Whiskey fingers? Meeting, Coping and Overcoming the Yips

zverev serve

To this day, it is unknown what causes the yips. Some credit it to a sudden complete loss of fine motor skills, others consider it to be of primarily psychological nature. The unexpected and unexplained loss of skills or simply “the yips,” has affected countless high-profile athletes around the globe.

Many of them forced to end their career; others managed to recover their abilities after stepping up their mental game and applying changes to their technique.

The late golf legend Tommy Armour introduced the yips into pop culture vernacular, but athletes in many other sports know it all too well. Check out how three different athletes in three different sports overcame the yips.

Luke Hagerty Yips in Baseball

In 2002, the Chicago Cubs drafted a young fireballer, Luke Hagerty, in the first round (#32) and gave the future stalwart a million dollar signing bonus.

After Tommy John surgery in 2003 and the requisite rehabilitation, Hagerty was picked up by the Florida Marlins in 2004.

But during spring training of the 2005 season, Hagerty’s incredible throwing skills inexplicably vanished. He “simply forgot how to pitch,” Hagerty said in an interview with ESPN.

The following two years, he worked tirelessly to regain his old form but couldn’t overcome the yips. Five short years after being drafted in the first round, Hagerty was out of baseball.

While away from the mound, Hagerty turned to coaching and sports science as a means to cope. And the deep dive seems to have worked out.

Fast forward a decade, in a room full of scouts in Seattle, Hagerty attempted an audacious comeback. And succeeded. After never making it out of Single-A Ball, Hagerty would throw 99 mph fastballs for the Cubs.

Alexander Zverev Second Serve at a First Chance

Few players moved up the ranks as fast as Zverev did. At just 19 years old, he was ranked third in the world. Able to boom first serves and with a return game to match Nadal. The tennis world was witnessing the arrival of the Next Gen.

But soon thereafter, the proud ATP world champion stalled out on his meteoric rise. Zverev, currently number 7 in the world rankings, couldn’t put his second serve in the court during the most important matches. He had become a bundle of nerves on a large tennis stage.

For most of the 2018 and 2019 tennis season, the Zverev serve fought what appears to be a case of the yips. Then, finally, in early 2020, after serving nearly 3 second serves a game at the ATP Cup, Zverev caught fire at the Australian Open and almost cut that number in half.

With his semifinal showing at the Aussie Open, it seems like Zverev had overcome his second serve yips.

Markelle Fultz Free Throw Couldn’t hit the Broad Side of a Barn

In June 2017, Fultz was drafted #1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. By January 2018, the shot that brought him to the top of his game was hopelessly broken; his shooting form like that of a weekend warrior at the YMCA not an NBA superstar in the making.

No answer in sight, his NBA trainer diagnosed him with a severe case of the yips. Fultz free throw percentage was lower than Shaq. During the 17-18 NBA Season it was an abysmal 47.6% after shooting 65% in college.

Enter a change of scenery and a second diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome to steady the shot. After a trade to the Orlando Magic, Fultz free throw percentage is up to 72.3%. His remarkable talent was finally visible again, and his famous jump shot was back.

Cure for the Yips?

The common theme? It would appear that all three men achieved a perceived status at a very young age. Only to have that ripped from them on a national stage. By physical and/or psychological setbacks to their careers.

Be careful with pressure. Yes it can create diamonds from coal, but the canary in the coal mine would appreciate a little consideration as well. As the most likely to experience the yips are those that have heightened:

  • fear of negative evaluation
  • individual differences
  • anxiety sensitivity
  • self-consciousness
  • perfectionistic self-presentation
  • perfectionism

Instead, find answers to superficial problems. Use layered solutions to clearly communicate expectations with players, not standardized systems.

The yips are real; countless more athletes have come face to face with them. And to overcome the yips, it takes time, mental fortitude, and like many things – a little bit of luck. Check out a great podcast below to learn more: