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5 leadership lessons from the Little League World Series

Applying inspiration and motivation from young athletes to EMS leadership


“As EMS leaders, we can learn a thing or two from these players, but instead of speaking the language of baseball, we need to speak the language of respect, care and compassion,” writes Bixby.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Over the past 8 years, one of the great honors of my career has been leading the providing coverage and care for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Watching the games brought me back to my own Little League days and I found myself being impressed by this group of young leaders. The maturity and professionalism of these 11- and 12-year-old young men and women extends far beyond their ages. While watching the series this past year, my observation of the game shifted to a different perspective as my admiration for the leadership displayed both on and off the ballfield grew. There were tons of learning moments for me and I found myself both inspired and motivated, and thinking of how these lessons may be applied to my own EMS leadership journey.

Here are the top 5 leadership characteristics that we all could take away from the Little League World Series players.

1. Vision and commitment

Little Leaguers have the same approach to the game of baseball as some of the greatest major leaguers. They have great vision, knowing that they want to become one of the best players in the world and win at the highest level. They use their vision to create goals, leading to intense focus and preparation of their understanding of the game, execution technique and working daily on growing their skills and abilities. The teams are constantly being educated about the rules, regulations and even history of the game.

As EMS leaders, we also need to create not only a personal vision for success, but also one our organization and workforce can be proud to follow. After a vision has been created, establishing goals and plans to reach that vision is paramount. Finally, we must utilize our leadership skills, continually fine-tuning our craft, and commit to educating ourselves daily. Once we commit to a vision and continuing education, this becomes a great step to keep ourselves challenged and assist our teams to meet their maximum performance.

2. Teamwork

Little League players rely on themselves as part of a team to win each inning and deliver the best performance possible. As leaders, we can never underestimate the importance of teamwork and the support we need to have for one another. The Little League World Series was filled with examples of this practice. These players are as supportive of each other in victory as they are in defeat. Members of the winning team would support members of the losing team. In my 8 years with the Little League World Series, there have been countless examples of how struggling players were lifted and supported by teammates – by a quick visit on the field, a pat on the back or even a hug when needed.

Unfortunately, in EMS we have this reputation of “eating our young.” It is vital that EMS leaders break this outdated culture and create an environment that is supportive and inclusive for all members of our team. We as leaders need to get out into our field, celebrating staff successes, providing a pat on the back, listening to concerns and fostering the importance of teamwork. With the stress that our staff endure every day, they need that pat on the back or that hug more often than we realize.

3. Flexibility and adaptability

Some of these teams spend their entire summer traveling throughout various states and regions of the country competing in tournaments, trying to qualify for an opportunity to play in Williamsport. It could be that win that day before that finally gets them the invitation that means traveling directly to Williamsport with little-to-no break in between.

At the series, schedules are constantly being changed with no notice at all, and the teams must be prepared and flexible to do what needs to be done to play their next game. These last-minute changes can alter a game plan, create frustration and anxiety, and take the focus off their play. But despite the challenges, these young kids persevere using the resources that they have, relying on their preparation and training to go out there and compete at the highest level.

For EMS leaders, every day presents new opportunities and challenges, changes, frustration and, at times, anxiety for members of our workforce. EMS leaders are always faced with staffing challenges, supply chain issues or increasing volumes, and we must be able to quickly adapt and adjust to these circumstances to support our teams. More importantly, we must aid our workforce in developing the flexibility and adaptability to be ready to play in the championship game.

4. Professionalism

The world is watching. Whether it be in person or through the cameras of ESPN, these players display a level of professionalism that is remarkable. This professionalism begins with their appearance. They come prepared to play in uniforms that are clean, tucked in and professional looking. They have excellent manners. They shake hands and show respect for one another.

As EMS leaders, it is important that we maintain this level of professionalism within our organizations. More importantly, we must set the expectations and hold accountable our workforce to be as professional as possible. We must gain the public trust daily, and professionalism is one of the best ways to do that. Uniforms must be clean, neat and presentable. Interactions with patients, families, coworkers and others throughout our communities must be respectful. We must also maintain personal integrity, following our morals and values.

5. Embracing culture and diversity

One of the great aspects of the Little League World Series is its diversity. All Little League teams stay in the same dormitory area within the complex. We frequently see videos of players from all over the world bonding together while playing ping pong or video games. To them, it doesn’t matter what country the players are from or what language they speak; they all speak the language of baseball and good sportsmanship.

For EMS leaders, we must emulate this interaction. We need to ensure that there is diversity in our workforce and that we educate our staff on the importance of respecting all who we work with and care for, regardless of nationality, race or gender. As EMS leaders, we can learn a thing or two from these players, but instead of speaking the language of baseball, we need to speak the language of respect, care and compassion.

Tony Bixby is the director of prehospital services for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) North Central Penssylvania Region and the EMS chief of Susquehanna Regional EMS in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He has 25 years of EMS experience. Tony is also a mentee in the inaugural NAEMT Lighthouse Leadership Program Class of 2023.

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