I Say Yanny, They Hear Laurel

Posted by Tim Nash on May 17, 2018 10:14:31 AM


A month or so ago, I started asking parents what they wanted from their child’s coach and club. One parent had a simple answer that seemed like a good guideline for coaches to use when working with kids.

“I want a coach who can relate to my daughter in a way she can understand,” said one mother.

Makes sense, I thought. That shouldn’t be hard to do. But now this whole Yanny vs Laurel thing comes up, and I wonder what they actually hear when I speak.

If you haven’t heard of Yanny and Laurel, it’s a recording that has caused the internet community to freak out. It debuted on Snapchat Tuesday and was viewed 18 million times by Thursday morning. The recording says a word. Some people hear Yanny and others hear Laurel. It has something to do with pitch and how it is interpreted differently by different people.

DRIVN Club Sports Partnership

That’s scary. First of all, Yanny and Laurel sound nothing alike, and they are not close in meaning, either. One is a Greek musician, and the other is a canyon in Santa Monica. Second, it has to make you wonder what the kids you coach actually hear when you speak.

When you say “pass” do they hear “dribble?” When you tell someone to play midfield, do they actually hear you say forward? It certainly seems that way sometimes, and I personally have a theory that when you say shoot, they hear kick it out of bounds.

But it brings up an interesting and real challenge when it comes to communicating with young players. The challenge is what the mother talking about when she said a coach should “relate to my daughter in a way she can understand.”

Simplifying your vocabulary is important. When talking about applying pressure, isn’t “annoy” better than “harass?” Which is easier to understand, “spacing” or “spread out?”

At the end of each year, coaches in a club in which I coached were tasked with giving each player an evaluation and then reviewing it with them. One year, an area in which the players were graded was how well they “dealt with adversity.” Guess what? Not a single player on a team made up of 12- and 13-year-olds knew the definition of adversity.

Then there was the player I coached who consistently took a shot when near the end line instead of passing the ball back out in front of the goal to someone with a much better angle. I told this player that when they got to the end line, they had to “pull it back,” a phrase I thought explained it well. But she interpreted “pull it back” to mean stop, turn and dribble back in front of the goal. Not until our individual frustrations – mine with her consistently taking bad shots, and her’s with me asking her to do the near-impossible – reached the point where we had to explain the problems to each other, did I realize I was using the wrong phrase all along.

And speaking of angles, if a kid hasn’t taken geometry yet, how much do they really understand about angles and where they meet? Could that be a reason why kids pass the ball directly to the feet of a player running away instead of into their path?

There is also the problem of making sure players are listening when you speak, which brings us to the fascinating phenomenon where you are talking to a player and someone enters the conversation late and totally confuses everyone. It goes like this:

Player 1: I might be late to our game three weeks from now. I’ll be coming home from the beach.

Me: Oh, that game got canceled anyway.

Player 2: Wait, our game is canceled?

Me: Not this weekend, another game.

Player 3: Why don’t we have a game this weekend?

Player 2 to Player 5: (Player 1) can’t play this weekend.

Player 5: Why? What are we going to do?

Player 3: She’s going to the beach?

Player 6: We have a game at the beach?

Player 7: When are we going to the beach?

Player 2: Who are we playing?

Me: This week we are home.

Player 2 to Players 8, 9, 10 and 11: We don’t have a game this weekend.

Players 8, 9, 10 and 11: Why? Is it going to be made up? When are we going to play it?

Me: Ok, everyone come here, sit down and listen carefully.

Coaches will always run into problems when communicating with young players, but they can limit them by doing two things. First, pay attention to your word choices, and second pay attention to the players. It’s sometimes very apparent by their facial expression when someone doesn’t understand what you’re talking about.

So every once in a while stop and ask them.

Topics: Team Communication, Youth Sports, Effective Communication, Coaching