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Life Lessons

Encouragement Works

Willie Mays ranks as one of the greatest players in big-league history. Yet his career ended almost before it began.

Here, in an interview with the Academy of Achievement, he recalls the disastrous early days, when he was only 20 years old, far from home, and filled with doubt.

“(When) I came to the majors, I couldn’t hit,” Mays recalled. “I was playing the outfield very, very well, throwing out everybody, but I just couldn’t get a hit. … And I started crying.”

It was then, Mays said, when his manager, Leo Durocher, spoke to him.

“Leo came to me and he says, ‘You’re my center fielder; it doesn’t make any difference what you do. You just go home, come back and play tomorrow.’ I think that really, really turned me around.”

With that little bit of encouragement, Durocher helped create a Hall of Fame player. Mays hit a home run in his next game, and soon was on his way to greatness.

There’s a lesson there. Encouragement works. The right word at the right time can change a life. This is why the home field is so important in sports. The encouragement of the home fans means a great deal.

Of course, all the encouragement in the world won’t matter if players lack skill. But in the right situation, it can make the difference. Part of the art of coaching is knowing the right words, and when to say them.


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