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ATD Blog

Batter Up: What Baseball Can Teach Us About Effective Training

Monday, November 7, 2022

How do baseball players learn to play the game? Do they sit through hours of instruction about baseball’s history, review job aids on how to pitch a ball, then culminate training with a multiple-choice test to assess their readiness?

While I am no baseball aficionado, I know enough to understand that’s not how it works!

Baseball players learn the sport by playing the game. Players have ample time to practice and refine their skills on the field. They have coaches who provide guidance and feedback. As a result, they are exposed to rules, best practices, and processes outside of the classroom, in the flow of work.

Can we think about training like we teach sports? Could we design learning experiences that allow learners to practice skills they will need on the job? Although this approach requires a shift in mindset, I believe it is not only possible but necessary.

In this article, I will walk you through a practical approach to designing training that gets learners out of the classroom and onto the field.

Identify MVP Behaviors

Before you begin building your training course, it’s critical to identify the behaviors your learners will need to emulate for success on the job. Think of this as scouting at a college baseball game. Recruiters are looking for top-notch players with the skills and talent needed to make it into the big leagues. You want to figure out these skills within your organization by identifying your top performers. Who is getting the process right or consistently meeting or exceeding key performance indicators (KPIs)? What is the ideal state?

A competency model is an excellent way to define behaviors that lead to success. There are many variations of such models, but it’s key to generate a list of behaviors that translate to on-the-job success. To understand these skills, consult various stakeholders, including managers, coaches, and business leaders. Ideally, each skill or behavior will correlate to overall business goals. Such alignment confirms you are consistently tying your learning strategies back to business outcomes, which will help you demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of your learning.

Once you’ve identified these behaviors, design a learning solution around your competency model by developing performance-based objectives. These objectives will be the crux of your training regimen, and each should center on a specific behavior. Think about what you want learners to do, and translate that into an objective. The example illustrates this point.

Do Don’t
“Select the correct class of hard hats for a set of circumstances.” “Identify the three industrial classes of hard hats.”

Now that you’ve identified your top talent, it’s time to hit the ground running.

Practice Early and Often

In many cases, training is conducted in a formalized, traditional manner, where information and knowledge are presented to learners via a lecture or presentation. Of course, we want to set our trainees up for success, so our impulse is to front-load information. But consider this: How much knowledge will learners retain by listening versus doing?

Rather than front-load learners with foundational content, make it available throughout the learning process through resources such as job aids, articles, and video tutorials. Since we expect learners to use these resources on the job, we should mimic that experience by providing them with the resources they need as they learn. As a result, you won’t have to present as much information to them, and learners can seek solutions independently.

Once you’ve prepared learners for their work, your learning strategy should provide a safe environment to practice the behaviors you identified in your competency model. They will be able to practice new skills and behaviors with guidance and support. Suppose we provide employees with opportunities for repeated practice in a low-risk environment. When they return to production, they will have the confidence and knowledge necessary to ramp up quickly.

We can accomplish this through the “I Do, We Do, You Do” method. First, the trainer demonstrates the process, skill, or behavior (“I Do”). Next, learners practice skills with guidance and feedback from the trainer (“We Do”). Last, learners practice new skills independently.


Admittedly, this approach takes a shift in mindset, but the outcomes are worth it.

Facilitate Coaching

A team of players can’t succeed unless they have a coach who supports their growth, provides feedback, and provides opportunities to improve their skills. The same is true for employee performance. While training is the foundation for learning new behaviors, it shouldn’t end there.

To enhance the transfer and retention of knowledge, integrate a coaching plan into your training strategy. This plan should reach beyond learners and include individuals from the organization who are in a coaching role. These individuals may consist of formal coaches or managers. Bring them into the game and use their leadership skills to provide formal and consistent feedback for holding employees accountable for their performance.

You will need to ensure that coaches are informed about the models of play you are training. Often, learning strategies overlook managers, as we assume they either know the content of our training or are too busy to attend a training session. While that may be the case, your coaches must be in sync with how their players are trained. To ensure they are, include them in training initiatives involving their direct reports.

Consider upskilling your coaches on how to coach to the desired behaviors. This should include identifying negative behaviors, such as red flags or behaviors antithetical to the desired outcome, and demonstrating tactical ways to provide support or feedback to reinforce correct behavior.

Winning the Game

Like baseball, effective training should consist of practice combined with tailored support and coaching. By scaling back on presentations and lectures and increasing time spent practicing the strategic behaviors needed to win the game, you can knock the ball out of the park with your next training strategy!

About the Author

Megan Dillon is a manager of instructional design. She has experience developing and overseeing successful onboarding, continuous education, and leadership development programs across various industries. Megan believes L&D have the potential to empower individuals to perform at optimal levels. She is passionate about developing strategic learning programs that inspire, motivate, and create change across entire organizations.

Megan grew up in Charlotte, NC, and graduated from Queens University of Charlotte. She resides in Charlotte, NC, with her husband and two busy little boys.

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