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Unraveling the Mystery of the Yips: Understanding Treating and Overcoming Performance Anxiety in Baseball

The Yips in Baseball: What They Are and How They Work

It’s the final inning of the game, and the infielder stands ready, waiting for the pitcher to deliver the pitch. Suddenly, his hands start shaking uncontrollably, and the ball slips through his fingers.

He scrambles to retrieve it, only for his hands to shake even harder. This is what baseball players describe as “the yips.” A sudden, unexplainable loss of control over their skills, typically affecting their throwing or catching ability.

The yips have been a mysterious disorder puzzling ballplayers across different positions, from infielders and catchers to hurlers. It demeans their confidence and often leads to poor performance on the field.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what the yips are, what causes them, and how they impact ballplayers.

Definition and Explanation of the Yips

According to science, the yips are “involuntary muscle spasms” that cause twitching or jerking motions in the affected limb, leading to severe loss of control over the body. In most cases, the yips affect the arms and hands of players, causing them to make involuntary movements during their actions.

The yips are different from regular mistakes or performance jitters experienced by most ballplayers. It is an uncontrolled movement or spasm caused by anxiety, stress, or other psychological factors, that often affects the performance of athletes.

Examples of How the Yips Affect Different Players

The yips aren’t confined to one area of baseball but impact several different positions in different ways. One example of the yips affecting an infielder is when they go to throw to first base.

Their hands will often involuntarily twitch, causing them to scoop the ball or miss the target entirely. Catching yips can show in catchers while trying to throw runners out on the bases.

When they experience involuntary muscle movements during this throw, their accuracy and control usually suffer. Pitchers often experience the yips as a slowing down of their pitching motion or a sudden change of arm angle, making it hard for them to locate strikes in the strike zone.

While the yips negatively impact ballplayers’ performance across different positions, they specifically hurt pitchers, who must deliver precise and calculated throws during the game.

Psychological and Neurological Factors that Contribute to the Yips

Anxiety, stress, and difficulty concentrating are the most common psychological factors that contribute to the yips. Many players experience anxiety about their performance, their coaches, or the fans around them.

Moreover, certain medical conditions, such as focal dystonia, can also cause the yips. This rare neurological condition causes involuntary muscle spasms that can affect performance in a range of physical activities, including baseball.

How Do the Yips Start in Baseball? The yips start when the body’s nervous system interacts with the muscles in the affected area.

The most obvious symptom of the yips is the involuntary muscle spasms that ballplayers experience during their actions. Additionally, cramps or stiffness of the muscles can occur in the affected arm or hand.

These symptoms can occur without warning while a player is on the field, leading to decreased performance and decreased self-confidence.

The Causes and Ongoing Mystery Surrounding the Disorder

The underlying cause of the yips is still unknown, though some researchers believe that there may be a link to occupational cramps. This condition develops when athletes have had years of overuse of the muscles in specific areas, leading to involuntary muscle contraction.

Despite ongoing research, the yips remain a mystery, leaving ballplayers and coaches with limited options for dealing with the disorder. Many players turn to sports psychologists or other mental health professionals to try to control their anxiety or find ways to cope with the yips.


The yips are a common, yet mysterious, phenomenon affecting ballplayers across different positions in baseball. Researchers are gaining increasing insight into the underlying psychological and neurological factors that can contribute to the yips.

Recognizing the symptoms and factors behind the yips can help players to manage the disorder more effectively, reducing their chances of experiencing the involuntary muscle spasms that adversely affect their performance on the field.

3) Baseball Players Who Famously Battled The Yips

The yips are a maddening condition that has robbed many ballplayers of their skills over the years, leading to career and even life-altering effects. Several notable players have battled with the yips, with some miraculously coming out on top while others were not so fortunate.

Here are some of the most famous ballplayers to be affected by the yips.

Chuck Knoblauch

When it comes to the yips, infielders tend to suffer from throwing problems than any other position.

Chuck Knoblauch is a classic example of a player who was derailed by the yips.

Once a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove award winner, Knoblauch played for the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, and eventually the Kansas City Royals. However, during his time with the Yankees, Knoblauch began to have trouble throwing the ball accurately during the 2000 season.

His continued inability to throw the ball caused him to lose his second base position, and he retired after 2002.

