In sports, the yips are a sudden and unexplained loss of ability to execute certain skills in experienced athletes. Symptoms of the yips are losing fine motor skills and psychological issues that impact on the muscle memory and decision-making of athletes, leaving them unable to perform basic skills of their sport.
Common treatments include clinical sport psychology therapy as well as refocusing attention on the underlying biomechanics of their physical actions. The impact varies widely. A yips event may last a short time before the athlete regains their composure or it can require longer term adjustments to technique before recovery occurs. The worst cases are those where the athlete does not recover at all, forcing the player to abandon the 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 a quarter and a half of all mature golfers. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that 33% to 48% of all serious golfers have experienced the yips. Golfers who have played for more than 25 years appear most prone to the condition.
Although the exact cause of the yips has yet to be determined, one possibility is biochemical changes in the brain that accompany aging. Excessive use of the involved muscles and intense demands of coordination and concentration may exacerbate the problem. Giving up golf for a month sometimes helps. Focal dystonia has been mentioned as another possibility for the cause of yips.
Professional golfers seriously afflicted by the yips include Ernie Els, David Duval, Pádraig Harrington, Bernhard Langer, Ben Hogan, Harry Vardon, Sam Snead, Ian Baker-Finch and Keegan Bradley, who missed a six-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). At the 2015 Waste Management Open, golf analyst Nick Faldo suggested that Tiger Woods could be suffering from the yips. Jay Yarow from Business Insider commented after the 2014 Open that Woods had both the putting yips and the driver yips.
Interventions seeking to treat the affliction have been few and far between. Some golfers have tried changing their putter or their grip or even switching hands. However, these strategies have provided only temporary relief.
They are also known as "freezing", "the jerks", "the staggers", "the waggles", and "whisky fingers".
In tennis, the yips most often affects the (second) serve, leading to multiple double faults. Several top players have been affected by the yips in recent years, most notably Alexander Zverev in 2019, and Aryna Sabalenka in the beginning of 2022. For example, Zverev served a record of 20 double faults in his 2019 Cincinnati Masters first round loss against Miomir Kecmanovic, while Sabalenka served up 39 double faults in her two first round losses in the 2022 Adelaide 1 and Adelaide 2 tournaments. In the 2000s, Guillermo Coria, a former world no.3, suffered from service yips.
In cricket, the yips applies mostly to bowlers. The affliction seems to involve bowlers having trouble releasing the ball at the end of their action. An example of this was Keith Medlycott, who having reached the England squad was forced to abandon the sport. 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 after injury he encountered difficulty with his bowling action, later going through a phase of appearing as a specialist batsman in international matches. Other players to have experienced similar problems include Ian Folley of Lancashire, and the West Indies test cricketer Roger Harper.
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 Sciences.
In baseball, the yips usually manifests itself as a sudden inability to throw the baseball accurately. They are more apparent in pitchers and catchers, players who touch the ball the most in the game, though position players have also been subject to the malady.
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass is an example; from 1964 to 1972, he was a dominant pitcher and All-Star; however, beginning in 1973, he suddenly lost his command, issuing 84 walks in 88+2⁄3 innings pitched. 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 suddenly lost their ability to throw the ball accurately to the first baseman. Sax's problems began in his 3rd season in the majors, but he continued to play in the league and seemingly recovered by 1989, going on to finish his career in 1994.
New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser could not throw the ball back to the pitcher without tapping his mitt several times—San Francisco Giants outfielder Brett Butler once stole third base during a Sasser yip. Sasser's problem became worse after a 1990 collision at home plate with Jim Presley of the Atlanta Braves, leading to a decrease in Sasser's playing time, and his release from the Seattle Mariners in 1994.
Mark Wohlers of the Atlanta Braves was called "the 1990s poster child for Steve Blass Syndrome." He recovered enough to return to pitching, but not to previous levels.
