Bill Kugelberg knows the importance of communication, accountability and teamwork.
Kugelberg saw plenty of leaders during his five years in the U.S. Navy who yelled and screamed, and plenty who treated others as part of a team.
As a corporate consultant teaching leadership and diversity and inclusion training for the past 13 years, he shares his ideas of motivating people by making them feel like a valued member of the team.
Kugelberg uses the same approach on the softball field.
Kugelberg has been coaching in the Naperville (Illinois) Diamonds Softball Association for five years and reinforces accountability with his players.
“My philosophy with teams I have coached is that I give ownership of the team to players,” Kugelberg said. “I provide them the leadership and accountability to hold each other accountable for what we are trying to accomplish.”
Kugelberg’s teams — now playing a busy travel schedule at the 13U level — have embraced his way of coaching.
Kugelberg never wanted to be the kind of coach that just yelled. That motivates some players, but Kugelberg prefers his players to be motivated by an internal drive.
“It’s got to come from them,” he said. “They’ve got to want to do their best because it’s what they believe in. They should not do it for me. They should do it for each other and do it for themselves.”
It’s the idea of creating a culture where everyone feels they are a valued member of the team. The lessons in corporate America and sports teams are similar.
“You want to make everybody feel valued and give them all a chance to contribute,” Kugelberg said. “It crosses both ways. I’ve shared softball stories in my professional work.”
The Diamonds talk about owning mistakes, taking on leadership roles and being accountable to each other.
“When they make mistakes, they own them,” Kugelberg said. “They understand what it is and how to fix it. They’re not worried that when they come back to the dugout, I’m going to yell at them.”
At the end of games, they talk about what went well and what they can do better. The players accept the mistakes they’ve made but look forward to improving on them in the next practice.
Kugelberg encourages teamwork and a sense of pride in the team by having the Diamonds participate in community service projects together. Whether it’s helping at a VFW fish fry or at a local food pantry, Kugelberg’s players are exposed to new opportunities to work together with a purpose.
Kugelberg shared two examples of how his players have taken ownership of their team.
At one practice last year, Kugelberg had a parents’ meeting while the players began stretching and throwing. The Diamonds moved into their practice drills on their own and — even after the meeting was over — insisted on leading the practice.
“The players were running drills,” Kugelberg said. “The wanted more time to do their own practice. We [have some practices where we] let them dictate what they think we need to work on or how they want to end the practice.”
In another example, one of the Diamonds’ more experienced pitchers was having trouble with a player learning the catcher’s position.
“She didn’t quite have the skill set to handle [the pitcher’s] level,” Kugelberg said.
The pitcher asked if she could work out with a different teammate. Kugelberg challenged her to find a solution — thinking like a leader — rather than just switching catchers.
The pitcher took it upon herself to do some extra work with the new catcher, starting with the next practice, until she caught up.
“I talk to the girls about, ‘What does it mean to be a team?’” Kugelberg said. “I hear the same thing as I do from company executives. They’re here to have fun but they’re learning something better — skills beyond softball.
“[I tell parents that] developing them as leaders at this age puts them in a great position as they get older.”
The Diamonds are about to get another opportunity to be accountable to their team and program. The Naperville Diamonds Softball Association is putting the finishing touches on a 12,000-square foot indoor practice facility for its two dozen teams.
Kugelberg expects his team to take ownership of the new building and will help keep it looking great.
“We’ve talked about how we will clean up after practice,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity. I’ve told them ‘this is your place; this is your home.’”