The Yips

Photo by Natasha Connell (Find More of Connell’s Work at https://unsplash.com/@natcon773)

August 28th, 2020

By Monty South

Podcast Summary

This week the “When the Lights Go Out” podcast was hosted by Sam Crickey and co-hosted by Monty South. In addition, to give a more personal connection to the podcast we had a friend of the show Matt come on and talk about the subject as well. The subject of this week’s podcast was that of the Yips, an interesting phenomenon in athletes who suddenly lose the ability to play at their best level.

Like the origin of the term, the first sport discussed in relation to the yips was golf. Golf is an extremely individual and pressure filled sport that can quickly spiral out of control. Perhaps it isn’t surprising then that the term “the yips” was coined by Tommy Armour, a professional golfer who had the yips. In the opening portion of this podcast, Sam took the time to introduce the yips, their origin, and the impact that it specifically had on Tommy Armour.

Before discussing other athletes that have been affected by the yips, I (Monty) took the time to look at some of the scientific research that has been done on the yips so far. In this discussion I mentioned the symptoms of the yips, the current theories for its causes, the relationship between the Yips and anxiety, and the possible treatments for the yips.

After this explanation from Monty, Sam went on to talk about some of his favorite examples of the yips in sports. The first player he talked about was a current golfer named Kevin Na. Na is a professional golfer who midway through his career suddenly had a HUGE issue in his game. He just couldn’t bring himself to swing. Sam then went on to discuss how Na has fought through the yips and where he currently is as a golfer.

Following the discussion of Kevin Na, Sam turned towards baseball. His favorite story of the yips in Baseball is that of Rick Ankiel. Ankiel was a great pitching prospect for the Cardinals who had great success when he was 20 in the Major leagues. Unfortunately, during the playoff run in 2000 for the Cardinals, Ankiel struggled mightily before being sent down to the minors again a few years later. Sam then talked about how Ankiel completely changed his position to outfielder in order to return to the MLB and have fun with baseball again.

Perhaps the highest profile modern case of the yips that Sam talked about is that of Markelle Fultz. In his discussion of Fultz, Sam mentioned the other possible explanations for his poor performance in the NBA, the drastic changes to Fultz’s game after college, and why Sam and Monty both believe that the yips was at least partially to blame for Fultz’s early career struggles. Sam also emphasized the recent improvements to Fultz’s game since he moved to the Orlando Magic.

Before talking with Matt, Sam quickly compared the mental aspect of the yips to the impacts that physical injuries have on athletes. He also made sure to emphasize that like regular injuries, the yips can be overcome and pointed to the three examples given in this podcast as reasons that the yips do not need to end a players career.

Finally, Sam and Monty had the opportunity to talk with Matt about his experience with a yips-like episode. Like Markelle Fultz, Matt thinks that part of his experience of the Yips was due to an injury he suffered.

Corrections

This podcast was recorded in the beginning of July, and thus when Sam mentioned that the NBA season hadn’t restarted yet in 2020, this statement was true at the time.

My Thoughts

Personally I have always been really interested in the mental aspects of sports. It has always been a curiosity of mine as to what allows professional athletes like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Tiger Woods to perform their best when the pressure is the highest while other athletes fail to do so. While there are many other explanations that have been connected to this phenomenon, the yips is an explanation that I think gets overlooked a lot of the time simply because it’s not something “the victor” feels the impact of. While it can be devastating to athletes I really do think Sam’s final message of the regular portion of the podcast was really potent and well said. Like physical injuries, the yips is just a setback on an athletes path to reach their final goals. With the right mindset, work ethic, and sometimes good fortune, the yips can be overcome. Finally, I really want to thank Matt for coming on the podcast this week. Sam and I really enjoyed talking with Matt and we would love to have him back on the podcast at some point.

Post and Podcast Sources

  1. Buckner, Candace. “From No. 1 Draft Pick to Basketball’s Biggest Enigma: No One Knows What’s up with Markelle Fultz.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 14 Dec. 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2018/12/14/no-draft-pick-basketballs-biggest-enigma-no-one-knows-whats-up-with-markelle-fultz/?noredirect=on.
  2. MLB, director. 2000 NLDS Gm1: Rick Ankiel Throws Five Wild Pitches in Game 1 of the NLDS. Youtube.com, 2 July 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDZX525CSvw.
  3. Nevin, Andy, director. Kevin Na Pre Drive Routine. Youtube.com, 13 May 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNG-63ivFqs.
  4. O’Shaughnessy, Haley. “The Markelle Fultz Mystery, the NBA Story That Rocked 2018.” The Ringer, The Ringer, 21 Dec. 2018, http://www.theringer.com/nba/2018/12/21/18150729/markelle-fultz-shot-mystery-2018-timeline.
  5. “Rick Ankiel Stats.” Baseball, http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/ankieri01.shtml.
  6. Rubin, Sara. “Sara Rubin.” Austad’s Golf, 3 Sept. 2015, austads.com/blog/tommy-armour-yips/.
  7. Smith, Aynsley M., et al. “The ‘Yips’ in Golf.” Sports Medicine, vol. 33, no. 1, 23 Oct. 2012, pp. 13–31., doi:10.2165/00007256-200333010-00002.
  8. Speer, Ron. “Ben Hogan Has the Putting Yips.” The Owosso Argus-Press, 5 Apr. 1967, pp. 7–7.
  9. Waleik, Gary. “Former MLB Hurler Remembers 5 Pitches That Derailed His Career.” Former MLB Hurler Remembers 5 Pitches That Derailed His Career | Only A Game, WBUR, 19 May 2017, http://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2017/05/19/rick-ankiel-baseball.

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