Research Paper on Sports Psychology: Yips

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Sports, Psychology

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2019/09/27


The ‘yips’ is a term used in sports to describe a transient loss of fine motor skills due to various causes. Although the major etiology is unknown, many researchers attribute it to a psychological and neurological cause. It is a reversible condition which has lead to the end of many sports careers due to poor performance (Vonbrock 50). In golf, it is referred to as a movement disorder that usually impedes with putting. This is because it leads to twitching, jerking and loss of concentration that leads to missing of short putts in golf (Cullen 56).

Many researchers have attributed the condition to biochemical changes in the brain that leads to abnormal muscular movement. In humans, the brain acts as the centre of control for all fine motor and proprioception movements. These are very important in sports as they enable the golfer to coordinate movement while making a smooth stroke. The biochemical components in the brain are important for sending signal messages to the peripheral muscles so as to facilitate movement. Alteration in these biochemical components leads to muscle twitching or jerking which is referred to as the yips. The golfer complains of a nerve tingling experience in their hand or wrist thus they are unable to be steady over the ball (Rotella 48).

Other researchers on the other hand, believe that the golfer experiences some psychological tension which results in the confusion and loss of coordination. They argue that the golfer must have experienced a previous social situation in which they were humiliated which is triggered by the current situation. This is because the yips usually occur during life changing moments or tournament. The brain may not necessarily respond by physiological changes but the body does and develops the yips. This results in compounded events of humiliation to the golfer which recurs every time they have a game (Vonbrock 38).

Although a common condition, cure for the yips is unknown. Some researchers argue that psychological cure is the only way to cure the disorder. They believe that once the player is able to block or neutralize his past humiliating events, then he will not develop the yips. However, this has proved to be very difficult and time consuming leading to the eventual loss of careers (Joseph 12). This paper will seek to determine the main cause of the yips and the cure of the condition. The study hypothesis is that the yips usually results from psychological causes and the cure can only be developed by psychological means.



In our study, a total of ten golfers volunteered of whom only one was left handed. They were 3 females and 7 males whose age was between 19-30 years. The golfers must have played golf competitively with at least eight years of experience with a handicap of 9 or better. They all used the same length of putter.


During the study, we did not have any sophisticated equipments and thus we used an ordinary putter. In order to record the shots, we used three video recorders. The first camera focused on the golfer’s wrist and hands, while the other camera focused behind the hole with a full shot of the body and hole. The last camera focused on a full shot while facing the golfer.

We used a heart rate monitor watch. We also used measuring equipment in order to determine the distance at which most golfers usually experience the yips. All the findings we also recorded on a paper to be analyzed alongside with the video recording.


The experiment was carried out at midday when all the golfers were comfortable. Each golfer was then asked to putt separately with no audience but for the researcher. This was important so that the other golfers would not anticipate what would happen and thus alter the results. Before the golfers were allowed to putt, we placed the three video cameras in place and took the reading of each golfer’s heart rate.

Each golfer started with five putts at ten feet and five putts at seven feet. In order to make things more competitive, each golfer was to putt from the same distance as the baseline putts. However, this time in case the golfer was to perform worse than the baseline putts, one of the researchers would shock their arm. In case the golfer performed better than the baseline putts, then they would be given a new putter of their choice. Before they were allowed to putt, each of the golfer’s heart rate was measured. Each golfer was then allowed to take 10 putts from the baseline.

Each of the golfers who performed poorly underwent some mental training so as to ease the tension. The mental training included helping the golfer in concentration, control, confidence and commitment. In concentration the golfers were asked to practice on some focusing drills on ten foot putts for which they had to make a goal for each putt. They were also asked to come up with a word that would help them concentrate in case they would be distracted.

In order to improve confidence, each golfer was asked to visualize previous good performances. So as to gain control, the golfers were trained on how to control both anger and anxiety. Each golfer was also asked to write the goals they would like to achieve. They were also asked to hang them on the wall so as to act as a constant reminder and thus make them committed to their purpose. After the training procedure, each of the golfers was asked to undergo the same procedure. The findings were then analyzed. One was classified as having the yips if they missed and confessed to having jerky and twitching movements during the putt.


