Sunday, 29 April 2012

Y is for... the Yips

The yips is an apparent loss of fine motor skills that affects certain athletes. It's most commonly known for affecting golfers, but can also affect athletes in a number of other sports. Some sports people affected by the yips can recover their ability, whereas for others it continues to affect them for the rest of their sporting life.

Bernhard Langer using a belly putter

Golfers who suffer from the yips usually find their putting stroke affected. Putting require a smooth, gentle stroke in golf, while the yips causes a golfer to flinch or twitch during this stroke. It can affect between a quarter and half of all serious golfers, although golfers with more than 25 years of playing experience are considerably more likely to experience it.

Hall of fame golfers such as Bernhard Langer, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan all experienced the yips during their careers. The yips isn't something that usually affects golfers all of the time, but rather on select occasions, often when the pressure is high. To try and overcome the yips some golfers have changed from using a traditional putter to a belly putter.

Other sports

The yips can also affect bowlers in cricket, with in particular left-arm spinners having trouble in release the ball at the end of their action. In a couple of instances this has led to a bowler retiring from cricket (Keith Medlycott), or concentrating on batting instead of bowling (Gavin Hamilton).

Releasing the ball at the right moment has also affected pitchers in baseball, with Pittsburg Pirates pitcher Steve Blass going from an all-star pitcher to the minor leagues within 2 years of suffering the yips. Tennis players such as Guillermo Coria and Elena Dementieva have also had troubles with the yips, which severely affected their serving action, as they found it difficult to throw the ball up correctly.

The cause of the yips has yet to be determined, although it's believed that it may result from biochemical changes in the brain. It's certainly difficult to see athletes suffer from the yips, as there often seems to be little they can do to overcome it. Being confident in your ability and blocking away any doubt certainly seems to help, although concentrating too much can also make the problem worse. Hopefully in time more research is put into the problems the yips can cause, and the best possible way to counteract them.

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