The term comes up most frequently in golf and baseball. In 1998, L.A. Times writer Thomas Bonk interviewed elderly PGA golfers like Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, and Paul Runyan, whose career went back to the 1920s and 1930s, to find out if they knew the origin of the word “yips.” Nelson said, “I first heard it when I was on the tour in the ’30s. It was always just there” (Thomas Bonk, 2/26/98, “‘Yips’ or ‘Twitches,’ Who Knows Origin?”).
No less than the Mayo Clinic discuss this condition, which they describe as “involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers are trying to putt.” But, as they point out, anxiety makes it worse as the athlete “becomes nervous and self-focused–overthinking to the point of distraction–that their ability to execute a skill, such as putting, is impaired."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “Nervousness or tension that causes an athlete to fail to perform effectively, especially in missing short putts in golf.” I am more familiar with this term in baseball. Mackey Sasser was a catcher who, after a home plate collision, began having difficulty accurately throwing the baseball back to the pitcher. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch started having trouble throwing accurately to first base. Pitcher Rick Ankiel could not keep from throwing wild pitches and Jon Lester, another pitcher, has had trouble for years throwing the ball to first base.
Just Google “yips” and you can read about how traumatic and life-changing it is for those who once mindlessly, successfully did a task they ultimately found debilitatingly difficult to do. They consulted psychologists and hypnotists, struggling to get back to where they just didn’t think about the fundamental task that now overwhelmed them.
But, some have succeeded. Steve Sax, who suffered from the yips in 1983–the second baseman had 26 errors by the All-Star Break–would rebound to be the best defensive second baseman in 1989. He credits a conversation with his ailing father during the 1983 break. His father told him it wasn’t a mental block, but a temporary loss of confidence, that he needed to practice being more confident and it would positively affect his play.
Have you ever found it difficult to do something that once came easily or naturally? Has fear ever gripped you and become a roadblock to success? Certainly, there are mental health conditions that cause people to panic and wrestle with anxiety. But, what about the person who tried to share the gospel with a friend only to suffer rejection or maybe even embarrassment? What about the one who tried to gently confront someone at spiritual fault or overtaken by sin, who was rebuffed to such a degree that it was traumatic? What about the new Christian who was asked to lead public prayer, whose mind went blank, froze, and nearly couldn’t complete the task? There are several areas of Christian duty that can cause us to “freeze up” or shy away from doing them. An unpleasant experience can get into our heads and talk us out of trying to do them again.
How can we overcome this? Consider a few tips from Scripture:
- Forget the past and focus on the future (Phil. 3:10)
- Pray for boldness and confidence (Acts 4:29,31)
- Ask others to pray for your ability and boldness (Eph. 6:19)
- Get others to join you or help, where possible (Ecc. 4:9-12)
- Look to Christ for your confidence and success (Phil. 4:13)
- Don’t let a past failure define you; Keep at the task (Acts 15:38 and 2 Tim. 4:11)
- Elevate your motivation and remember why you do what you do (Col. 3:23)
- Focus on those who may be taking their lead from you, who look to you as their model (1 Tim. 4:12; Heb. 13:7)
- Rediscover the joy (Phil. 2:17)
These are just a few of the divine strategies from the mind of God. We have a Father who speaks to us in His Word. His counsel is also for us to practice being more confident, but to look to Him as the source of that confidence. The end result is more than mere professional success. We can impact eternity when we overcome any obstacle to our service. Do you need to “get back in there”? Utilize the tools He has given! You’ll be so glad you did, and so will others.