The most humiliating day of his life was Thursday. Every Thursday for months.
Joe had played tennis forever. He was good at it… until it was time to score a point.
He played in a tennis league on Thursday nights. Every time the pressure to score came up, he screwed up his serve.
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
He was so mad at himself. The guys he played with rolled their eyes, “Good one, Joe!” Then, when the point was already blown, his serve went back to normal.
Have you heard of the “yips?” It’s a term for the loss of a skill in sport.
How the heck do you lose a skill?
You train for years to perfect a simple skill (like a free throw, serve, putt, or pitch). But one day—out of nowhere—it starts acting up.
IS THIS A PHYSICAL OR MENTAL PROBLEM?
Ironically, the yips affect experienced players more than rookies. For expert athletes, these skills are so well ingrained that they become automatic. They don’t take much thought. Muscle memory just does its job.
Then something happens. All of a sudden you find yourself overthinking. Did you do something different? Maybe you should change the approach?
Oh no! Did that make it worse?
WHAT CAUSES THE YIPS?
The main cause of skill loss is anxiety, not a change in technique (although that can play a small part). The mistake happens… You hope it won’t happen again…
It happens again… The anxiety and over-thinking increases, and you’re in a downward spiral.
This is one of the biggest sources of stress in athletes. It paralyzes people and takes the fun out of sport.
Not being able to clearly predict how well you will perform leads to overthinking, self-doubt, and tension. Confidence suffers and the body behaves strangely.
THE SIMPLE 2-STEP SOLUTION
When a skill is causing you anxiety, your mind goes into over-drive to solve the problem. You can’t worry your way out of anxiety. You have to come out of your head, back down into your body. How do you switch off the chatter and get back to what you do well? Here are a couple of things you can try:
- BREATHING – Take a few moments to breathe with intention. Breathe fully and deeply, exhaling through your mouth. Let your shoulders drop. This will calm the mind and relax the body.
- IMAGERY – See a mental picture of the outcome you want. See it in full, vivid detail. This will allow the creative mind to take over from the overthinking mind.
When you’re setting up to do the skill that is causing your stress:
breathe, relax, and see the image of success.
Everyone has different sources of stress and anxiety. Often, it’s not what you think. What works really well for one person doesn’t work for another. What do you do when your skills act up?
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