouraged their baseball-hungry 12-year-olds to shoot for the top: the Little League Word Series in Williamsport, Pa.
John Puleo started the 10-week season for Toms River American by gathering his players and unfolding a giant photograph. “This is where we want to go,” he said.
Rolled out on the grass was an aerial shot of Williamsport, Pa, showing the Little League headquarters, Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium.
“Is this something you guys want?” he asked. They nodded. Their team already had established itself as a Little League powerhouse.
“Then you’re going to have to work to get there,” Puleo said. “It’s different now. You’re the team to beat. Everybody knows about Toms River. Think about it now. And then don’t think about it again until we get there.”
Mike Gaynor did it differently. His East Little League team also had enjoyed a sustained run of success, including three trips to the World Series, but he hardly ever mentioned Williamsport.
“That’s too heavy to put on 12-year-olds,” Gaynor said. ‘You just can’t go that route. In ’98, ’99, we never said it. We never used the 'W' word. Our whole approach was ‘Who’s our next pitcher?’ It was literally one thing at a time.”
The hopes of a town clearly rested on the boys’ shoulders. Gaynor just didn’t want to pile on.
Bottom line: Two approaches, both valid. Both work with adults, too.
--Adapted from Six Good Innings, Mark Kreidler, HarperCollins Publishers.