Examining the “Yips” in Golf

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The ’yips’ are one of golf’s most perplexing challenges, and have driven many good golfers to give up the game. Symptoms of the ‘yips’ include jerks, tremors and freezing, which act as a performance barrier for golfers in competition. Players describe the ‘yips’ as involuntary muscle spasms and feelings of pressure and anxiety.  In many golfers, the pathophysiology of the ‘yips’ is believed to be an acquired deterioration in the function of motor pathways (e.g. those involving the basal ganglia) which are exacerbated when a threshold of high stress and physiologic arousal is exceeded.

Research suggests that the ‘yips’ add approximately 4.7 strokes to affected golfers scores for 18 holes of golf (Detling et al., 2000). However, cause and treatment of yip symptoms is still widely debated among golf performance specialists.  Some professionals believe it is a neurological movement disorder (Dystonia) and others believe it is a psychological disorder related to anxiety that leads to choking. As a result sport psychology professionals need to caution themselves before working with yip affected golfer.

The current issue in sport psychology is whether or not it is appropriate for sport psychology professionals to work with yip affected golfers. If it is categorized as a neurological movement disorder, than a neurologist would be the most qualified professional to help these athletes. If it is categorizes as psychological disorder related to anxiety, fear of failure, and distractions that lead to choking then golfers would benefit from sport psychology intervention.

The following Sport Psychology interventions can be applied to help golfers with the ‘yips’

Coping with Distractions

For golfers to overcome the ‘yips’ they need to have a strategy that keeps their mind from wondering to outcome of the putt or missing. Focusing on the outcome of the put induces anxiety or fear of failure, distracting golfers from what they need to focus in order execute successfully.  Golfers affected by the ‘yips’ need to stay focused on the execution of the putt and how they are going to hit a good putt. To achieve a more focused approach golfers can work with a sport psychology expert to develop a pre-putting routine that helps them get in a rhythm and perform with a present focus.

Coping with Mistakes

Yip affected golfers need to accept that they can’t change pervious missed shots in the round. It is very hard to perform well while dwelling on past mistakes. Every round is different and every putt different, so athletes must look at each putt as a new opportunity for success.


Simplify Your Approach

To reduce yip symptoms golfers need to simplify their approach to each shot. Often the tendency of yip affected golfers is to search for the answers over-analyze their performance. This only makes matters worse because they have too many thoughts to process at once. To simplify their approach golf should use process goals. Process goals are easily attained performance objectives that help players focus on one step at a time. For example picking a target, seeing their line, and responding to performance triggers.


Applying Mental Imagery

Imagery is used to create thoughts and images that focus on successful execution and seeing the ball rolling into the hole. In tournament play golfers can apply imagery to help them read the putt, select a line, and see the ball roll along that line into the hole. This will enhances trust and confidence before shots, as oppose to overanalysis and fear.