Leadership Lessons from Coach Ray Ricker

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Jeff Davis speaking to student athletes at Post University
photo: Jeff Davis speaking to student athletes at Post University

In the spring of 2017, I had the honor and privilege of speaking to some of the student athletes at Post University in Waterbury, CT. Head Baseball Coach Ray Ricker was kind enough to give me the opportunity to pour into these kids.

I gave it my all and did my best. I didn’t connect with every student athlete in the auditorium, but there were several baseball players who spoke to me after I was done speaking and said my message really connected with them. My philosophy and mindset with each of my speaking engagements is that if I help even one person, it was worth it.

Connecting with Head Baseball Coach Ray Ricker

Before speaking at Post University, I had an in-depth phone conversation with Head Baseball Coach Ray Ricker. He immediately struck me as authentic, real, and genuine, a quality that I highly value in others. I ran some of the things I’d talk about in the speech with him, and he approved:

Coach Ricker values suicide prevention, a topic near and dear to my heart. This allowed for an authentic connection to occur.

“It was a great experience having Jeff speak to our program,” Coach Ricker said. “His message resonated with many players. Thank you for everything!”

Leadership Lessons from Coach Ricker

The purpose of this post is to focus on some of the leadership lessons I learned from Coach Ricker. He’s a great guy, and several of the players told me they like him as their coach.

To be blunt, I did not have great high school and college baseball coaches (to put it respectfully). For the record, I’m not negative about the lack of leadership from my former coaches. My direct intention in sharing this is to help both coaches and players understand what authentic leadership from coaches of sports teams is all about. I jokingly told Coach Ricker that I wish he was my college baseball coach, but I also meant it. Here are the five leadership lessons we can learn from Coach Ricker, as much applicable to the business world as they are to the sports world:

  1. Be genuine. I mentioned earlier in this post that Coach Ricker is authentic, and I can’t emphasize it enough. Players want coaches who are real.
  2. Be kind. Without a doubt, there’s a time and place to be stern and come down on somebody. But this needs to be tempered with kindness. Coach Ricker knows when to be serious, and when to be kind. A lot of coaches are completely forgetting to treat their players with kindness. Authentic coaches know they may need to adjust their leadership style depending on the situation.
  3. Give players a chance. I mentioned that I did not have a great high school and college baseball experience. In a nutshell, I was never given a fair chance by either of these coaches, despite the fact that I was recruited by seven universities to play at the collegiate baseball level. I was also a Team Connecticut Baseball summer baseball standout player for four straight seasons. Coach Ricker gives players a fair chance. I had an hour-long heart-to-heart conversation with one of the players in the parking lot after my speech was over. He said he could relate to a lot of what I said in my speech. Specifically, he was grateful Coach Ricker was giving him a chance. At the end of the day, every coach on the planet has to make the difficult decision of starting some players and sitting the rest. With that said, they can still give each player a chance at some point in the season.
  4. Expose your players to outside perspectives. Coach Ricker cares about his players. He wants to see them grow and succeed, both in baseball and in the real world. He brings in people from the outside world to give his players new ideas and strategies to succeed. Coaches who lack leadership often limit their players to a single perspective.
  5. Give players room to grow. Piggybacking off of point number three, it’s important for coaches to remember that players are constantly evolving. The best coaches don’t pigeonhole players. My college coach was one of those guys where his first impression of you was his forever impression of you. I made a lot of progress from my freshman year to my senior year. Based on my outstanding performance in scrimmages, dedication to the team, and superior work ethic, many of teammates thought I had earned a starting position my senior year. But my college baseball coach didn’t once give me an at-bat in a game that mattered my entire four-year college baseball career. Coach Ricker isn’t like this. Coach Ricker is a strong role model for other coaches and players because he has his players’ best interests at heart. He knows that players are constantly evolving and he helps them grow. Here’s a fantastic quote from Coach Ricker to leave you with:

If you want to be seen, you have to be on the field playing. Play for a program that will develop you!

Putting It All Together

Every team is different. Every situation is different. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to coaching and there’s a lot of gray area. With that said, there are five rules of thumb for every coach that will almost always lead to success: authenticity, kindness, giving players a fair chance, exposing your players to outside perspectives, and giving players room to grow.

I appreciate you reading this article. Please share it with someone who would benefit from reading it.

Follow Post University Head Baseball Coach Ray Ricker on twitter. He sends out some great tweets. Jeff Davis is an author and authentic leadership expert. This post first appeared on jeffdspeaks.com on October 8th, 2017.

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Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis is a professional speaker and the author of several books. He has done keynote speeches internationally and is a sought-after expert on self-leadership, anti-bullying, and overcoming adversity. Jeff frequently speaks to high schools, colleges, nonprofits, organizations, associations, conferences, and businesses. He’s been to five different continents and has a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He also did a well-received TEDx talk in New York City.