Saturday, May 15, 2010

A difference between North End kids and suburb kids

Yeah yeah. North End youth may have be more likely to drop out of high school, collect social assistance, and have a lower life expectancy.

But I'll tell you the most important difference:

They don't wear f***ing helmets when they ride their bikes in the park!

This Wednesday we took about 15 North End youth to Assiniboine Park as part of a youth group outing. We had fun, did a scavenger hunt, and drove past the mansions on Wellington Crescent (which many of them had never seen). It was clearly "good times".

But seeing our kids in a Charleswood-Tuxedo environment created an interesting contrast.

Say what you want about the problems in the North End - they're there. Nobody's arguing that. But at least they can mess around as kids without the weird and ridiculous safety concerns of some cultures.

We let a couple youth bring their bikes along. It felt like they were the only people biking without helmets - in a freaking park. I was with them once and we were passed by an entire family - all of whom wore helmets. Perhaps making fun of someone for wearing a helmet is the correct evolutionary response?

A different example: One of my youth leaders brought large yellow rope and immediately started climbing a very large tree with several of the older youth. It was about 20 feet to the first branch, climbing just with the rope, your hands, and your feet. It was a little dangerous (I would have been in big trouble had this been some suburban youth group... and just to be safe(!) don't tell my boss anyway). But it was fun. One person scraped their arm - but everyone had a great time and was fine.

I've worked in the North End for four years now and I've never seen a youth riding a bike while wearing a helmet.

There's something refreshing about that.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Recent University Grad Blogs about Slo Pitch

Recently, I had the "privilege" of attending the league meeting for the Winnipeg Christian Men's Slo Pitch League (CMSPL). Approximately 25 team reps ranging in age from 20 to 45 were in attendance, plus league president, finance guy, head umpire, etc.

I know this sounds like it has all the ingredients for an engaging storyline - 2-hour meeting, middle-aged white males, slo pitch... What more could you ask for?

Thing is, slo pitch rules. And, while meetings can be torture, as a general rule if you're from Springstein, MB and have been running sports league in your hamlet of 90 people since you were nine, you owe it to the world to show up.

Let the slo pitch nerditry begin: Okay. What was wrong with the league was that the second half of the regular season was utterly meaningless. The first half of the regular season determined which teams would be in Divisions I, II, or III (thumbs up!). The playoffs were great, consisting of a round robin (essentially another "regular season" where every team in the division played each other once) followed by a semi finals and finals (...thumbs up!). But, in between these stood the second half, 12 games of baseball only served to create a completely nonsensical abyss of meaninglessness. Each team played the teams in its division twice, but it didn't matter if you finished first or last in your division. Everyone made the playoffs. No advantages to finishing first, etc. What kind of a league is that?

(Our proposal, by the way, was to simply expand the playoff round robin such that every team played the other teams in their division three times.)

Okay, so we get to the meeting (extremely fashionably late, as is our style) and we're on the agenda, which felt a lot like middle-aged white person street cred. We endure boredom. The meeting goes on. It comes to us. We share about the problem and brace ourselves for unmitigated success.

What happened next reminded me of something that I realized later could only be a clip from The Simpsons. You know the one with the Cat Burglar? Where the Springfield community gathers in Ned Flanders' basement to solve the problem?

I found the episode online here. Go to the 5:58 mark.

So, we spoke well, raised an excellent point... hooray for everything.... right???


Then one of the reps had a concern - with our specific solution - "This might make things too competitive... we'll feel conflicted playing our weaker players." Yeah good point - I only sort-of agree, but absolutely fair enough.

There was another concern too, "We really like the final tournament on the weekend... all the teams are there at the same time, etc." And what? hold hands and sing Kumbaya and NOT hate each other? That happens to not be our experience with Springstein, but okay.

So, there's some indecision in the room. Another team has a proposal. Theirs is printed out and they have copies for everyone (uh oh...).

Long story short, in the span of about 20 minutes the league has changed - without proper debate or even a real vote - the entire playoff structure and second half of the regular season. We essentially no longer play 9-inning games, just 7-inning double-headers. Teams play each other four times during the second half. The entire playoffs are now also 7-inning games and crammed into one weekend, with the possibility of teams playing six games in two days.

Okay. Here's the conclusion.

As someone who is fascinated by leadership and organizational behavior, what transpired at our little slo pitch meeting has become a valuable lesson for me.

For a group to make a decision is pretty easy. Making a good decision, less so. The goal for any group should be to make the best decision possible given the resources at their disposal (creativity of group members, time, etc.). Most would have agreed that the league had a problem, but the team reps heard only two possible solutions - one of which was emailed to the group days in advance, another printed off and passed around as they explained it.

More solutions would have been great, I mean, if we knew we'd be changing the number of games played, innings/game, playoff structure, I suspect that an excellent league structure could have been achieved. Did we look at the pro's and con's of each solution? Did we look at how they ultimately fit with what we value in a baseball league? No.

I feel like a Winnipeg City Councilor here, but... I'm kind of seeing the importance of Process here....

We ended up achieving not-a-bad solution - but it had more to do with momentum than rationality.

Watch the Simpsons clip. Like many, many decision-making groups before us, we picked Homer Simpson.