The YIPS – Unexplained Loss of Skill

The YIPS, ug!

Dear Coaches Corner Athletes:

I have had a few of you share with me that you have experienced (past tense, hurrah!) or are experiencing the YIPS. I have studied this dilemma and even experienced it in a baffling way. So what I share here from my vantage point as a coach who dives into solutions to problems in a somewhat unique way can help.

First, a brief overview: The yips is a term that describes a sudden and unexplained loss of skill or control in physical activity. Athletes who experience the yips may be unable to perform simple actions, such as making routine shots, serving, or controlling the ball.

The exact cause of the yips is still not fully understood but is believed to be a combination of physical, psychological, and neurological factors. However, in many medical journals, there is a fair amount of consensus that anxiety, pressure, and lack of confidence are common triggers. In addition, some have suggested that changes in technique, equipment, or playing conditions trigger the yips.

Coaches Corner Recommendations: Overcoming the yips in pickleball requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the condition’s physical and psychological aspects.

Coaches Corner’s current research/recommendations:

Seek help: I must know if you’re experiencing the yips! Guidance from a coach or sports psychologist with experience working with athletes who have dealt with this issue goes a long way to a more rapid recovery. My efforts will include helping you identify the root causes of your yips and develop a personalized plan to overcome them.

Practice relaxation techniques: The yips can be exacerbated by anxiety and tension, so it’s vital to develop relaxation techniques to help you stay calm and focused on the court. You have all been indoctrinated by the 5-5-5 (with variations like 4-7-8), which is wildly helpful! Techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, and mindfulness can all be beneficial. Navy Seals use these meditation and breathing techniques – called “tactical breathing” in combat.

From a more medical perspective, within the nervous system, we have what is commonly referred to as the sympathetic nervous system (giving energy when we need it) and the Parasympathetic nervous system (helping us calm down from overstimulation). Discovering the more personal side of the yips is essential to me as a coach, given that nerves and anxiety can trigger them, stress, or being upset (Nerve-caused yips, that is!). The best way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system is the 5-5-5, repeated several times.

Let’s add another paragraph on the medical side: Performance anxiety used to be the buzz cause around advice for overcoming the yips. However, in today’s more modern medical world, neurological conditions can affect specific muscles (focal dystonia), which cause the yips. In this case, a coach that recognizes this by taking time and making the discovery more individually may change how you perform a specific skill. I have found this to be very helpful. Changes I have implemented involve many possibilities, from a different grip to a different physiological approach to a particular skill.

Personalizing Yips to the Athlete (and other broader considerations):

  • Sports psychologist: Always a good option (especially for those diagnosed with ADHD – the most common psychiatric condition in sports they treat). Their world typically involves positive self-talk and other ways to manage anxiety – all aimed at improving focus and performance. SIDE NOTE: Hypnotherapy has its place in the literature by those in sports psychology when the cause is psychological or exacerbated by stress. This field focuses on the whole of the mind and moving away from unwarranted stress responses under what they refer to as “the safety net of the hypnotic state.”
  • Technique Changes: Focus on technique and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps (as we have done with “drive physiology.” In this way, the brain pushes the Athlete to perfect practice, and conscious performance moves to the quadrant of unconscious competence over time.
  • Equipment Change: Experimenting with different paddles can sometimes help alleviate the yips’ symptoms.
  • Going back to the BASICS: Only skill drill to regain confidence and reduce the anxiety contributing to the yips.
  • Eat right! A BIG category of options (ex., No sugar, YES fruits and vegetables, fish, omega-3 fatty acid foods – all known to reduce stress).
  • Laughing: Acquire the skill of laughing because it triggers the release of endorphins, which can enhance your mood and decrease the levels of cortisol and adrenaline, the stress-inducing hormones. Laughing can deceive the nervous system into producing feelings of happiness.
  • Maintain a Positive Mindset: Nervousness and the yips can often stem from a lack of confidence in one’s abilities and fear of making mistakes. To counteract this, focus on maintaining a positive mindset. Incorporate techniques such as positive self-talk, visualization of desired outcomes, and listening to uplifting music to boost your confidence.
  • Seek Support: It can be helpful to seek the support of a trusted confidante, such as your coach, family member, or friend. They can offer a fresh perspective and help you see things more rationally.
  • Good Sleep Habits!

Lastly, remember that the yips are a common issue many athletes deal with at some point in their maturation to 5.0 and beyond! However, with the right approach, overcoming them much quicker and bringing back the realities of enjoyment in this “metaphor for a happy life” sport is possible.

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