Contributed by Drs. Kevin and Jackie Freiberg
An excerpt from their newest book, newest book,
Bochy Ball! The Chemistry of Winning and Losing in Baseball, Business and Life
If you could be a fly on the wall in the clubhouse and listen to one of the greatest managers—ever —set the tone for his team at Spring Training, would you want to?
This will get you pretty close.
Bruce Bochy has always been very intentional about shaping culture and creating the conditions for chemistry to flourish. He knows he can’t legislate it, but he can influence it.
For Bochy, this starts in the off-season as he prepares for his opening talk to the players at Spring Training.
“For me, it’s all about setting the tone and bringing focus to our camp,” Bochy told us. “I try to challenge our players to think about how they think. I want them to think about how they approach physical conditioning. I want them to be persistent about honing the fundamentals, because in this part of our game, you never arrive. And, I want them to be intentional about mental conditioning and establishing the right mindset.”
Bochy told his players that he didn’t want to spend a lot of time on last year’s dismal season, but he wanted to reflect on it enough to “learn from our failures.” Here is a summary of what he said:
- Feed the Culture
Bochy said he wanted to rekindle the culture the Giants had in the championship years. He didn’t think his boys had completely gotten away from it, but he believes culture is something you have to feed every day. “Our culture didn’t quite have the edge it had in years past. It was a little flat,” he told the players. Comparing the Giants winning seasons to 2017, he observed, “Last year we weren’t having as much fun in the clubhouse. We weren’t talking baseball. We just didn’t have that good vibe. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what it had been.”
What was missing?
A gut-level drive and determination to win now, not tomorrow or in the next series. A willingness to get pissed off when things weren’t going well. Boch told his guys that they needed to do a better job of holding each other accountable, kicking each other in the tail when needed, and staying “in the moment” when intense focus was necessary.
- Conditioning is a Gift to the Team
There were a number of things that Bochy and his boys could NOT control last year. One of them was injuries. So, he asked the players to focus on what they could control— conditioning. Bruce has always believed that conditioning is a gift you give to your teammates. Conditioning is a prerequisite to being more athletic, improving defense and gaining more pop at the plate, all of which the Giants hope to achieve this year.
If you’re in shape you are less prone to injuries. If you are physically tough you have more grit, more determination. You gut it out when others give in. If you are in shape and you’ve drilled the fundamentals of the game over and over again (because you have the mental and physical stamina), the fundamentals are second nature. Then, you’re more willing to be creative, take risks and improvise. This raises the tide for everyone.
- Chemistry is Not Automatic
Rather than just letting it evolve and not really thinking about it, Bochy asked his players to be intentional about creating chemistry. He told them they have to step up and take ownership of the clubhouse. He would do his part, as would the other coaches, but it’s their clubhouse. What they make of it will depend on what they put into it.
He said last year it was like the players were in their own little world instead of each other’s world. Bochy wants them to have personal time for their families and friends—and themselves. He wants them to be able to decompress privately. But he also knows that what has made the Giants bond in years past is the time players invested in each other.
He made his case for why chemistry is so important. He said chemistry is something you create through your commitment to each other and your commitment to the way you play the game. Chemistry is a “powerful weapon” because it is an intangible that is extremely hard to mandate and create. And when you do create it, chemistry is very hard for other teams to emulate.
Like culture, Bochy told the team that chemistry can be lost in the blink of an eye if they don’t protect it and promote it on the field and in the clubhouse every single day.
Then he asked some provocative questions: “How many great teams have you seen with great chemistry, and then they lose it because they thought it was automatic? They thought it would just be there because it was there before. Was that us last year?” Chemistry is not automatic.
He didn’t stop there. Bochy challenged each of his players to think about what they are going to do— starting with Spring Training—to keep the chemistry of the club intact.
“Whose back will you have?”
“What sacrifices will you make?”
“What will your unique brand of accountability to this team look like?”
- Full Lions Don’t Hunt
Borrowing a line from Nick Hundley and Hunter Pence, Bochy reminded his guys that “full lions don’t hunt.” He said, “We need to get hungry again.”
Referring to the championship years, he felt that some of the players may have become a little too satisfied and complacent because of what they had achieved. Pointing out that the Giants were World Champions not once or twice, but three times, he told them, “That’s yesterday’s news. We can’t rest on yesterday’s headlines.”
