Playing Catch with Dad

Summer 1969

I loved summer afternoons as a kid because when my dad would get off work, we would always head to the backyard for a game of catch. I played every sport, but in the summer, I was obsessed with baseball. My dad always took the time to work with me on my game and encourage me to get better day by day. I was a pitcher, and I loved every time I had the opportunity to stand on a mound 60' 6" away from a competitor.

What I Never Knew

When Dad got home, he would ask if I had all the equipment ready to do. He would go through the checklist:

Backstop set up

5 balls rubbed down and ready

Catcher's mitt


Measuring tape



Yes, my dad measured the distance to home plate and the exact height of the pitcher's mound he built in the backyard.

He did it the same way every time. When we were all set up, he would say, "Perfect. Just like a real game." This ritual was all a part of a master plan he never shared, but I later fully understood. Then he would draw out the batter's box with the chalk around home plate.

Warm Up

Then we began the warm up process. It was one of my favorite times with my dad. We would talk and laugh - he could always make me laugh with his stories and sense of humor. This ritual was not just fun every now and then; it was fun every single time we hit the backyard.

20' apart - soft throws (15 each)

30' apart - soft throws (20 each)

30' apart - medium throws (20each)

45' apart - medium throws (25 each)

45' apart - hard throws (25 each)

When we completed warm ups, I would do a set of arm rotations and stretching exercises. Dad would encourage and push me to put my best effort into every second of our game of catch. I know now the game wasn't just a "game", but a secret approach to a great life lesson:

"Perfect Practice Leads to Perfect Performance."

Scenario-Based Practice

We took our positions on the mound and behind the plate; it was game time. 6 innings of baseball to be played. Dad would call the pitches with the same hand signals we used on our team: (1) fastball, (2) curve, (3) drop ball, and (4) for a change up. Other hand movements would determine the pitch location he desired.

We worked through 27 total batters and talked about the scenario. Dad would say, "Ok, Son, man on second, one out, 2 strikes, 2 balls. We need a grounder to the first base side. Where should we locate the ball? Down and away, outside corner." And then I would throw. Every time, he would say, "It's about your form, your fundamentals, your focus, and your execution."

"Breathe, see the pitch, and trust your location. One pitch at a time. Get ahead in the count. Alternate speeds and locations. Be predictable in your unpredictability. The batter needs to be guessing. And you must keep them off balance." It was so much fun to do this with my dad. He would call each pitch a strike or a ball. I never threw without a pitch count in mind. I didn't know it, but Dad was teaching me another valuable lesson in life:

"Rehearse the game BEFORE you ever play the game."

Game Ready

These afternoon practice sessions with my Dad were one of the many highlights of my youth. When we would take the field to play an opponent, I always felt as if I was operating with an unfair competitive advantage which had been created on those lazy summer afternoons in the backyard with my dad. I was always so jacked up when I took the mound - calm, confident, and ready to challenge every hitter.

I played for some great coaches from age 10-18, but none had more impact on me than my dad. I was ready each time because he prepared me intensely to perform on Game Day and to be at my best when it mattered the most to our team. These simple lessons have served me well over the years in business and with our clients.

The Lessons Learned

Have your materials and supplies in order every time.

Develop processes to ensure a successful outcome. Always prepare and then practice to learn something every time.

Create drills that will serve to perfect your actual performance.

Rehearsals must be based on real scenarios you will face during the real games you will play.

Feedback between a player and coach is an important part of mental strength and conditioning.

Building consistency within your fundamentals will help you hold up during the stressful moments of a game.

When serving as a coach, create an environment of encouragement and positive expectancy.

When serving as a student, be ready to listen and open to the advice and coaching you are fortunate to receive.

Never give less than your best when you have the opportunity to prepare.

Application of what you have learned and practiced is your responsibility.

In Closing

How can you apply these lessons to your business? Are you preparing your people to perform on game day? What kind of coach are you consistently? How are your players performing at crunch time? I hope this story about my dad, George W. Cummings, has helped you as much as my time with him helped me so many years ago. Although, I will never be able to play catch with my dad again due to his health and advanced age...


I can still close my eyes at anytime and see Dad pounding his fist in the mitt, placing it up and inside for a high and tight fastball. I can see that look of anticipation in his eyes. I can still hear the sound of the ball hitting the mitt. I can vividly remember him saying, "Great pitch, Son," and I can remember how much it meant to me for him to be pleased with my performance. Thanks Dad!

Make a difference today.

— Paul

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