The yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation usually in mature athletes with years of experience. 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.
The yips manifest themselves as twitches, staggers, jitters and jerks. The condition occurs most often in sports which athletes are required to perform a single precise and well-timed action such as golf and darts. The condition is also experienced by snooker players, bowlers in cricket and pitchers in baseball.
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% 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 commentator Nick Faldo suggested that Tiger Woods is possibly suffering from the yips. Jay Yarow from Business Insider commented after the 2014 Open that Woods has both the putting yips and the driver yips.
Interventions seeking to treat the affliction have been few and far between. Most golfers have attempted trick strategies, either by 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. A notable recent 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.
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 also inexplicably seemed to lose their ability to throw the ball accurately.New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser suffered the yips in 1990 after a collision at home plate with Atlanta’s Jim Presley; Sasser couldn’t throw the ball back to his pitcher without tapping his mitt as many as four times, and San Francisco Giants outfielder Brett Butler once stole third base during a Sasser yip.
The most infamous case of the yips in recent baseball history occurred with St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel, who had been one of the game’s most promising young talents until he suddenly lost his ability to throw strikes and began throwing an alarming number of wild pitches during the 2000 playoffs with the issues continuing early in the 2001 season. After several years in the minor leagues attempting to regain his control, he abandoned pitching altogether and later returned to the major leagues to play several seasons as an outfielder.
Jon Lester is also said to have suffered the yips on his pickoff move to first.He did not throw to first at all in 2014 and struggled to make accurate throws early in 2015.
In other sports
The yips also affects players in other sports. Examples from other sports include Roy Hibbert, 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 the best-known 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 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.