Every year I always look forward to attending the NFCA convention. From just simply reconnecting with old teammates, coaches and vendors to just being in that softball air. It’s an environment to get re-inspired, get new motivation, receive new ideas, hear old ideas with new verbiage and lastly just hearing something that you can completely relate to. Like every year, this year's convention did not disappoint on those aspects. This year I really enjoyed Eileen Canney's presentation on the yips “When Mind Matters”. I not only enjoyed the topic because it's hardly ever mentioned or talked about but mainly because so many others and I could relate. It was surprising to see how many people in the room had seen someone else suffer or had suffered themselves. Hearing Canney’s bravery in sharing her experience, made me really want to open up about my experience and hopefully shed light on something that's not given much light in our sport. Hopefully opening up conversation about the yips can make the experience easier for those who suffer from it in the future.
Recently, I have suffered from an annoying case of the yips. The thing that's most frustrating about it, is I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment it started. My yips occurred when I was throwing. It felt like it went from making one bad throw, to throwing becoming the most difficult thing that I ever had to do. It had the snowball effect overnight and literally felt like I was trying to throw huge snowballs. Before my experience, I never really knew much about the yips. It’s one of those things that I never in a million years thought I would experience because throwing was second nature to me and with errors and mistakes I was patient with overcoming failure. Come to find out, the yips has so many layers and just simply being in denial about it, ignoring it and thinking it will go away on its own makes it worse.
When I started having a series of throwing errors, I cannot begin to tell you the countless hours I spent practicing trying to perfect my throws. I began to become obsessed with trying to fix my mechanical issues with my throw. I was in denial that it could be more than physical. As athletes we are taught to be mentally tough so, I figured if I stay tough and laugh it off, it would just go away. Finally, it took my Japanese coach saying that he thought I had a case of the yips for me to even actually acknowledge and accept that was what was going on. The Yips is very similar to being an addict in the way you have to actually admit to yourself that you have a problem, then from there you can begin to fix.
How do you know if you’re a yipper?
You know you have the yips when it affects your physical actions/reactions and feelings. You can feel clammy hands, tension, and fear. It’s a continuous feeling, not just a one-time thing. In Canney’s presentation, she talked about the physical reactions and anxiety you experience and feel. For example, she talked about her stomached dropping right before she had to throw overhand. For myself, in between pitches, my right arm and fingers would tingle and when I got the ball to throw, I could not grip the ball to go into a full arm circle. These physical reactions are different from the occasional error or mistake because it has triggered something psychologically, where an athlete hasn’t been able to move past. You have the yips when your mind and body go into a state of feeling like it’s in danger when you have to perform the task. It's so easy to dismiss that you have the yips, because you simply feel like they are physical mistakes. It’s important to recognize the difference of just an occasional mistake vs. the continuous feeling you get when you know that you’re going to have to perform task.
Misconceptions about the yips
The yips manifest itself physically (i.e. throwing errors), but it’s formed mentally and psychologically. A huge misconception, in which Canney touched on, is that the yips occur because of a physical issue, or perceived as something that can easily be fixed. When it's actually something neurological, where your brain associates your version of yips as a traumatic experience. So it's something that needs huge attention on and off the field to help you overcome.
After reaching extreme frustration after a practice in Japan, I think I reached my all time low. The minute I got home that night, I spent hours researching The Yips. I was so eager and desperate to talk to someone and I was willing to do anything to get over this experience. That's when I came across Dr. Tom Hanson. Dr. Hanson has a series of tapping exercises that helps you overcome the yips. After several Skype sessions with him while I was in Japan, where we spent the entire session tapping physically on different locations on your body while revisiting and going back to every bad episode of the yips you can remember. I literally noticed a difference the next day at practice after my first session. I still do have the occasional occurrence of making an error, but now when it happens I have the tools to help the anxiety and move on. Now when I do feel that anxiety in between pitches, I can immediately go to tapping to suppress that feeling.
You're not alone
For any softballers out there, you’re not alone if you’re experiencing the yips. I learned, it not only occurs in many other sports as well but in other professions ; dentists, surgeons and even singers experience yips. I didn’t experience the yips until I was 23 years into my career. Unfortunately, the more experience you have, it doesn’t keep you safe from the yips. Fortunately there are methods and people out there that can help. If you can locate sports psychologists in your area, I suggest you do so. The best part about the challenge of the yips is that it is curable and you can overcome it with several different methods. Stay strong and fight through it. Good Luck!
|Natasha Watley: has mastered softball on every level; from travel ball, all the way through her professional career by taking home a gold medal from the 2004 Olympics & a silver medal from 2008 Olympics. During the 2004 Olympics, Watley, assisted the US Softball Team on their third consecutive gold medal in Athens, by breaking the Olympic record for stolen bases. Also internationally, Watley is a two-time Pan American Gold Medalist three-time World Champion, and a four-time World Cup Champion. Visit Natasha's website at NatachaWatley.com|
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