At the beginning of the experiment each of the golfer’s heart rate was measured. Out of the ten, only one of the golfer’s heart rate was above the normal. The normal heart rate for an average adult was taken to range between 60-100 beats per minute. During the first round, where the golfers were under no pressure, there was outstanding performance at ten feet with only one or two putt misses. However, there was one golfer who would always miss to the right by an inch. The golfers missed putts at ten feet in such a way that they missed the hole by less than an inch or the ball was hanging on the edge of the hole. None of the golfers missed at the seven feet.

After putting the golfers under pressure, out of the ten golfers, only four recorded abnormal heart rates including the one who previously had a high heart rate reading. Out of the ten golfers, only two suffered the yips. One of the golfers who suffered the yips would always push the ball too hard thus it would fall about three feet from the hole. The other golfer would miss it about an inch to the right. The two golfers admitted to have suffered from the yips right before they would make a putt.

After the mental training, the golfers underwent the same procedure. The results were similar to those before the pressure round. However, one golfer would always miss the putts by one inch to the right. After putting pressure on the golfers, the heart rate recordings were found to be normal. One of the golfers performed better than his baseline putts. The other golfer however, would always miss the putts by about an inch to the right.

After enquiry, it was discovered the golfer who always missed had some physical problem with the wrist. He would experience twitching whenever he tried to grab or hold something.


Table 1. Table showing those with yips without and under pressure

With yips Without the yips Total
Without psychological pressure 1 9 10
Under psychological pressure 2 8 10


Table 2. Table showing golfers with increased heart rate without and with pressure

Increased heart rate Normal heart rate Total
Without psychological pressure 1 9 10
Under psychological pressure 4 6 10


Table 3. Table showing those with yips before and after training

With yips under pressure Without the yips Total
Before training program 2 0 2
After training program 1 1 2


During the experiment it was discovered that putting the golfers under pressure often resulted in the development of yips. This means that the study hypothesis is true as the golfers only developed the yips after psychological pressure. The golfer who seemed to develop the yips throughout the experiment was discovered to have a physical problem. This means that he did not suffer the yips due to any psychological or neurological problem.

The mental training process included training on confidence, concentration, control and commitment. The level of confidence the player has determines how well the athlete will cope at difficult situations (Cullen 32). Concentration was vital as it determined the level of mental quality to focus on the task at hand. It is vital for any golfer to concentrate when making a putt. Lack of concentration may lead to missing when making a putt which causes frustration to the player. Control of both anger and anxiety will help the golfer concentrate on the task at hand. Commitment was also vital as one has to be committed to their goals in order to succeed (Jason 87).

After the mental training session, it was noted that the golfers did not miss their putts. This means that a mental control would help prevent the development of yips. It was also noted that although yips had a neurological cause, the major cause was psychological. A psychological form of treatment would thus help prevent the development of yips and hence save many careers in sports.


In summary, the yip is one of the most distressing things that could happen to a golfer. This is because it occurs during a life changing event or tournament. It may result from both a neurological and psychological cause. The study helped to establish that psychological problems may result to development of the yips. However due to limitation of the study it did not exclude the neurological cause. It is thus important to employ both psychological and neurological forms of measure in the prevention of the yips.

Work cited

Cullen, Bob. Golf is not a game of confidence. NY: Simon & Chuster. 1995. Print.

Jason, Selk. Mental training program. London: McGraw Hill. 2008. Print.

Jon, Wertheim. Hidden influences behind sports. CA: Crown Archetype. 2011. Print.

Joseph, Parent. Mastering the mental game. NY: Elsevier. 2003. Print.

Rotella, Bob. Golf is not a game of perfect. Chicago: Simon & Chuster. 1995. Print.

Vonbrock, Stacey. A Handbook on nervousness. London: Oxford. 2005. Print.