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The Yo-Yo Effect

the yo-yo effect

The yo-yo effect of leadership is a concept reflective of the ups and downs of leadership. A leader is subject to the upest of ups and the downest of downs, every minute of every day.

As most of us are aware, a yo-yo is a toy, basically a wound-up spool of string. It moves as far down as it can go, then rebounds back up. When it returns to the top, back down it goes. Up and down, up and down.

The Super Bowl

I spent twenty-one years developing young men in the sport of football. I vividly remember one game that particularly sticks out to me that exemplifies the yo-yo effect.

The team I was coaching was in our league championship, the Northwest Georgia Youth Football Super Bowl. We were evenly matched with the team we were facing.

We received the ball to begin the game. First play from scrimmage…fifty-yard touchdown! The yo-yo was at the top, we were on cloud nine. Next play, we kick onside, we get the ball back.  Still on top.

Two plays later…we fumble, they recover. The yo-yo begins to slowly descend downward. Our opponent spent the next five minutes driving the ball right down our throats…touchdown. We were all tied up. Yo-yo continues to move down.

Next series…we failed to convert on fourth down. They spent another five minutes methodically moving the ball down the field. We were unable to stop them…another touchdown for the bad guys! We were down 14 to 7. The yo-yo begins to more rapidly descend to the bottom.

Getting Stuck

We spent most of the remainder of the game Stuck. Neither team could score again. That worked out much better for the other team who was winning than it did us. We got stuck, we lost confidence and got frustrated with our inability to bounce back.

Yo-yo’s are not easy toys to operate. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can easily get stuck at the bottom, lacking confidence in your own ability and left frustrated.  The same goes for leadership. The highs of leadership are hard to maintain, but it is easier to get stuck in those low points. When progress can’t be seen, when things don’t go as planned.

Keep Trying

About midway through the fourth quarter, the Critics from The Cheapest Seats started to get a little louder. Ever been in a crowded setting with lots of noise and you go to say something and everything gets eerily quiet? Well…that happened for one of the spectators!

From the stands I hear (along with the rest of the stadium), “Why does he (me…the one Calling Plays) keep running the same play?!” After three quarters of not being able to move the football, I found it a critical, but logical question!

The opponent was not playing a safety, they were loading the box. When teams do this, it tends to force teams to run east and west, not north and south. For non-football fans, the endzone is northward for the offense.

I knew that if we could execute JUST ONE simple block on the linebacker, the opportunity to break a big play was there. Well…with one minute and fifty-four seconds left in the game, that ONE simple block got made and that SAME play finally worked. We scored! We were down 14 to 13 with the extra point pending, the yo-yo had quickly rebounded to the top.

Yo-yo’s are not an easy toy to master, you have to stick with it. The hardest part is the technique of getting the yo-yo to bounce back when it hits bottom. In leadership, we can hit bottom and get stuck there.  I often teach the players I coach to be resilient, “The ability to bounce back quickly.”  Like a ball, it always bounces when it hits the ground.  We must do the same in leadership when things hit bottom.

On To The Next Play

We were elated!  There was one problem though.  Our jubilation wasn’t going to score the extra point for us. In the level of football I was coaching, you could run for one point and throw for two. We didn’t kick at that age.

We decided to go on two and drew the defense offsides on the first attempt.  Being successful would have shortened the distance from three yards to a yard and a half. Well, we ended up with a penalty instead. Now…we had to get a total of eight yards.  The play call backfired and the yo-yo plummeted right back to the bottom!

Being that we needed eight yards now, the play call had to change. I called the best play I could and said a little prayer. Our running back gets to the corner, it’s a race between him and the defender…collision at the goal line…he falls forward into the endzone…touchdown. We were tied up 14 to 14 and headed into overtime! The yo-yo rebounded quickly!

In leadership, we can get so focused on our momentary highs that we lose focus of the next play. We are busy spiking the football and forgetting our need to move forward. Just as we can’t get stuck at the bottom, it is equally important to not get stuck at the top.

Sweet Victory

In double overtime, it was time for one of those SAME old plays.  Their right defensive tackle was their best and most aggressive player.  With the game on the line, I expected nothing less from him.  So…we ran a counter (Non-footballers note:  basically faked the play going away from him and ran right back at him.  He chased the fake, no one was in his gap, we scored the winning touchdown! 

We all met at midfield for one of the most memorable on-field celebrations of my coaching career.  The crowd went nuts, thankfully they were loud enough to drown out my response to the person’s question that they asked earlier! 


My preferred personality/behavior profile tool is DISC.  It labels me as a steady type personality who prefers stability and consistency.  The yo-yo effect of leadership can flat out exhaust a person like me.  Even those of you who naturally do better at navigating the ups and downs of leadership, can struggle with getting stuck at the bottom. 

However we are wired, we just need to keep getting better at perfecting the yo-yo.  The first time you try to operate one, you can look pretty silly.  Just like running the SAME play over and over with the same negative result.  There is one thing for certain, there will be ups and downs in leadership.  But, the more persistent we are in learning the yo-yo, the more we are able to manage the ups and downs of leadership. 

As a coach or a leader, there is nothing better than when a good game plan is executed.  The desired outcome is just on the other side of our persistence.  Don’t get stuck, keep trying, move on to the next play, and you too will experience sweet victory!  

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