Imagine this: Your sport has been a source of unbridled joy and high self -esteem for as long as you can remember. Everyone who knows you, knows you as the great athlete. You’re the kid with all the talent, with the accurate throw, the clockwork consistency and the tremendous hands. You’re “Mr/Ms. Clutch.” You’re the one everyone always looks to when the pressure’s turned up high and the game is on the line.
And then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, EVERYTHING CHANGES! Inexplicably you can’t make the simplest of plays or execute the most basic of moves. Your consistency does a disappearing act and takes your talent with it. In what feels like the blink of an eye you go from being a tremendous athlete to one who’s an embarrassment out there. The joy and anticipation which always accompanied your practices and games has been rudely kicked out and replaced by DEBILITATING ANXIETY and DREAD. For the very first time in your life, playing your sport is now a significant source of pain and suffering. How could this even be happening to you?
To make matters worse, you’re getting all kinds of grief from your teammates and/or coaches. Maybe they’re poking fun at you, embarrassing you or in other ways leaving you feeling totally humiliated. I know one coach who even thought what his struggling athlete most needed from him and his teammates when he couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher was joking around. So the coach instructed everyone to poke fun every time this catcher made a bad throw. Obviously this “coach” (and I use the term loosely) wasn’t at all troubled by deep waves of thought because his “corrective strategy” had the same effect that throwing gasoline on a fire would have! It made the catcher feel even more humiliated, thus making the throwing problem that much worse.
The really confusing and frustrating thing about the “yips” is that, no matter what the athlete tries to do to fix the problem, nothing seems to change. In fact, very often the athlete’s attempts at solving the problem simply backfire and send his/her performance further down the tubes. On top of this, the performance problem makes no sense what-so-ever. How is it possible that all of a sudden you can’t do something as simple as throwing the ball back to the pitcher or to second base, making an easy chip shot or putt, kicking a point after, doing a back handspring or getting your second serve in? It’s like waking up one morning and discovering that for no apparent reason you’ve forgotten how to walk! You want to talk about something that is crazy-making and will leave you feeling like you’re a total freak? This is it!
Then there’s the overwhelming effect that your problem has on the rest of your life. Most athletes I work with who struggle with the yips tell me that it’s one of those things that they can’t seem to get off their mind. It’s with them almost every waking hour. It completely colors their experience both in and outside of the athletic arena. They’re in school and thinking about their problem. They’re eating lunch and it pops up again. They’re trying to study and there it is once more! At night, at home, trying to relax and suddenly they find themselves agonizing about how embarrassing this all is and questioning how it could be happening to them. It’s like the “yips” continuously gnaw at you like a headache that just won’t quit.
Understand this: You’re not alone. Despite what your coaches may say to you or how they may make you feel, a lot of athletes at every level of your sport struggle with these kinds of repetitive performance problems. Anybody who tells you differently, just simply doesn’t know any better! Furthermore, the coaches who try to “help” you by angrily yelling at you to “just throw the skill,” “get a hit,” “throw strikes,” “throw the ball back hard to the pitcher,” “swing smoothly through the ball,” “try harder,” etc. don’t have a clue what they are talking about. When they try to explain your problem to you as a result of you “not trying hard enough,” “just wanting attention,” “not wanting it bad enough” or “being a head case”or “mentally weak, ” they’re flat off WRONG!
The yips have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with any of these explanations. Instead, they are a result of the gradual accumlation of physical and emotional upsets, i.e. past injuries and upsetting experiences both in and outside of your sport. These past upsetting experiences get stuck in the athlete’s body and end up being the primary cause of these inexplicable performance difficulties.