Steve Sax

Another infielder who experienced the yips is

Steve Sax. Sax was on the way to becoming one of the best second basemen in the league during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, during the 1983 season, the yips began to plague Sax, causing him to have a severe throwing problem. He returned to form the following season, but the yips were back in 1989, causing him to be traded to the Yankees.

Sax found a way to overcome the condition and went on to have a successful career.

Jon Lester

Pitchers are not immune to experiencing the yips, as demonstrated by

Jon Lester. The former Boston Red Sox and now Washington Nationals pitcher struggled with an inability to throw to first base.

At times, he could not even make a throw, leading him to make pocket-protecting jerseys to store the ball when fielding his position. Despite his struggles with the disorder, Lester has won several World Series rings and an NLCS MVP trophy.

Daniel Bard

Another pitcher who suffered from the yips is

Daniel Bard. Bard was considered a top relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and had a career-best season in 2010.

However, the following season, the yips began to affect him, causing him to have trouble locating the strike zone and throwing to bases. Bard struggled with the disorder for years, leading him to be out of the majors for several seasons.

However, after finding a way to manage the condition, he returned to the majors in 2020 with the Colorado Rockies.

Rick Ankiel

Perhaps the most famous case of the yips in baseball belongs to

Rick Ankiel. Ankiel was a highly-regarded pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, making headlines as a 21-year-old rookie in 2000.

However, the following season, he began to experience significant control problems on the mound. These issues continued into the postseason, leading the Cardinals to shift him to the outfield.

Ankiel would later make a comeback to pitching for the Cardinals and other teams, overcoming the yips and having a respectable career.

Mark Wohlers

Mark Wohlers was a formidable closer for the Atlanta Braves during their ’90s era of dominance, leading the league in saves in 1996. However, in the 1998 World Series against the New York Yankees, Wohlers found himself struggling to throw strikes, leading the Yankees to a stunning comeback.

He continued to struggle with the yips and lost his closer role, ultimately retiring from the game.

Matt Garza

Matt Garza is another example of a pitcher who struggled with the yips. The former pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers experienced trouble throwing the ball to first base during the 2017 season.

The yips were so severe that it led the Brewers to take him out of the rotation and eventually let him go the following season.

Steve Blass

Steve Blass is an old-school pitcher who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ’60s and ’70s. However, his once-promising career began to crumble after the 1972 season, with the pitcher experiencing severe control issues, leading to several hit batters and wild pitches.

Blass was able to pull off one last good season with the Pirates in 1976, but he worked on the team’s radio broadcasts afterward. Impact of the Yips on Players’ Careers and Reputations

The yips is not just a physical disorder; it can also have a severe impact on an athlete’s career and reputation.

When ballplayers are in their prime, they usually have roster spots or are All-Star pitchers. However, when the yips affect them, they often lose control of their throwing, which can lead to them being released from their team.

The anxiety of the yips can also lead to a significant loss of confidence for the affected player. The constant intense scrutiny of experts, coaches, and fans can cause a player to feel embarrassed, shaving away their self-confidence.

This negative inner dialogue can lead to the player spiraling into a decline, ending their career and having long-lasting effects on their life.

4) Scientific Explanation and Classifications of the Yips

While the yips are well-known among athletes, the condition is still mysterious to scientists studying its complexities. However, several theories and scientific explanations try to unlock the secrets behind the yips.

One theory suggests that the yips are caused by focal dystonia, which is a neurological disorder leading to the involuntary spasming of muscles in a particular area. In athletes, it can lead to the sudden and unexplained inability to control movement in the affected muscles.

Another theory suggests that it might be due to muscle overuse, leading to writer’s cramp and involuntary muscle contractions. There are two different types of yips, each with unique symptoms, risk factors, and interventions.

Type I yips refer to the sudden onset of the disorder while Type II is the gradual development of an athlete’s inability to perform. The Type I yips are often characterized by choking, which is when the player’s performance deteriorates due to the increased pressure of the situation.

On the other hand, the Type II yips are brought about by a failure in muscle memory, causing involuntary movement when transitioning to specific movements. This type of yips is often seen in musicians and dancers.


The yips are a mysterious and debilitating condition that has impacted the careers of several baseball players. While the scientific explanation behind the disorder remains a mystery, researchers continue to examine the phenomenon’s psychological and neurological factors to help players manage the disorder better.

