5 Tips To Fix the Yips

The “yips” is an anxious state that impacts an athlete’s performance. It’s when a muscle memory task completed hundreds, if not thousands of times, begins failing an athlete. Examples are the golfer that starts missing the fairway, the third baseman missing routine throws to first base, a swimmer that has lost the “feel” of the water, a cross-country runner that cramps only in meets, and the 99% free-throw shooter in practice who is only 45% in games. The yips are also known in some performance sports and arts as “lost move syndrome”, when accomplished high performers describe feeling as if someone or something else is in control. 

Yips are not limited to athletes. Yips can strike any high performer. It might be a professional musician that begins missing notes, or a CEO that cannot give a public speech without losing train of thought. When routine actions in key moments are no longer routine, then you have the yips

High performing athletes and professionals who develop the yips don’t have an issue with “not working hard enough” – they’re elites. It’s what they do. What makes it so frustrating for the high performer is they can’t just “do more” to make the yips go away. Doing more and working harder can often make things worse. Continued setbacks can defeat morale, and overworking the body promotes injury. This leads to greater anxiety and depression, and the cycle continues. 

The real problem lies deep within. Literally. The problem lies within the brain’s memory banks. Yips are an issue that coping skills will struggle to resolve. In computer terms, it doesn’t help adding code to the brain to compensate for bad code. Fix the bad code. 

The good news is that after 30+ years of high quality science-based research into the brain’s inner workings, proven treatment methods can rewire or reprocess the brain back to its high-performing ability. In most instances the yips have a single moment of creation, but rarely can a high performer recall that moment without some guided assistance. This starting memory has become buried so deep in the neural network, the high performer either cannot find it or dismisses it as insignificant. In time, the memory surfaces as anxiety, and that ultimately lodges itself in the individual’s physiology.  To clarify, for the elite performer, any amount of anxiety can impact muscle movement, leading to fractional shifts in the body’s motion or function, and those fractions can be the difference between winning and losing.

When working with a client who has the yips, I recommend a trauma-based approach, using such modalities as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which can help identify and reprocess events that may be associated with performance issues. After all, the brain structures responsible for PTSD and the yips are the same. 

5 Steps to Confronting the Yips:

  1. Accept this may be a “think smarter” not “try harder” situation.
  2. Accept that the yip problem may exist in your life outside of your chosen high-performance area and is carrying over.
  3. Find a therapist trained at troubleshooting the genesis of the problem.
  4. Ask if your therapist is trained in altering the neurophysiology of the problem, which can be key beyond mindful meditation and envisioning successful outcomes.
  5. Follow through in scheduling and communicating with your therapist!

At Lifeologie Counseling Dallas and Lifeologie Counseling Fort Worth, I supervise clinicians and work with adolescents and adults, including veterans and first responders, who are experiencing sports performance issues, trauma, anxiety, anger, abuse recovery, and major life transitions, among other concerns. If you’re in Texas and you’d like to explore the neuropsychological issues that are keeping you from living your best life, request an appointment with me or call (214) 357-4001 to learn more. Or, meet our therapists throughout the Lifeologie Counseling network who are trained in trauma and EMDR.

About Chris Jones

Chris Jones, LPC and LPC Supervisor, earned his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Psychology from Baylor University. He is also a certified EMDR clinician. He specializes in working with trauma, PTSD, major depression, long-lasting anxiety, out-of-control anger, probation, borderline personality, narcissistic personality, failure to launch, and abuse recovery. He sees adults at Lifeologie Counseling Dallas and Lifeologie Counseling Fort Worth.

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