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Slaying The Yips Monster

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. 

- Winston Churchill 

The YIPs is a form of performance anxiety where athletes lose the ability to perform a certain skill or action, especially in competition.  Side effects of the YIPs include: loss of confidence, self-criticism, self-doubt, emotional outbursts, avoidance, questioning, overthinking, over analyzing, being physically unable to perform a skill, and at the extreme, early retirement. 

The YIPs can come on quickly and be hard to overcome. For example, Nick Anderson, in game one of the 1995 NBA finals, with 10.5 seconds left in the game, missed four free throws in a row, and helped to lose the game for the Orlando Magic. Of note, before that moment, Anderson was a career 74% free throw shooter. After that crushing moment, his free throw average dropped to 40% the following season, and he would earn the nickname Nick “The 🧱 Brick” Anderson.  Link to the video of his free throw misses:

Tips for slaying the YIPs:


Remember to breathe! When you get anxious or nervous, your breathing becomes short and choppy, which causes your movements to be more constricted because the body is reacting to the flight or fight response. In these moments, taking deep breaths, like box breathing (4 seconds in, 4 seconds hold, 4 seconds out, 4 seconds hold, and start again), allows you activate the relaxation response.  When you are loose and relaxed, your body can perform at its best.

Identify the moment.

Break the conflict cycle by peeling back the layers to uncover the moment(s) that lead to your loss of confidence and skill. This allows you to make sense of it, to rationally understand why and to give you a starting point for your comeback. For example, you can start by changing your pre-performance routine. In Nick Anderson's case, to change up his pre-shot routine. It sends a message to your brain that you are doing things differently. Keep it simple!

Accept the problem.

Denial only makes things worse. So own it and recognize it as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

Physical checkup.

Work with your coach(es), teammates, and people you respect, to check your technique. Coach(es) and respected others can help you identify the physical glitches in your technique and help to rewire your brain.

Remind yourself to focus on what to DO not HOW to do it.

Use a cue or command. For example, a golfer may tell herself to “Strike the ball” or “It’s all in the hips.” 🏌️‍♀️ ⛳️ For someone like Nick Anderson, self talk could sound like, I'm a 74% free throw shooter, just keep shooting and the shots will fall."

Focus on the "Right Now" and not on the outcome.

In the moment it's important to focus on what’s important right now.  It comes down to creating small, achievable steps that lead you to your end result. I refer to them as munchable chunks. When you focus on the outcome or expectation, it's like asking yourself to eat a large pizza in one bite. Imagine trying to stuff a whole pizza in your mouth, chew it, and swallow it. It's messy, it's overwhelming to think about, and really, it just can't be done. The same thing happens (in the moment) when you focus your thoughts and actions on winning or the end result.

Now, imagine that same large pizza, this time, think about taking small bite size chunks, focusing on each bite, just savoring and enjoying each munchable chunk. Soon enough, you will find that you have eaten that whole large pizza, and enjoyed every bite. When you can break things down to munchable chunks, it helps you to be present, build confidence, and focus on the task at hand.

I get knocked down, but I get back up again.

Remember, success isn’t about how many times you were knocked down. What matters most is how many times you’ve gotten up.  Failure is part of success. If you aren't willing to fail, you aren't willing to try. Therefore, if you aren't willing to try, you aren't fully committed to becoming the best version of you.

Big picture.

Remember your WHY. What motivates you? What are you working toward? And, how do you take each day to get one step closer to accomplishing your dream goal? This includes how you use each performance as an opportunity to commit to a game plan, gain valuable insights from your successes and mistakes. These are the insights that provide you with things to work on at practices and what to focus on for the next competition. If you don't have a dream goal that you are working toward, you cannot create the road map of how to get there. And, if you don't have a road map, you won't know how to approach each day because you lack direction and motivation.

Secondly, see if there are similar patterns or stressors in other parts of your life. Identify how you've successfully managed these situations. Use these experiences as a means to navigate future trouble spots. It's your toolbox of knowledge to help you manage stress and setbacks. Overcoming challenging moments is you grow!

In the end, this can be hard to do on your own so ask others for help.  Be it a coach, teammate, family member, or trusted other. An outside perspective can be helpful, especially when you feel stuck!

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