Anne's Diary

The Yips

The ‘yips’ is a term golfers use to describe a condition where they become compulsively unable to sink balls. They’ve also learned that they’re more likely to sink a putt if they don’t try too hard to hit the hole.

The New York Times offered the opinion recently that the ‘yips’ might extend to all sports. I agree, and I think it might be even bigger than that. In the movie Bull Durham, the pitcher does everything he can not to throw strikes that are actually fat pitches sent drifting right over the plate…and it works. By intentionally trying NOT to pitch well, he pitches brilliantly.

There was golf and baseball on TV today, so I tried to watch both to see if I could spot anybody with the ‘yips.’ I didn’t see anybody with a chronic case, but I saw a few examples of players who needed to ‘let go.’ In the 9th inning of the Yankees game, David Robinson threw a home run on his first pitch. He panicked and lost the plate. He couldn’t find it and so frantically started throwing fat pitches. The inning started out 2-1 Yankees and ended 7-1 Twins. Not the yips, but not exactly a yippee for Robinson, either!

So, how can we apply this psychology to non-sports. One example might be daytrading, which Whitley does in order to keep us from starving. He gets up at six every morning and trades until nine. He’s found that if traders get into a loss rut, they can get the ‘yips’ and end up busting out their accounts. But more often, they clench just like Robinson did, and start overtrading to make up losses. When he has three losing trades in a day, he quits until the next day. Thus he avoids getting stuck in the daytrading ‘yips’ and does well for us
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Due to my brain surgery, I have a kind of permanent case of the yips, as I stumble around trying to be more precise. If I push it, I’m going to trip and fall. It’s only when I relax and let my body do what it can that I’m in balance, but that means I don’t do as much as I feel I should be doing. I want to push it, but I can’t.

I have a favorite pin a nurse in the hospital gave me, which reads, ‘I’ve just had brain surgery, what’s your excuse?’

If you’re a golfer stuck with the ‘yips,’ or a pitcher who’s lost the plate, maybe you have an excuse, too! For me, though, the solution is always the same: let life happen. The river will carry me along, and, as best I can, I’ll keep afloat.



I am somewhat of an athlete myself in certain sports, and I have considered this phenomenon as well. It seems that the uncertainty principle applies here. If one denies that uncertainty is present while engaging in a sports activity, it will inevitably come out anyhow, in a badly uncontrolled manner. Hence, the "yips". Also, it appears that the level of rigidity one has during one's play is directly related to the amount of mistakes/mishaps. But if one embraces the uncertainty, even welcomes it with a flexible attitude, skill levels rise, often dramatically. The term "soft hands" comes to mind. Spirituality (and of course Physics) is present in sports. Once the mind is reset, in order to deal with the inherent uncertainty, the level of play usually improves.

It's okay to be rigid, if you don't have complex goals. Sinking a golf ball into a hole from 400 yards away in 4 or 5 strokes is a fairly difficult task. If you want to be rigid, then try severely limiting the complexity of your goals. Try sinking putts from 1/2 foot away, for example. I think that once you have a complex goal, uncertainty kicks in. Sports can be a game of inches, even atoms. What determines that you are in a groove? It could be that small of a difference.

The closer we come to enlightenment, the more sensitive the “outside” world is to our intentions. The part of us that works so hard to keep us small, I call it the mind or ego, desperately works to undo whatever flow we are in. As we relax and surrender to what is, flow comes back into play and we win, or not, as WHAT IS, creates.

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