How to Overcome the Yips in Baseball

You’re playing short-stop and an easy ground ball is hit right at you. You field it cleanly, get ready to throw, and then something happens. The fluid motion stops, fear enters, and you make a bad throw.

You’re a catcher and there’s a runner on third. The same guy stole second a few moments ago, and you had no problem making a strong throw to try and catch him stealing.

With him now on third, the next pitch, you go to throw it back to the pitcher when something happens. You tense up, fear enters, and you throw the ball past the pitcher and the run scores.

You’re a pitcher and the first three innings have been perfect. Now in the fourth, the lead-off man gets a single. You see that he has a big lead so you step off. Except you don’t throw. Why? Because you’re afraid.

But now you get the sign from your coach…he wants you to pick off. You come set, make your move, and throw the ball past the first basemen and the runner takes second.

What do all three of these examples have in common? A baseball player who is struggling with the yips!

In this article, you will learn what the yips are, how they form, and sport psychology tools you can use to overcome the yips as a baseball player.

What are the Yips

When we are discussing the yips in baseball, this is often a sudden change where you can’t throw the ball accurately. From an outside perspective, it’s an odd and unexplainable phenomenon. Nothing physically seems to be different.

Sometimes the yips do occur following an injury, but once the injury is healed, there shouldn’t be anything physically inhibiting you from throwing well. So what are the yips, then, if nothing physically can be seen causing you to suddenly not be able to throw accurately?

The yips are a psychological phenomenon that manifests as the physical inability to throw accurately. It presents a challenge to the outcome of throwing, resulting from your mental state.

There is something mentally happening, mainly subconsciously, that is causing you to throw poorly.

A lot of times, this mental challenge will lead to you trying too hard to pinpoint your throw, or you may take some speed off your throw, in an attempt to guide it to your target accurately.

These alterations only keep you from throwing naturally and are what physically lead to your throw going off target.

To better understand what the yips are, we need to take a deeper look into how the yips form.

How the Yips Form

We are looking into how the yips are formed from a psychological standpoint. What happens that leads to you, the athlete, suddenly finding yourself unable to make even the simplest of throws accurately?

Well, the yips are heavily related to two mental game challenges: sports performance anxiety and fear of failure.

Someone who has done a lot of fantastic work in the sport psychology field is Dr. Patrick Cohen. He talks about something known as the yips cycle.

Through looking over his writing, combined with my own research and experience, I’ve come up with a modified version of the yips cycle, known as the mental game cycle that influences the yips in baseball players.

Mental Game Cycle

The mental game cycle illustrates the events that occur which can lead to you developing the yips.

Now, not every situation will be the same, but this is just a good, broad understanding that shows the physical and psychological factors at play, leading to you being unable to make even the simplest of throws.

Here is what the mental game cycle looks like that leads to the yips:

          Bad Throw-Embarrassment-Fear-Anxiety-Over Control-Bad Throw

Now let’s break down each part of the cycle:

  • Bad throw: this is pretty self-explanatory…you made a bad throw. Many times, for you to develop the yips, this throw will occur during a game. Though, sometimes it can happen during practice.
  • Embarrassment: following the bad throw, how do you feel? You may say you’re frustrated at yourself, but such an emotion is only covering up the true embarrassment you feel. This is taken to another level if it was a crucial moment in the game or you get yelled at as a result of the bad throw.
  • Fear: following the bad throw and embarrassment, you will develop fear. Fear of making another bad throw and fear of feeling embarrassed again. No one wants to get yelled at or make the error that loses your team the game. As a result, fear begins to accompany your throws.
  • Anxiety: fear and anxiety are close friends. Each works with the other to increase its strength. Once fear settles in, anxiety clouds your mind before every throw.
  • Over control: with the fear and anxiety you’re experiencing, what’s going to happen within your mind is a desperate rush to try and control the situation. Here is where you find yourself trying to push the ball and guide it to the target, rather than simply throwing. You tense and cause a block in your natural throwing pattern.
  • Bad throw: over control tends to lead to a bad throw. Here we see the cycle restart. With each bad throw, the cycle strengthens and the yips grow worse.

Overcoming the Yips in Baseball with Sport Psychology Tools

Knowing what the yips are and how they are formed, it’s time to examine different sport psychology tools you can use to overcome the yips in baseball.

As a baseball player, throwing is a key aspect of the game. Therefore, to have this hinderance present leads to feelings of frustration, and can even cause you to think about quitting your sport.

Luckily, you don’t have to quit. You can overcome the yips, just as other baseball players have. What you have to do, though, is put forth the work to do so.

The yips are a psychological phenomenon that manifests itself as a bad throw. To overcome the yips, we aren’t going to spend a lot of time scrutinizing and analyzing your mechanics.

What we’re going to do is use sport psychology tools to manage the underlying factors continuing to worsen the yips: fear and anxiety.