Rick Ankiel lost his control as a pitcher during the 2000 National League Championship Series. After several years of deteriorating performance coupled with injuries, he subsequently returned in 2007 as a productive outfielder.
Jon Lester is also said to have suffered the yips on his pickoff attempts to first base. He did not throw to first at all in 2014, and struggled to make accurate throws early in 2015. For the rest of his career Lester would when required to field a hit ball, he would run most of the way to 1st base and underhand throw the ball and on longer throws would spike it into the turf to reduce the chances of throwing it past the bag. His team also attempted to compensate for the problem with their catchers throwing 'back picks' to first base as well as the regulation throws to second.
Pittsburgh Pirates minor league pitching prospect Hayden Hurst was so badly affected by the yips that he left baseball and went to the University of South Carolina to play football instead. On April 26, 2018, he was drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, 25th overall, by the Baltimore Ravens as a tight end.
ESPN featured a story about Luke Hagerty's comeback from the yips in 2019. He never played after being drafted #32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2002 draft.
In artistic gymnastics, the "twisties" are a sudden loss of a gymnast's ability to maintain body control during aerial maneuvers, with the gymnast feeling something akin to an out-of-body experience in mid-air. Many gymnasts also reference a feeling of disorientation or unawareness of where the ground is. This increases the chance of a serious or critical injury occurring if the gymnast forgets in the moment how to land the maneuver safely. US gymnast Simone Biles suffered from the twisties during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, causing her to withdraw from competition after the women's team all-around final; Biles later returned to perform a downscaled routine in the balance beam final, winning the bronze medal.
US gymnasts Laurie Hernandez and Aleah Finnegan both stated that they have had the "twisties" during their career and spoke out in support of Biles during the games in 2021. Finnegan stated "I cannot imagine the fear of having it happen to you during competition. You have absolutely no control over your body and what it does."
In trampoline gymnastics, the condition is typically referred to as "lost move syndrome". Olympic trampoline gymnast Bryony Page has discussed her personal experience with the condition while preparing to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
In other sports
The yips also affects players in other sports. Examples include Markelle Fultz and Chuck Hayes's respective free throw shots in basketball. In tennis, yips seems to particularly manifest itself in the form of the player all of a sudden consistently failing to execute a serve, leading to a torrent of consecutive double faults. This afflicted Elena Dementieva, Guillermo Coria, Sara Errani and Aryna Sabalenka. In darts, the yips are known as dartitis, with five-time world champion Eric Bristow an example of a sufferer. In the National Football League (NFL), a normally reliable placekicker who starts struggling is also said to have the yips.
Stephen Hendry, seven times snooker World Champion, said after his loss to Mark Williams in the 2010 UK Championship that he had been suffering from the yips for ten years, and that the condition had affected his ability to cue through the ball, causing him great difficulty in regaining his old form.
- ^ Barkow, A. and Barrett, D. (1997) Golf Legends of All Time. Publications International.
- ^ Smith et al., 2000.
- ^ "Beware of the yipsDreaded golf affliction has no known cure". Oklahoman.com. 2004-07-18. Retrieved 2021-01-31.
- ^ Letter, Courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health. "Yips: More than a putting problem". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2021-01-31.
- ^ Farias J. Intertwined. How to induce neuroplasticity. A new approach to rehabilitating dystonias. Galene Editions, 2012.
- ^ Yarow, Jay (2014-07-21). "The Tiger Woods Era Is Over". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
- ^ "What are the yips? Experts say it's not just in your head". Golf Digest. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
- ^ "The Yips – If You've Had 'Em, You've Got 'Em". Golf Digest. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
- ^ "Alexander Zverev holds massive unwanted lead on ATP list that includes Djokovic & Nadal". 5 September 2019.
- ^ "The statistics that defined 2022 - Sabalenka plagued by 428 double-faults but laughs it off and perseveres". 23 December 2022.