Then, he described what “hungry” looks like. Hungry is the sense of urgency, determination, ambition and focus that comes from not wanting to go another night without a meal.
Hungry is cranking the volume on conditioning. Hungry is not taking the fundamentals for granted. Hungry is building the mental toughness to not give in and to bounce back when the odds seem insurmountable. This was such a key in the Giants three championships when they faced so many different elimination games.
Hungry is playing every game like you are on a mission!
- Focus on NEXT
Comparing the season to driving a car, Bochy told his guys that while you occasionally check the rearview mirror and adjust, your main focus is through the windshield—going forward.
He told them how honored he is to have three rings, but then borrowed a story from Jon Falk, Tom Brady’s college equipment manager and friend at the University of Michigan. Talking to Brady, Falk said, “Tom, you know what my favorite ring is? The NEXT one.”
Bochy asked his players, “What’s your next step? What’s your next opportunity to make another player better? The next opportunity to make yourself better? What’s your next opportunity to make this team better? And, what’s your next game going to look like?”
Then, leading by example, he told them that the NEXT thing for him was to turn this [season] around. He told them how competitive he is. How he loves to win. And more important, how much he loves seeing them win. He talked about players such as Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Jeff Samardzija and others who haven’t won a championship and said, “I want to see these guys get a ring!”
NEXT, is the mindset of a champion. NEXT is the difference between going to the show and winning a World Series. NEXT is the difference between winning a World Series three times and creating a dynasty. NEXT is where “championship blood” focuses its attention.
- Team-first Not Me-first
If there is a dominant theme Bochy has conveyed to his players over the years and one he is absolutely convinced, contributed to three world championships, it is his players’ willingness to choose service over self-interest. So, he started to bring this talk to a close by reminding them that what they wanted to achieve couldn’t be done alone. He said it will only happen when a diverse team of 25 guys, and rookies who come into the majors during the season, bond and gel.
He told them that the key to turning this season around and getting back in the hunt for October is that they must become stronger and unbeatable—TOGETHER. It’s doing things every day to become better—TOGETHER. To become the best they can be—TOGETHER.
- Start Strong
Given the heartbreak and embarrassment of last season, Bochy feels a sense of urgency. Starting strong is important to him and he believes it is important to his players as well.
So, in closing his Spring Training talk, he threw down a call to arms saying, “Guys, I want us to come out of the chute fast and furious!” He compared the sense of urgency he was trying to convey in the start of this season to the start of an Indy or Daytona 500 race.
He said in the warm-up laps you can see the drivers zigzagging on the track trying to get their tires warmed up and “grippy.” Then, in the final warm-up lap, they want to time it, so they are at max speed when the starting flag drops. Bochy said, “When our flag drops, I want us to be at full throttle.”
“Our 2018 team has a different make up to be sure, but I see the makings of the clubs we had in 10’, 12’ and 14’. I love the guys we have and I love the guys we’ve acquired. I believe we can do it again.”
Echoing those words, he told his team, “With the talent we have, if we put our work in like we are hungry, and we pull together like we need to, we will create a season we will all remember.”
This is what great leaders do. They set the tone and establish the focus. Given how stoic he is in the dugout during games, this is a side of Bruce Bochy most of us don’t get to see.
The players responded by saying the message was exactly what they needed to hear. Hunter Pence, whom we all know is not short on words, said he couldn’t add a thing to what Bochy said. And Shark (Jeff Samardzija), took the message about owning clubhouse chemistry to heart immediately. He rallied the guys for a little team bonding on the golf course during the Giants day off.
Speeches like this are not magic pills or silver bullets. But they are one way a leader conveys his passion for what he wants his team to achieve.
And in the end, people follow competence and passion.
About Drs. Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, International best-selling business authors, speakers and consultants.
Drs. Kevin and Jackie Freiberg are international best-selling business authors, speakers and consultants. For nearly 30 years they have been helping companies create the best places where the best people can do their best work, with proven strategies on leadership, innovation and culture. Their award-winning books introduce readers to revolutionary leaders who have disrupted their industries, selling 850,000 copies worldwide. Their newest book, ! The Chemistry of Winning and Losing in Baseball, Business and Life (February 2018), unpacks the career success and gutsy leadership behind the San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy – a 3-time World Series champion. Bochy Ball! is a playbook for coaches, athletes, sports fanatics and business leaders who want strategies for building team chemistry and performing like champions. www.freibergs.com