By focusing on your mind, you can overcome the yips, since it is a mental challenge that is causing your sudden inability to throw accurately in the first place.

Finding a Cue

When you are dealing with the yips, the anxiety and fear are greatly subconscious. They are associated with the act of throwing. Interestingly enough, not every throw, either.

Going back to the example given in the beginning of the article, a catcher can typically throw down to second, yet, throwing back to the pitcher becomes difficult.

To counteract that natural reaction (one of fear and anxiety), you must come up with a cue. This cue will be used to signify something different. A feeling of confidence and trust in your ability to make the throw.

In psychology, there is something known as anchoring-where you take a word or phrase and associate it with a feeling. That way, whenever you repeat the word or phrase, your mind is triggered into the emotional state.

You can use a similar strategy for managing the yips.

Let’s use the example of a catcher who chooses the phrase: easy throw.

What he would do is begin repeating that phrase to himself without throwing. Instead, he would repeat the phrase while feeling confident (as though he had made the throw).

Then, he would begin practicing the throw, while simultaneously repeating the phrase and working to feel confident. For this step, it is best to do it with one other person (not actually at baseball practice). That way, you allow yourself time to gain confidence with your throw.

From there, he would begin throwing more in practice, once more repeating the phrase.

At this point, the phrase, easy throw, should be anchored with a confident feeling. The next step (more like a continuous step), is to keep repeating that phrase whenever the throw needs to be made.

For yourself, you can use easy throw, or any other phrase you’d like. The main key is to pick something you remember and begin anchoring a feeling of confidence with the phrase.

See the Good

Within the mental game cycle responsible for the yips, fear and anxiety are a result of seeing yourself make a bad throw. But what if you could focus on only seeing the good?

Now, this may seem out of the question if the last twenty times you’ve thrown the ball to first base it’s gone into right field, which is why we can use a sport psychology tool known as visualization.

Visualization is the practice of mentally rehearsing your performance in your mind. It is a powerful tool (if used consistently) to help against the yips.

What you want to do is take ten minutes or so each day and visualize yourself performing the throw you struggle with. And keep in mind…you want to see yourself make the throw well.

In the beginning this will be difficult. Your mind will automatically revert to those embarrassingly terrible throws you’ve had recently. But just keep at it. Work to see yourself successfully make those throws.

As you do, bring emotion into your visualization as well. Feel confident, and especially feel successful once the throw has been made.

The second part of this is an active practice you must adopt. Right now, if you think of the throw you currently struggle with, what do you see? My guess is, you see yourself making a bad throw.

That’s normal.

However, you need to change that!

Whenever you think about throwing to first base, for example, work to see the good. Pause for a moment and imagine yourself making a nice crisp throw to the chest.

This act of seeing the good helps build the memory of success. That memory promotes confidence which works to reduce fear and anxiety. By doing so, you work to overcome the yips in baseball.

Commit

The last sport psychology tool for overcoming the yips is all about how you approach each throw.

This one, admittedly, is going to feel the most uncomfortable.

What you have to do is get yourself to commit fully on each throw.

That means no holding back, no trying to guide the baseball, and no worrying about your accuracy. Simply look at your target and throw!

Now, why is this one such an uncomfortable mindset to adopt? Because you don’t want to make a bad throw!

Since you are struggling with the yips, you have fear and anxiety surrounding the throw. As you go to make the throw, that fear and anxiety leads you to try and force a perfect throw. There is no room for making a mistake.

The worse your yips become, the more you try to force a perfect throw.

But let me ask you this, why do you try to force a perfect throw? I can tell you the answer I would have given when I was playing, and the one I’ve received from the athletes I’ve worked with: because I can’t make a bad throw.

Except here’s the problem…you trying to force a perfect throw is one of the things causing you to make a bad throw!

Think about all the great throws you’ve made. Did any of them occur when you were trying to guide the baseball? I doubt it. My guess would be you trusted in your skills, picked up the target, and let the ball loose.

That is the same exact mindset you need to have when struggling with the yips!

Yes…you will make a few bad throws in the beginning. But guess what? You already are making bad throws as it is. You might as well try something different.

Once you get comfortable committing to each throw, you will find your accuracy again, and your confidence will follow. This is a great way for you to overcome the yips as a baseball player.

Final Thoughts

The feeling you get when you can’t make a simple throw as a baseball player is painful. It is so bad, in fact, that it leads many athletes to entertain the idea of quitting.

Struggling with the yips is one of the most frustrating situations for any baseball player, or athlete, to find themselves in. However, it is a situation that can be overcome.

Through the use of the sport psychology tools discussed in this article, you can work to overcome the yips as a baseball player.

Now, all of these tools are powerful, but there is still one more way that can have an even greater impact on your ability to manage the yips: mental performance coaching.

Click here to learn more about how you can overcome the yips through 1-1 mental performance coaching.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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