- ^ Papineau, David (2015). "Choking and The Yips". Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 14 (2): 295–308, at 305. doi:10.1007/s11097-014-9383-x. ISSN 1568-7759. S2CID 55385847.
- ^ "Keith Medlycott profile and biography". Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- ^ "Gavin Hamilton | Scotland Cricket | Cricket Players and Officials | ESPN Cricinfo". Content-uk.cricinfo.com. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- ^ "Collins Obuya profile and biography". Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- ^ "Odd men in". Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- ^ "Roger Harper profile and biography". Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- ^ "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 Sciences. 19 (12): 937–53. doi:10.1080/026404101317108444. PMID 11820688. S2CID 10662602.
- ^ a b Kelly, Matt (October 14, 2020). "Players Who Had the Yips". MLB.com. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
- ^ "The 1973 PIT N Pitching Splits for Steve Blass". Retrosheet. August 23, 1989. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- ^ Meisel, Zack (2013-05-10). "The Yips: Difficult to understand, difficult to cure". MLB.com. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
- ^ "Mackey Sasser throwing yips". Retrieved November 17, 2018 – via YouTube.[dead YouTube link]
- ^ "San Francisco Giants 5, New York Mets 0". Retrosheet. August 23, 1989. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- ^ Goldberg, Alan. "The Mackey Sasser Story". competitivedge.com. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- ^ "Wohlers not alone in battles". Augusta Chronicle. Associated Press. July 19, 1998. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
- ^ "Ankiel Shows Off His Arm". MLB.com. May 7, 2008. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
- ^ Apstein, Stephanie (2017-05-17). "How Jon Lester conquered his bout with the yips". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
- ^ Pompei, Dan (2018-04-04). "How Hayden Hurst Went from Baseball Flameout to Potential 1st-Round NFL Pick". bleacherreport.com. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
- ^ Passan, Jeff (2019-02-04). "Luke Hagerty Improbably Comeback". ESPN. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
- ^ Reeve, Elle (July 28, 2021). "Simone Biles and 'the twisties': How fear affects the mental health and physical safety of gymnasts". CNN. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
- ^ Giambalvo, Emily (28 July 2021). "Simone Biles said she got the 'twisties.' Gymnasts immediately understood". The Washington Post. Retrieved 30 July 2021.
- ^ "What are the twisties?". Olympics.com. 28 July 2021.
- ^ "Simone Biles' twisties: mental block which puts gymnasts at serious risk". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
- ^ Day, Melissa Catherine; Thatcher, Joanne; Greenlees, Iain; Woods, Bernadette (2006). "The Causes of and Psychological Responses to Lost Move Syndrome in National Level Trampolinists". Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 18 (2): 151–166. doi:10.1080/10413200600653782. S2CID 143928074.
- ^ Bennett, J.; Hays, K.; Lindsay, P.; Olusoga, P.; w. Maynard, I. "Yips and lost move syndrome: Exploring psychological symptoms, similarities, and implications for treatment | IJSP Online". International Journal of Sport Psychology. 46 (1): 61–82.
- ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Gymnast who Lost Her Moves - Bryony Page | Against All Odds". YouTube.
- ^ Gonzalez, John. "The End of the Affair: Markelle Fultz and the Sixers Are Probably Breaking Up". The Ringer. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
- ^ bballvideos (2007-12-21). "Chuck Hayes Ugly Free Throws vs Denver 12/20". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- ^ "Tom Perotta - The Yips". Tennisworld.typepad.com. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- ^ "Was Guillermo Coria the best that never was?". Essential Tennis. Essential Tennis. January 2013.
- ^ "Sabalenka battles serving yips". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 January 2022. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
- ^ "Eric Bristow reveals how he dealt his yips - something all sports stars dread". 17 February 2015.
- ^ "BBC Sport - Snooker - Hendry reveals 10-year battle with the 'yips'". BBC News. 2010-12-08. Retrieved 2011-11-29. |