I’m not sure when teams started mouthing this zombie-like response but here’s my plea to make it stop!
Read on to learn why I think this response has the opposite effect of what’s intended.
In order for players to have success at the next level it’s imperative for coaches to teach players to think for themselves. Having a yes-army makes discipline easier, but it limits players individual contributions by making them feel they have to conform.
Players have wonderful brains and they spend most of their days learning incredible things with those brains. Whenever we ask our players to simply “do what we say”, or “when I say this, you say that”, we’re really telling our players to shut down their brains and use ours instead.
The latest sign of this brainless zombie approach is the “Yes-Coach” response uttered in unison by most softball teams across the country. It goes something like this…coach gathers team in a circle, says a string of somethings, ends with “do you know what I mean?” and the team utters “Yes-Coach”.
After watching youth players all over the country and hearing them constantly saying this “yes-coach” response, I can tell what they really mean is: “I have no idea what you mean coach”, “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about coach”, “I’m totally confused coach”, or “I wasn’t even listening coach”. I could tell the players had no clue what they’d just said “yes-coach” to by simply watching them either stand there clueless following our instructions, or being super tentative, careful and slow.
The player’s actions, after just having said “Yes-Coach” was to behave like they should have said “I don’t have a clue-coach.”
To me, this “Yes-Coach” response is The Zombie Apocalypse. It’s the Walking Dead coming down the street, arms out in front, that vacant look in the eyes with no clue what’s going on.
But the blame for this lies on us – the coaches. We’ve wanted to have our players show discipline, respect, and hustle by insisting they “Yes-Coach” us.
These responses fall into something I call false-hustle. False-hustle goes like this:
- Sprinting out an obvious foul ball, instead of sprinting around 1st base on a ball hit in the outfield and taking 2nd base.
- “Breaking down” before you even cross 1st base, instead of sprinting out an infield single.
- Joining in the team cheer to support your team, when your body language says you’re not supporting anyone.
- Sprinting out to your position, instead of hustling to backup during the game.
- Catchers coming out in the 1st inning to introduce themselves to the umpire (to create a relationship), and then turning around the challenge her/his judgment on a call you don’t like.
So, instead of asking for zombie-lie utterances, and teaching parts of the game that are actually false-hustle, we need to recalibrate ourselves:
- Change Your Finish. Instead of finishing your team talk with a commonly used question like, “do you know what I mean?”, “true of false?”, “is that clear?”, or “do you understand?”, raise your coaching by finishing with this statement – “who can tell me what I mean?”…SILENCE. That’s when you’ll discover who was really listening, if your team culture allows players to be brave enough to risk answering, and if anyone really understood what you said.
- Switch to Action. Instead of a team full of zombie-responders, what you really want is a team that always hustles on the ballfield, respects each other in how they act and play, is listening whenever anyone talks, and shows the game respect by always giving their best. These actions come with constant and diligent focus on them, not by insisting your players answer in unison.
- Allow for Uncertainty. Create an atmosphere on your team that allows any player at any time to say, “coach, I’m not sure what you mean”. Imagine that?! Since we’re clear what we’re saying we assume that players are also clear in their understanding, when in fact, they often have no idea what we’re talking about. Allow your players the safety to voice their uncertainty. Sure, it might slow things down a little to explain it in a different way, or in fact, be harder for you to think of a different way to say the same thing. But, think of all the time wasted bringing your team in for another explanation when, after their “yes-coach” they don’t do anything even close to what you asked them to do.
Each player on your team should bring something different and individually contribute to the whole. Help them each keep their individualism by allowing them to continue thinking and using their brains, instead of melting into a giant blob of thoughtless “yes-coach”.