3 Soft Skills We Can Learn from Madison Bumgarner

Madison BumgarnerOn Oct 29, 2014, against all odds, the San Francisco Giants narrowly won Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royal by the score of 3 to 2.  I learned everything about baseball from my husband who is a diehard Giants fan.   Since meeting him 10 years ago, I have had much more appreciation for this game – all the strategy involved with the lineup, the pitching, and the catcher.

On that Wednesday, like millions of people, my eyes were glued to the television as this 25 years old Madison Bumgarner “Mad Bum” walked to the mount in the 5th inning to defend our Giants’ narrow lead.  I didn’t even know who he was until this season.   He seemed so calm and focused as he pitched and as he waited in the bullpen when the Royals pitched.

I don’t know enough about pitching techniques to comment on any of Bumgarner’s hard skills in pitching.  What I want to focus on is his soft skills – the strength of his inner game.    Many successful athletes and coaches have said “success is more than 50% mental.”  I absolutely believe it and would argue the same rule applies to work.

Here are 3 soft skills we can all learn from Madison Bumgarner

Lesson #1:  Stress Management – How to stay calm in the most stressful situation and still perform at your peak level.   After Giants won the World Series, Bumgarner was asked at the press conference, “What did you think about when you were walking that 300 feet from the bull pen to the mount in the 5th inning?”   He simply said, “I focused on thinking about getting outs like any other game.”  I don’t know about you but these simple words were profound.

  • He knew there were 50K+ Royal fans screaming at the game and millions watching at home.
  • He knew the entire World Series was riding on his ability to shut out runs
  • He knew he didn’t rest as long as he usually does since Game 5

He didn’t think about any of those facts.  His soft skill was to focus purely on his pitching and be present to the game at hand like it’s any other game.   In another word, he didn’t waste any of his mind space psyching himself out or worry about what ifs like most people would.

We can all learned a lot from Bumgarner.   Much of the stress we experience at work is self-inflicted.  We constantly worry about the future – what if I don’t present well in this next executive meeting?  What if I don’t get the funding for this project? What if …..?  All this worry about the future distracts our mind from the focus of our actual work.   So I say, Ignore the what ifs and just focus on the work!” and everything will take care of itself.

Lesson Learned #2:  Emotion Regulation – How to stay objective and focused on the game.  Giants were up 3 to 2.  He beat the Royals in Game 1 as the lead pitcher 7 to 1.  Bumgarner could have smiled or relished in that history.   The camera was zoomed in on Bumgarner in the bullpen several times between innings in Game 7 – before he started in the 5th inning and while he waited while the Royals pitched.   His face was blank the whole time and sometimes he just looked down.  There was no sign of joy, pride, anguish or worry.  He didn’t show any emotion at all.  Again, he was focused just on the work – pitching.

I used to think emotions are simply a sign that you care about your job.  I am realizing more and more allowing emotions at work is an indulgence and a distraction.  I am sure Bumgarner is human and feels all the human emotions we feel, but what he is good at is keeping them at bay during the game, where objectivity and focus are paramount.   Let’s all learn from him and deal with any challenges with work with our best mind – the strategic mind, instead of the emotional one.

Lesson Learned #3:  Resilience – How to stay un-phased by setbacks and keep performing at the same level.    In the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 with 2 outs, Blanco and Ishikawa fumbled the catch and the throw that allowed a Royal to run all the way to 3rd base.    The atmosphere was intense to say the least.

  • If another hit happens, the Royal could tie it
  • If a home run happens, the Royal could win it.
  • He has pitched 5 innings. We all wondered if he was getting tired.

The Giants were hanging by a thread to the narrow lead.  All eyes were on Bumgarner for his next set of pitches.  Was he phased?  He looked as calm and focused as ever.  His pitches were still delivered with laser precision.  He did exactly what he said later, “He focused just on getting outs.”  It didn’t matter what was happening around him.  He didn’t let any of it affected his next set of pitches.

Can you do that?  If you or your team just experienced an unexpected set back, can you keep going as if nothing happened?  Well, it is in your interest to just keep going and start afresh as if there was no past.  Dwelling on anything in the past is fruitless.  You cannot change what has happened.  All you have is the present.

We can all learned from this young 25 year old Giants pitcher who seems to have mastered his inner game.

Your comments:  What else has you learned from watching the World Series?     Share your comments below.  Let’s have a discussion.

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