Learn to overcome yips and control your game
Yips have been around for years. Some of the best athletes struggle to overcome yips. They are common in golf and in baseball mainly with pitchers. Now, they seem to be coming up more frequently in much younger athletes and in other sports and other positions. Several of my clients who struggle with the yips are high school baseball catchers and tennis players.
What are the yips?
In my clients’ experience, they are highly correlated with fear and anxiety around performance. Fear and anxiety can come out in many forms and this usually results in a disruption in performance. The yips are another way the brain finds to deal with fear or anxiety. While the exact origin of the yips is unknown, it’s been thought that they occur due to biochemical or natural changes to the brain due to aging.
Wikipedia (2017) defines the yips as the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs most often in sports where athletes are required to perform a single precise and well-timed action. It occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation usually in mature athletes with years of experience. The yips manifest themselves as twitches, staggers, jitters and jerks.
The cycle of fear and anxiety
These conditions present themselves cognitively through negative thoughts, worries, and doubts and somatically, commonly noticed by butterflies, muscle tension, higher heart rate, and rapid breathing. When athletes are asked what they noticed first about their fear and anxiety, it is usually recognized either in thoughts or in their body. For example, my professional golfer stated that when he was anxious, his head went crazy with negative thoughts, worries and doubts. For my baseball catcher, he noticed his anxiety by butterflies.
Upon reflection with these athletes and others what we realize about fear and anxiety is that although athletes will be ‘triggered’ by different things, some cognitive and others somatic, the cycle begins there but one feeds the other and generally both are involved. For example, butterflies trigger negative thoughts and negative thoughts trigger muscle tension. For some athletes, this cycle builds which is uncomfortable and makes it hard to perform. For others, it becomes so severe they drop out.
What do the yips look like?
Yes of course as you age, fine motor skills tend to deteriorate but this doesn’t fit the criteria for the high school and college athletes I am seeing who have the yips. The yips in these situations and others seem to be a result of crippling fear and anxiety. Why do I say that? If you look at the cognitive and somatic results of fear and anxiety as I’ve listed them above, you’ll probably understand that they cause a disruption in performance via taking the athlete out of the present moment. When we are outside of the present moment caught up in negative or debilitative thinking, muscles get tense and tight and struggle to respond. If you are telling your brain, ‘you can’t do it’, that is the message fed to your muscles. For example, if you are a baseball catcher thinking you can’t make the throw to second base, your brain may interpret that and you throw it in the dirt or feel the disruption in your fine motor skills. Hence the yips.
How do I deal with the yips?
The way to start thinking about this is to get in touch with any fear or anxiety you are feeling. Dig into when it happens and what it looks like for you. The next step is to figure out how to take control of your fear and anxiety versus allowing it to take control over you. Right now, it might not feel like you have a lot of control. I am sure if you are experiencing the yips you feel pretty lousy and aren’t sure what to do about it.
You do have control. You just have to figure out how to take control in a persistent methodical way in order to move beyond this uncomfortable place and perform at the level you want to perform.
Turn your yips into wins
There’s no doubt about it, the yips suck! Right now, the yips probably feel out of your control and that’s because they are. The good news is you can learn to be aware of and deal with it so that they don’t diminish your ability to perform. You can train your brain and take back your power and control and perform at the level you want. Mental training can be integrated with your physical training and bring out the best performances.