Nevertheless, the yips can have a devastating impact on a ballplayer’s confidence, career, and life, making it all the more crucial to provide more support to athletes experiencing the disorder.

5) How to Overcome the Yips in Baseball

The yips are a condition that can significantly impact a ballplayer’s confidence and performance. However, there are strategies and techniques that can help them overcome this disorder.

Here are some of the effective methods to deal with the yips.

Anxiety Reduction

Anxiety is one of the primary factors that feed into the yips, and reducing anxiety through techniques such as breathing exercises and visualization can greatly help. Athletes can also benefit by listening to music, writing in a journal, or talking to a sports psychologist to address the root cause of performance anxiety.

Focus on Fundamentals

Athletes experiencing the yips can return to the basics of their technique to rebuild their confidence and core skills. With the right guidance, slow and deliberate repetitions of mechanics can provide the necessary physical feedback that slowly helps regain fine control of movements.

Good posture, routines, and balanced nutrition can also help.

Build Up Confidence

A lack of self-confidence feeds into the yips and makes it challenging to overcome. Players are advised to use positive affirmations, cultivate self-compassion, and celebrate their successes along with their progress.

Athletes should also talk to their coaches or support groups to recognize the strengths needed to continue developing their MVP-worthy potential.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help athletes manage stress levels and develop calm and clarity that can improve athletic performance overall. These techniques can help regulate heart rate and breathing, release tension, and improve overall focus, helping athletes get through tough times that otherwise could have led to bouts of the yips.

The Role of Psychology in Overcoming the Yips in Baseball

When it comes to overcoming the yips, psychology plays a critical role on and off the field. The ways athletes perceive themselves and their performance can influence the severity of the disorder.

The psychological factors involved in sports can be highly complex and multilayered, easily leading to bouts of depression, anxiety and stress. Athletes must navigate the ups and downs of their success and failures, which can significantly impact their mental game.

Athletes can improve their mental game through visualization, relaxation techniques or cognitive-behavioral therapy when dealing with conditions like the yips that affect their performance. Athletes need to address the root cause of their performance issues to get the best out of their abilities.

Seeking out help from sports psychologists or coaches who have counseled athletes with similar conditions can provide insight into effective treatments for overcoming the yips.

6) FAQ About the Yips

Although the yips are a well-known phenomenon, there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to what they are and how they can be treated. Below are some of the most common questions people have about the yips.

Q: Is there a cure for the yips? A: There is no silver bullet for the cure of the yips.

However, various strategies and techniques can help ease symptoms and improve performance. Q: What treatments proven to be effective for the yips?

A: Like any other physiological or neurological disorder, treatment can vary. Treatment efficacy of the yips, psychosomatic, and clinical interventions will vary from individual to individual.

Q: The term “yips” is often taboo in big league clubhouses. Why is this so?

A: Clubhouses are often exclusive domains with high expectations and competition. Players attempt to keep anything that could potentially compromise their access or ability to perform often under wraps.

Q: Who was Tommy Armour, and what did he have to do with the yips? A: Tommy Armour was a former professional golfer famous for striving to educate golfers on the importance of mental techniques over technical golfing proficiency.

Armour struggled with the yips, specifically focusing on his putting ability. Regardless of the person struggling with yips severity, baseball players can experience a great deal of frustration and uncertainty when encountering the yips.

Involving sports psychologists, coaches, and support groups, practicing relaxation techniques, and working on building a base of fundamental skills is helpful for eliminating and preventing the yips. The yips are a mysterious and debilitating condition that have affected the careers of several baseball players.

The scientific explanation behind this disorder remains a mystery, but strategies such as anxiety reduction, a focus on fundamentals, building confidence, and relaxation techniques have shown effectiveness in managing the disorder. Alongside this, the mental game plays an essential role in overcoming the yips, aided by sports psychologists and other performance-enhancement experts.

As for FAQs, there is no silver bullet cure for the yips, but various strategies can help manage symptoms and improve performance.


– What are the yips, and why are they a problem for baseball players?

– What treatments are available for the yips? – Is there a cure for the yips?

– How can athletes build confidence and overcome the yips through relaxation techniques? – What is the importance of the mental game and sports psychology in overcoming the yips?

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