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What are the Yips?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Former professional golfer Tommy Armour is credited with inventing the term yips to describe a combination of psychological and neuromuscular factors that forced his early retirement from competitive golf. A number of other veteran golfers have also struggled with the yips, most often in short putting situations under pressure. The condition is described as involuntary twitches of the hands or lower arms that cause golfers to shank simple putts. The yips often occur right at the moment when the clubhead meets the ball, causing the putt to go to one side of the hole.

Experts in both sports psychology and sports medicine are still not sure what causes the yips, but several theories have emerged over time. One theory is that they are triggered by the psychological pressures surrounding an important golf shot, such as a game-winning putt. The combination of a public audience, a significant cash incentive and the adrenaline rush of competition can cause a golfer to lose focus during a putt. Many professional golfers report this reaction during games in which the stakes are very high.

Another cause of the yips may be primarily neuromuscular in nature. Some studies on the body mechanics of professional golfers show a tendency to assume awkward putting positions for extended periods of time. A fast putting surface with a left-to-right break near the hole, for example, may require the golfer to grip the putter at an extreme angle. Holding this position throughout the entire putting stroke could trigger a muscle spasm or cramp at the critical point of contact.

Although the yips are generally associated with the small motor skills of a putting stroke, some golfers also report incidents of 'driving yips' during their earlier power game. One form may cause a golfer to suddenly turn the face of a driver out during a tee shot. Although some critics of the theory ascribe these twitches to poor golfing techniques, nearly half of all professional golfers have reported at least one inexplicable incident of the yips.

The yips are not limited to the world of golf, however. Other sports involving intricate hand and lower arm coordination under pressure, such as basketball, also have their forms of the yips. Former professional basketball player Charles Barkley is said to have suffered from a form during crucial free throws and other precision shots. Some baseball players also experience uncontrollable twitches at the moment of contact between bat and ball. Players who become psychologically affected by the yips may seek treatment with sports psychologists and sport medicine clinics.

People in other professions outside of sports may also be affected by the yips. Musicians who must maintain awkward fingering positions throughout a performance have been known to experience the yips. Dentists and surgeons who work for long hours with hand-held instruments may also experience a form. Incidents of writer's cramp or musician's cramp may also be attributed to the same muscle spasms associated with a golfer's yips.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Sports n' Hobbies, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon993738 — On Dec 10, 2015

Quantum, absolutely the same story as me, took a girl on a date, mini putt, forearm supination /pronation, freaked the hell out.

The next time I played tennis, my forehand, the rock of my game, something that brought me so much pleasure, was gone, it was either into the ground or over the fence and nothing in between.

Even just me and the volley board, I can't hit the volleyboard.

By Bojanglesiq0 — On Feb 08, 2014

May I start off by informing you all of a few things? However these will not sit well with this, or any other site.

The yips were beaten six years ago. The person who worked it out is a dart player. The yips, or "Dartitis" in darts, are the same for every afflicted sport, be the afflicted be a propeller of the object or a hitter of the object. It makes no difference. The action is the same, only styles vary.

Darts is one of the four oldest sports on the planet, as it was part of a quartet that independently formed the oldest successful hunting techniques. The other three were shot-put, discus and tickling (fish).

Each one of the four techniques are about 2,000,000 years old.

Self appointed experts in both sports psychology and sports medicine are a massive problem. They basically know nothing but con everyone. In many cases convincing the afflicted athlete that they need a surgical operation, which absolutely destroys any chance of a resurgence.

Our belief in our own human evolution is a load of rubbish, not only making the reliability of historical extremely questionable, but a little research into their accepted qualifications and the recognized doctrines we all subscribe to.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how implausible, must be the truth.

By anon339770 — On Jun 26, 2013

So sad to hear and see people suffer with the Yips! because our nervous system is non discriminatory there are different ways to address handling and diminishing the effects of this neurological phenomenon.

The common denominator with putting is stress and out of balance clubs -- hi MOI. I have seen phenomenal positive changes take place by using zero MOI putters and changing from myopically focusing on hitting the ball to looking at the target and filling the ball with a stable putter.

In addition learning to trust, using a clear key will manage the anxiety for each player during all shots. I am a past tour player and coach who has seen tremendous transformation for players positively and long term.

By anon326958 — On Mar 25, 2013

I have a similar yips problem to quantum. I played tennis as a kid and one day in a tournament I completely lost my forehand. My hand would shake violently when stroking the ball. Many years later, I started playing tennis again and by accident, I switched to western grip from my continental grip and bingo! I can hit my forehand again. When I pick up tennis again after another long hiatus, my forehand is very weak, and my grip had slipped to an extreme western grip, so, at age 58, I stared taking some lessons to play better and discovered when switching to an eastern grip, the yips come back. My coach was very good and we are working to eliminate the yips. I found that if I'm relaxed and not tightening up my arm, the yips will disappear. The trick is not to think about it. I hope this is useful for somebody.

