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Play ball! 5 leadership lessons from the Savannah Bananas

There is a lot EMS leaders and organizations can learn from TikTok’s favorite baseball team


Savannah Bananas Luke Kelley (6), Matt Malatesta (11), Maceo Harrison (00), Christian Dearman (25) and Collin Ledbetter (23) perform after the second inning during a game against the Kansas City Monarchs at Legends Field on Friday, May 6, 2022 in Kansas City, Kansas.

Photo/Kent Nishimura via MCT

I’ve hardly watched a minute of major league baseball in recent seasons, but I’ve watched more TikTok videos of the Savannah Bananas than I can count. The Bananas, founded in 2016, bring together on-field skill, social media savvy and youthful energy to fill every ballpark they visit and generate millions of social media views and engagements.

EMS leaders and their organizations should regularly look outside of the profession for ideas and inspiration. Minor league baseball faces some of the same challenges EMS faces, such as recruiting players and supporters, balancing the books when funding favors the big leagues and keeping people interested in a world of distractions. Here are five lessons for EMS from the Savannah Bananas.

1. Dare to be different

Tradition is a point of pride in baseball, America’s past time. But not all of those traditions have translated through the generations. The Savannah Bananas have embraced the opportunity to be different from taking the field in kilts, performing a viral TikTok dance before the pitch and trotting out an official bat dog.

EMS is barely 50 years old and under a lot of pressure to reinvent itself to match the changing needs of our communities, the available funding, and the professional goals and aspirations of the workforce. What are the opportunities for your EMS organization to deliver out-of-hospital healthcare in a new way and be different from your competitors and without the burden of tradition?

2. Lean into uniqueness

The Bananas are 100% committed to their mission to “make baseball fun” and to deliver “fan first entertainment always.” The Bananas wouldn’t get the attention of every major media organization if they made a TikTok video every now and then or had a quirky promotion one game a month. Their culture and everything they do all the time is connected to making baseball fun.

The most successful EMS organizations identify what they do well and lean into doing it even better. If your niche is interfacility transfer, lean into that uniqueness and make it your specialty. If your organization has a proven track record of launching EMTs into nursing school, medical school and firefighter/EMT jobs, trumpet that success. What is the identity your organization can lean into?

3. Do the work and do it well

The Bananas still play good baseball. In 2022, they finished the season 34-14, the second-best record in the Coastal Plain League. They also led their league in attendance, an important metric for financial success, but wins and losses, as well as individual player stats are more important for a baseball team and the players hoping to continue their playing career.

Quality patient care and other benchmarks are the performance metrics that matter for EMS. A great social media presence, an earn-while-you-learn program or ambulances painted with puppies and rainbows are merely interesting if the patient care is substandard. A workplace that is fun, quirky and a social media darling still needs to deliver outstanding patient care. What performance metrics matter in your organization and how do you report those metrics to personnel, patients and payers?

4. Match talent to culture

Savannah is becoming a destination for baseball players who also want to dance, perform and interact with the fans. Not every baseball player wants to be a TikTok star, participate in outfield hijinks or mug for the camera with fans. That’s OK.

An EMS agency with a paramilitary workplace culture will attract and retain EMS providers who want and can thrive in a paramilitary environment. A workplace culture that trusts providers with autonomy will attract and retain EMS providers who want the freedom to do what they believe is best for the patient. It shouldn’t be surprising that culture and talent need to match for an organization to succeed. How is your organization ensuring that talent recruitment and retention efforts match culture?

5. Make work fun

The Coastal Plain League might be the highest level of baseball most of the Bananas ever reach. Off camera, being a Banana is probably also a grind of long hours, regular travel, low pay and uncertainty about what comes next. The Bananas are making baseball fun for their fans, in the ballpark and online, and making baseball fun for their players, coaches and staff.

Work, even EMS, can and should be fun. EMS organizations ask a lot from their providers to work in stressful situations and austere conditions. EMS also expects too many providers to work below a living wage. As an EMS leader, your first priorities need to be paying personnel a living or thriving wage and providing a safe workplace, where harm or injury from known and potential risks are minimized. Next on the priority list is making sure work is enjoyable. How does your organization make EMS work fun?

How do you measure up?

Respondents to the annual EMS Trend Report make it clear there is a committed core of EMTs and paramedics who love EMS and want to be a part of its constant improvement. Respondents are also clear that they are looking for leaders who want to transform their organizations to meet the current challenges of EMS. As an EMS leader, you don’t need to swing for the fences on every pitch. Instead, always look for opportunities to get on base, advance the runner and contribute to team success.

Go Bananas!

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions with this form.

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