Monday, 12 May 2014

The A - Z of Sports Vision - Yips

Most people associate the yips with golf. Typically, a player lines up a short putt but, instead of an easy tap in, the player seems to jab at the ball, sending it wide of the hole. In other sports, the condition can become so extreme that the movement becomes completely impossible, such as a darts player who can’t release the dart, or a spin bowler who can’t release the ball. The cause is not fully understood. One theory is that is caused by an excess of fine muscle activity (focal dystonia), but there seems to be a lot more to it than that. For a start, the prevalence of focal dystonia in the general population is about 3% (Nutt et al 1988), whereas nearly 50% of golfers are said to suffer from the yips to some extent (Smith, Malo et al, 2000).
So there would appear to be a significant psychological element to the yips. In golf, for instance, the yips often disappears if the ball is hidden under a cover and the golfer doesn’t know if there is always a ball to be hit or not. It can also disappear if the ball is fixed to the ground, the hole is removed, or is replaced by a symbolic target like a tee (Marquardt 2009). Often the yips are only apparent for putts of a particular length, and if the putt is longer or shorter than this there is no problem. All this suggests that the problem is not essentially a physical one; otherwise it would still be present in all these other situations, not just in certain situations. Anxiety about the result may well be at the core of the yips, which explains why they are more likely to occur over a short putt, when missing it would be interpreted as a failure, and not for longer putts which have lower expectations of success. As the golfer becomes aware of the problem, the conscious brain starts to interfere with process. This makes the action jerkier and less likely to be successful, so a viscous circle develops as the stress levels rise with each unsuccessful action. There are various psychological methods of dealing with the stress element of the yips; visualisation and self-talk are often useful. One golfer had problems initiating his down-swing. The cure was to get him to say a three-syllable word (“Edelweiss”) to match the timing or rhythm of his swing. So he said Ed-el-weiss to correspond to the initiation of his backswing, the top of his back-swing and the point of contact with the ball (Beilock 2010). But for many a simple treatment is to take them back to when they can swing the club smoothly. This may be achieved by getting them to close their eyes when they strike the ball, or swinging the club without a ball. You then gradually reintroduce the difficulty whilst maintaining the essential visual elements, such the Quiet Eye focus on the ball. This should help keep the conscious brain from interfering. And if things break down again, you retrace the steps (hopefully not right back to the start) and build up again. David Donner