By buddy6713 — On Aug 18, 2012

I don't know if anyone is reading this or these posts but I am fascinated (and since I'm afflicted, saddened) by the wide range of ages and sports.

I am a golfer, about a 3-4 handicapper when I'm not yipping and a 13-15 when I am. So much of what has been posted here rings true to me, too. I feel as if some of you are undergoing or have undergone the same torment.

I have the full swing yips, with every club in the bag.

I can take it back (with the exception of some chips), but right at impact, my left wrist twists violently forcing the clubhead to turn opposite of where it needs to turn (it turns out like some other poster here also experienced). I've actually sprained my wrist on many occasions because of this violent twitch.

I also have this in ping pong and tennis forehands.

For what it's worth, I have seen sports psychologists, hypnotists, shamans, practitioners of NLP, EFT, done neurofeedback, talked to many golf pros, and tried other less well known anxiety reducing therapies. And yes, rapid eye movement therapy too.

Here's my take on it:

1. There is no known cure as of this writing.

2. It comes and hopefully, it eventually goes. Time frame unknown.

3. It is likely caused by anxiety of some kind, but like

one of my golf pros said (a pioneer in yips studies), "if it were psychological, a psychologists could fix it." Sounds better than its substance.

4. People find ways around it and sometimes they work wonders. For example, I can putt right handed without any yips at all, even though I'm a natural lefty.

5. Most people do not understand what you're talking about when you say you have the yips. Do not expect commiseration or a sympathetic ear.

Today I played in a tournament and shot 106. I am a 4 handicap golfer. I twitched every single shot, and hit eight balls out of bounds. There is no end to the misery this affliction causes, but on the other hand I'm still alive writing you all and looking outside on a sunny, brilliant day.

By myopia — On May 07, 2012

Thankfully, things have improved. I took some professional advice and once I select a target in the distance, and get my alignment right, I can hit it well off the tee once more.

My problem now seems to be with the iron shot to a green where when the pressure comes on, I get stuck and have trouble taking the club back. Sometimes I'm very tight and just hit it poorly.

Golf is a fascinating game that remains alluring and humiliating.

By anon266467 — On May 06, 2012

I feel comforted in some way, but also really sad that so many people struggle with the same malady as I do. I've played tennis multiple times per week for seven or eight years now, and once in a while growing up (I'm 45 now), but I never had proper training.

I have years of bad memories of struggling with my service toss. My game has evolved and improved in every other shot, and there are times when I have a truly great service game, but it's short-lived, and the yips settle back in. It's frustrating to hear opponents, friends, etc. say over and over "It's your toss!" I want to scream in reply, "You think?" I just politely say (most of the time) "Yeah, I'm working on it." I just don't say how many years I've been "working on it."

I've had proper training on technique now, but I agree with others who say the bad memories of bad technique get in the way. I still play, and try to focus on the success I enjoy with other strokes, but at times it's really miserable.

By anon232808 — On Dec 02, 2011

I am an amateur tennis player and five years ago I got the yips. I couldn't hit a single forehand; I could only slice it. My hand would just jerk, and I couldn't hit a ball a five year old could hit. After a couple of years of struggling, something kicked back in and the yips disappeared. Now it's back again on my backhand.

By anon169380 — On Apr 21, 2011

i have the same problem when i am playing pool. It's really frustrating.

By anon147533 — On Jan 29, 2011

I have got the same problem. Till i was 15 years old I played competitive tennis, winning many junior tournaments in Germany. I was ranked top 30 but suddenly, when I changed my forehand technique the yips problem occurred. I've got strange movements in my forehand but not every day. When I'm playing without the yips I can hit the ball very clean. Sadly these days are really seldom. I already worked with sport psychologists. None of them helped yet.

If anyone has some experience with yips, and an idea how to beat them. Let me know

By anon132846 — On Dec 08, 2010

I'm 29, and have developed Yips playing pool. i have difficulty releasing the cue to play a shot once i have lined it up. it is worse when i have to bridge over another ball or play a shot from the cushion. Does anyone suffer this playing pool or snooker and have any tips on how to deal with it?

By anon127552 — On Nov 16, 2010

I was a very good tennis player when I was young and plaid until I was 35.I won many tournaments and then got the dreaded yips. Gave up tennis and started playing golf seriously and got my handicap down to a 7 and now the deadly yips hit me again.

