The Leadership Yips

The Long Snapper by Jeffrey Marx is the story of Brian Kinchen, who joined the New England Patriots on December 15, 2003, as a 38-year-old long-snapper, whose NFL career was presumably over. In fact, Kinchen was a school teacher at the time he was called by the Patriots.

The book is a Pulitzer Prize winner which describes the up-and-down couple of months of their quest to win a Super Bowl. As if it weren’t enough for this rugged semi-retired NFL veteran to have a chance to win a Super Bowl, one aspect of the drama was that after Kinchen signed with them, he developed the “Yips.” Ever heard of the Yips?

The Yips is a nervousness that is often associated with making short putts in golf, but actually has a much wider application in the sports world. For inexplicable reasons, sometimes players, even seasoned professional athletes, forget how to perform things that they’ve done effortlessly for years and years. Think of a baseball infielder forgetting how to throw to first base. Yips. Think of a point guard unable to hit free throws anymore. Yips. A long-snapper losing the ability to get the ball to the punter consistently. Yips! (That’s what happened to Kinchen. Get the book to read the whole behind the scenes story of that team.)

So, I started thinking, “What does it look like when a leader gets the Yips?” What does it look like when a leader “forgets” for inexplicable reasons how to effectively lead? Is there a “Leadership Yips”? I’m not sure what causes the Yips in athletes, nor exactly how they get over the Yips. However, I think with leaders, maybe we get the Yips when we forget the importance of the basics.

We start to take things for granted and start skipping steps, and when things don’t go as we expected, we wonder, “Have I lost my touch?” More than likely, it’s that we have forgotten the basics. Too many tasks and too little time overwhelms us, and a voice in our head promises us that we can solve the crunch by just skipping a couple of steps…just this one time! (Inevitably, that’s the one time that it will rise up and bite you!)

You are probably a great leader. You have skills to pay the bills! But you have to resist the urge, whether by arrogance or by pressure, to think that you can do it without adhering to the basics. If you don’t, the Yips can create some rather embarrassing moments—even for professionals.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

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