Imagine this scene: You walk up to the edge of a swimming pool, ice-cold water waiting to greet you. Deep down you know that the only way you are going in that pool is to grow a pair, take a running start, and leap into the water with reckless abandon. You back up a few steps, take one last look at the pool, and think “it’s time.” You start to take off, barreling towards the bank, preparing for flight, you come to the edge, bend your knees and—— you hit the breaks. You rethink it. Fear has just gotten the best of you.
The icy pool analogy is the only way I have been able to describe the yips to the individuals who cannot wrap their minds around such a thing, and even that illustration falls incredibly short of the hopelessness and frustration that come with the famed “syndrome”. You can see it in just about any sport, if you know what you are looking for, and it is peak performance and sports psychology’s most daunting adversary.
To save a long explanation of what the yips can do to players of all sports, just check this page out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yips
I’ll give you a quick glimpse into what the yips looked like in my career, and how I was able to overcome them. Along the way, I picked up some tips that might be valuable to you, should you ever encounter them in a sport you enjoy.
In the fall of 2008, I got diagnosed with a pretty wicked case of the ADHD, and was thrilled to be prescribed a study aid called “Vyvanse”. This stuff was a dream come true in the classroom; I went from having the attention span of a gnat to being a superhero whose one super power was extreme focus. An unfortunate side effect of this (one of many) was that I became incredibly impulsive. It was as if something would “pop” in my brain and I would be forced into some sort of action or reaction that made no sense to me.
Fast forward to a fall intrasquad—I am on the mound with a good runner on first base. I decide that I am going to hold the ball for a second and throw over, just to let him know that I was aware of him. Before I know what has even happened, I “popped”, stepped off of the rubber and fired the ball toward the batter standing at home plate. I was so confused by what had just happened, and my lack of control of it, that I, along with everyone there watching, was completely in shock.
Long, long, long story short, it was the beginning of the end. Every time I toed the rubber, I knew that if a runner got on first base, I was toast. It was all consuming. The thought of something uncontrollable happening had me paralyzed beyond anything you could imagine. I forgot how to come set. Every single time the catcher flashed a sign, I would step off of the rubber and ask for it again. And when and if I successfully came set, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Truly. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my baseball career had just ended. I could not fathom playing baseball again, and even as I sit here now and write about those days, it feels eerie and ominous, and I am amazed that I can still play.
So 5 years have gone by, and I am still playing, yip free. How did we get past it? Here are some things that helped me.
1.) Talk about it. Get it out in the open, talk to friends, let your teammates make fun of you for it. Talk to a sports psychologist, if you have access to one. This was by far THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT STEP for me. Once I felt like I wasn’t trying to hide from the yips, it became much easier to keep them in check.
2.) Make your weakness a strength. Most of the time, the yips start in an area where you struggle. I was never good at holding runners, and always lacked confidence in shutting down base stealers, so it only seemed fitting that I was attacked in that area. By practicing that weakness and gaining confidence in it, I now felt like I was GOOD at it, and looked forward to controlling that element. Feeling like you are in control is critical.
3.) Develop a healthier perspective. By recognizing that (even at the professional level) you are just playing a silly game, you can minimize the burdensome feeling of pressure. At the end of the day, there are people being murdered, starved, tortured, imprisoned unjustly, enslaved, etc., and we are in our cozy environment distraught over our lack of effectiveness in a sport. Grow up, shut up, and get over it; and if you never play this GAME again, it could be a whole hell of a lot worse. Seriously.
4.) Breathe. Breathing is a game changer. Watch major league players before they throw a big pitch. Big inhale, big exhale—oxygen to the brain and the extremities makes everything work. There is an incredible calming effect to good, strong breathing. Practice it.
I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, remember: it’s all in your head, and you can squash it.
Sorry for the long post—go grab a snack.