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The yips is the colloquial term for a sudden and unexplained loss of skills in experienced athletes. Some credit the yips to a loss of fine motor skills; others consider the condition to be primarily psychological. However, it is poorly understood and has no known treatment or therapy. Athletes affected by the yips sometimes recover their ability, which may require a change in technique. Many are forced to abandon their sport at the highest level. Originally coined by golfer Tommy Armour to describe a sudden and inexplicable loss of the ability to putt correctly, the term has later been broadened to apply to any unexplained loss of skill, and has been applied to athletes in a wide variety of sports.
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 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.
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. 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 soon afterward his game fell apart when he developed the yips.
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 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 also inexplicably seemed to lose their ability to throw the ball accurately.
New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser suffered the yips; he sometimes 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."
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.
In other sports
The yips also affects players in other sports. Examples include Markelle Fultz and Chuck Hayes' respective free throw shots 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 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 2011 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.
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