Yips is described as an uncontrollable jerk, tremor, spasm, twitch or freezing during the golf motion. It runs many players out of the game. It is most common during putting; however, can happen during chipping, pitching, or full swing. Yips in putting increases 18-hole scores by an average of 4.5 strokes/round. Yips can be divided into a minimum of two categories: neurological and psychological in etiology, and probably three categories when considering all the golfers in the gray area in between the two categories. Neurological yips are more commonly known as “focal dystonia”. This group is likely to account for 30% or less of all yips golfers since this is similar to the prevalence of focal dystonia in the normal population. Psychologically induced yips tend to be conditional (only in certain situations), intermittent (off and on over time), or both. Anxiety is not correlated with performance among yips affected golfers. Anxiety exacerbates the condition but it is not the cause.
Various strategies have been suggested to facilitate performance in yips golfers:
- Hand position: The first and perhaps most important is to change hand position. The motion that is created is tied to the starting position. Changing the hands on the club allows for a possible change in performance and energy transfer to the ball.
- Separate the hands: Physically separating the hands on the handle of the club changes the activity from a unimanual to a bimanual task which is processed differently in the brain. This also can allow for a change in performance. This technique can be successful for putting, chipping, pitching and full swing yips.
- Attention: Focus of attention past the problem area in time allows the body to self-correct the motion. For example, focusing on holding the finish is excellent for every type of yip. If there is a strong intention to finish the swing and hold it, the body will find a way to get there. It may have some yip in it, but the ball will still fly or roll quite well. Finishing the motion will reduce error.
- Thought suppression: Counting backwards, for example, will keep the frontal cortex busy and perhaps allow a better motion to occur.
Distraction, thinking of something other than our problem, can allow us to find a solution as it now has a chance to emerge or appear to us rather than taking hours of rumination trying to figure it out.
- Breathe: Defueling the yip will make the yip smaller even though it may still be there. Tension will increase the physical effect of the yip. When we are anxious we often hold our breath and this will cause the most tension and a larger yip. Exhaling before the motion starts and then continuing to breathe through the motion is the most effective for defueling the effect of the yip.
- Practice positive imagery, specifically the outcome of the shot as this will influence the motion and potentially improve performance.
- Throw in the towel: When we finally give up the “need to control” we often move smoothly to our finish. The conscious is out of the way and the subconscious can finally do what it is best at – get the ball to the target or in the hole.
It is important for yips golfers to know that they can still play golf with the yips. It is still possible to roll the ball in the hole, chip, pitch and swing; however it will require a change in strategy. Learn to play with the yips, not fight them. Whatever we fight gets bigger because we feed it energy. Instead be sure to have a list of techniques to manage your game on any given day. It is not usually one technique that works the rest of our life. It is not enough to change only the physical (body) side of the yips or they will travel to another part of the body, etc. The psychological (mind) must change as well. The approach is to finish the successful motion with the mind/body attached and get the ball in the hole.
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