I went from a short putter to a long one (this helped) but now it happens in chipping. Now I am dead. Anything from 50 yards in is a disaster. I wish I could find a cure. I am very desperate. It almost feels like a brain zap.

By myopia — On Oct 12, 2010

I am a 70 year old 5 handicapper. For the past two months while playing well (had four birdies on the back nine last Sat. in competition), I have developed what seems to me to be a type of yips.

I am having trouble taking the driver back. I am getting stuck in a waggle and it seems to take me ages to begin my back swing. When I do hit it, it's fine but the preamble has become embarrassing. Can anyone help?

By anon107325 — On Aug 29, 2010

I suffer tremendously from the yips on my tennis forehand, and yes, 10 years later after hardly playing it still remains. I cannot use a topspin shot. I have to slice it. If i try topspin it either bounces into the net or will fly over the opposite fence.

By anon80536 — On Apr 27, 2010

Killed my PGA Club Pro Career at 27. Came at a stressful time. I was a smoker and one morning couldn't move my hand with smoke to my mouth let alone put it out. Ended up burning my fingers. Scared me.

Later played with my members in a Pro-Am at one of my favorite tournaments. Eleven greens, 43 putts. Quit playing for most of ten years. Missed a lot. Inventing new styles of putting helped. Now after time and maturity, I can putt again, but am highly aware of the damage it did to my career and its possible ugly return.

By anon78987 — On Apr 20, 2010

Am i the only one who finds it strange that a 13 year-old would be an "all-star player who's been playing since he was five?" That sounds far too intense for a boy that age.

Some of the other stories also seem to involve (mainly teenage) athletes who were placed, or placed themselves, under tremendous psychological pressure to perform. No wonder the brain rebels.

By anon77362 — On Apr 14, 2010

I played tennis at a very competitive level all through my youth, with my top season being when I was 15. I was winning a lot of matches, even a couple of junior grand slams, then, when I was 16 during a final against someone that, in all honesty, I should have wiped the floor with, my serve went to pieces.

Nothing was wrong with my serving arm (I'm left handed), but I just couldn't toss the ball into the right spot with my right arm, and my double-handed backhand, my best shot, was nowhere near as penetrating as it used to be.

After seeing psychologist after psychologist and neuro-docs everywhere, I was never competitive again, and my dreams of turning pro were dashed.

The funny thing is, after picking up a racket six years on just today, the same thing happened, and it brings back terrible memories of wasted talent and opportunities.

Either the yips is a serious condition, or the fear of failure caused me to self-sabotage myself. And now, 24, I'm miserable.

By anon69098 — On Mar 06, 2010

The yips are real. My son is only 13 and he just got the yips last week. It was so bad at one point that he could not toss, much less throw, a baseball 25 feet with any accuracy.

He is an all-star player and has been playing baseball since he was five. He can throw the ball accurately up to 150-175 feet but can't toss a ball back to the pitcher.

It is frustrating and embarrassing for him and sad and painful for his parents. Baseball isn't everything but he loves to play the game.

By anon26673 — On Feb 17, 2009

And here I thought, in my crazy little way, that I was getting "signals" from somewhere that I was not meant to play pool for money, though I was a good player. Either that or, worse and more probable, I was just an ordinary "choker" when money was on the table.

I wound up here today after reading the word "yips" in some comment on a story over at The Weekly Vice about a coach hypnotizing his basketball team. So, I had the yips. Huh. I'm 54, and learned something new today.

By anon7717 — On Feb 01, 2008

If a sudden, uncontrollable hand or wrist twitch has been ruining your drive, chip or putt, (or your tennis stroke) you’ve probably caught a lethal bout of the YIPS.

YIPS, a term coined by golfing legend Tommy Armour, are involuntary motions of the hand or wrist that can make effective driving, chipping or putting all but impossible. YIPS are a golfer's worst nightmare. They led Armour to abandon tournament play.

By quantum — On Apr 19, 2007

Does anybody want to read my yips story? I am 56 and I lost my tennis game 25 years ago. I played all my life; varsity in high school. The loss followed single bizare occurrence while playing miniature golf (I also hacked around with regular golf). I was attempting to tap in a 3 inch putt one handed (right handed) when I experienced a wild shaking (pronation/supination...one or two cycles) of my forearm and the ball went off 90 degrees from the intended direction. From that day forward, I could not hit a forehand in tennis without the same phenomenon occurring. I learned the word "yips" today 4/19/07 having been completely stymied all these years. After reading several articles about the "yips", I recall now that having been a skilled infielder, somewhere in college, I lost the ability to throw acurately to first base (the throw would consistently be 5 or more feet wide or high-and this from 45 feet away!) It was crazy! The whole thing is crazy! That's my story

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Sports n' Hobbies, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
Learn more
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