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Yips or the yips is the apparent loss of fine motor skills without apparent explanation, in one of a number of different sports. The technical term is focal dystonia. Athletes affected by the yips demonstrate a sudden, unexplained loss of previous skills. Athletes affected by the yips sometimes recover their ability, sometimes compensate by changing technique, or may be forced to abandon their sport at the highest level.
In golf, the yips is a movement disorder known to interfere with putting. The term yips is said to have been popularized by Tommy Armour—a golf champion and later golf teacher—to explain the difficulties that led him to abandon tournament play. In describing the yips, golfers have used terms such as twitches, staggers, jitters and jerks. The yips affects between one-quarter and one-half of all mature golfers. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that 33 percent to 48 percent of all serious golfers have experienced the yips. Golfers who have played for more than 25 years appear to be most prone to the condition.
Although the exact cause of the yips has yet to be determined, one possibility is that the condition may result from biochemical changes in the brain that accompany aging. Excessive use of the involved muscles and intense demands of coordination and concentration may make the problem worse. Giving up golf for a month may help. Focal dystonia is mentioned as another possibility for the real cause of yips.
Golfers seriously afflicted by the yips include Bernhard Langer, Ben Hogan, Harry Vardon, Sam Snead, and Keegan Bradley, who missed a simple 6 inch putt in the final round of the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship due to the condition (although he may also have been suffering from Strabismus).
Interventions looking to treat the 'yips' have been few and far between. Most golfers have attempted trick strategies, either by changing their putter, their grip or even switching hands. However these strategies only provide temporary relief. A recent case study by Rotheram and colleagues (2012) in the Sport Psychologist, looked at a novel intervention to treat Type I 'yips' (i.e., the focal dystonia end of the continuum provided by Smith et al., 2003). They used Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to help the golfer in question completely overcome their symptoms. EFT was targeted at potentially significant life experiences which occurred prior to the initial experience of the 'yips'. The authors postulated that the 'yips' in some cases may be caused by significant life events.
In cricket, the yips applies mostly to bowlers and seems predominantly to affect left-arm spinners. The affliction seems to involve bowlers having trouble releasing the ball at the end of their action. A notable recent example of this was Keith Medlycott, who was forced to abandon the sport, having reached the England squad. Another player, Gavin Hamilton, having played a Test as an all-rounder, largely abandoned his right-arm medium pace bowling, following the yips. He did not make another Test appearance, but has enjoyed a One Day International career for Scotland, predominantly as a specialist batsman. Collins Obuya was one of the stars of Kenya's 2003 World Cup - he gained a contract with Warwickshire on the back of it - but soon after his game fell apart when he developed the yips.
As reported in a 2011 interview in the Wellcome Trust's educational magazine Big Picture, England cricket team sports psychologist Dr Mark Bawden suffered from the yips himself as a teenager. He completed a PhD on the topic and has published a paper on the yips in the Journal of Sports Science.
In baseball, the yips usually manifests itself as a sudden inability to throw the baseball accurately. Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass is the classic example: from 1964 to 1972, he was a dominant pitcher and All-Star, however, beginning in 1973, he suddenly lost his command, walking almost a batter an inning; he retired in 1974 due to continued loss of his pitching ability. “Steve Blass Disease” has been attributed to talented players (such as New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch or Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax) who inexplicably seem to lose their ability to throw the ball accurately. Another, similar, case of the yips occurred with St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel. Ankiel had early success as a pitcher until he suddenly lost his ability to throw strikes and began throwing an inordinate number of wild pitches. After several years in the minor leagues attempting to regain his control, he abandoned pitching altogether and became a position player. Ironically, much of his success as a position player has resulted from his strong, accurate throws from the outfield.
In other sports
The yips also affects players in other sports. Examples from other sports include Chuck Hayes’ free throw shot in basketball and Guillermo Coria and Elena Dementieva struggling with serving in tennis. In darts, the yips are known as dartitis, with five-time world champion Eric Bristow as the best example. In the NFL, a normally reliable placekicker who starts struggling is also said to have the yips. Stephen Hendry, seven times snooker World Champion, revealed after his loss to Mark Williams in the UK Championship that he had been suffering from the yips for 10 years, and that the condition had affected his ability to cue through the ball, causing him great difficulty in regaining his old form.
In popular culture
The song "Yipps (My Baby Got The)" by English Indie Rock band Half Man Half Biscuit, on McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt, 1991, discusses the symptoms of the yips ("She goes out in 32 but comes home in 54") and various golfing figures of the time. The Yips is the title of a 2012 book by English novelist Nicola Barker, which deals with an aging golfer. The Yips is the tenth episode in the third season of the television series How I Met Your Mother. In Nip/Tuck, Dr. Sean McNamara experiences the yips during the beginning of season 2. The character Dave Rose in Happy Endings (TV series) suffers from the yips in the tenth episode of season three called "KickBall 2: The Kickening".
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- Smith et al., 2000.
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- "'We very rarely talk about winning'". Big Picture. Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Bawden, M.; Maynard, I. (December 2001). "Towards an understanding of the personal experience of the 'yips' in cricketers". Journal of Sports Science 19 (12). pp. 937–53.
- bballvideos (2007-12-21). "Chuck Hayes Ugly Free Throws vs Denver 12/20". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
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- Rotheram, M.; Maynard, I.; Thomas, O.; Bawden, M.; Francis, L. (2012). "Preliminary Evidence for the Treatment of Type I 'Yips': The Efficacy of the Emotional Freedom Techniques". The Sport Psychologist. 26: 551-570.
- Athletes' Focal dystonia rehabilitation