DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Maybe it was just a bad game. In a week, all will be forgotten. Everyone from golfers to baseball players however, may have considered another explanation for Brett Maher’s repeated missed kicks in the Dallas Cowboys playoff game Monday.
The “yips,” can come on suddenly. A catcher who makes a single wayward throw back to the pitcher finds himself paralyzed at the prospect of throwing it back the next time. A golfer missing a two-foot putt taps the next one off the green.
The lack of control becomes debilitating, explained Dr. Matt Johnson, a sports psychologist consultant in Fort Worth. He often sees athletes who have been struggling to break the yips for several months, only to become more mired in the problem.
“If our mind is thinking about, ‘Oh my gosh I gotta win this, don’t miss this,’ that pulls our mind away from being focused on what we’ve done millions of times before,” Dr. Johnson said.
Whether that’s what millions of people saw a pro-athlete experience Monday, he can’t say. He’s reluctant to ever put a label on the problem when he sees it, choosing to instead help athletes refocus and work through it.
Thinking more about the mistake just causes an increase in high frequency brain waves—interfering with once reliable signals to muscles about the sequence of when to fire, the force to use, and the focus on the target.
Returning to a routine, and limiting distractions, he finds are often the most important thing in regaining control.
The fix doesn’t have a timeline.
Dr. Patrick Cohn often tells athletes he sees that it’s not like catching and getting over a cold. They have to focus on regaining a percentage of control, and working their way back.
In his Central Florida practice, he’s developed programs for young baseball players to beat back the yips, where he said they often compare it to feeling like an alien has taken control of their arm.
Getting the athlete to trust their ability again, their routine, and move freely, can often get them back on the right path over time.
“If it’s just one game where the athlete just had a lot of worry, or anxiety, or over-control, then I think it’s quicker to get the athlete back on path,” Dr. Cohn said.
He also didn’t want to conclude that repeated missed kicks point to any diagnosis of a deeper problem. Only the athlete, he said, knows for sure what they need to get back on target.