In the world of sports, few experiences can be as disheartening for athletes as "the yips", formally labeled “Loss of Movement Syndrome (LMS)”. These seemingly unexplainable and involuntary movements can transform the pinnacle of an athlete's career into an ongoing struggle, making even the simplest actions feel like monumental challenges. But what are the yips and how can athletes regain control over their movements, confidence, and performance? In this blog, we'll delve into the enigma of the yips and explore an innovative solution that is transforming the way athletes address this phenomenon: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Discover how this groundbreaking therapy is reshaping the lives and careers of athletes who are determined to rise above the yips and reclaim their competitive edge.
What are The Yips?
The yips are a mysterious phenomenon in sports where an athlete suddenly has trouble performing simple, routine actions, like making a putt in golf or throwing a pitch in baseball. It's like the brain and body miscommunicate - your brain says, "do this," but your muscles seem to forget how, leading to awkward and often frustrating movements. This happens due to a glitch in the nervous system, kind of like a short circuit in an electrical wire that makes your body move in unexpected ways. It can be incredibly challenging for athletes because they're physically capable, but their nervous system momentarily acts as if it's forgotten the skill.
5 Ways to Understand the Yips through a Trauma Informed Lens
A trauma-informed perspective on the yips recognizes the complex interplay between past traumatic experiences and an athlete's struggle with these involuntary movements.
Here's how the yips can be understood through a trauma-informed lens:
1. Past Trauma as a Trigger
Trauma, whether it's physical, emotional, or psychological, can become a trigger for the yips. The brain stores traumatic memories, and certain situations in sports can inadvertently evoke those memories. For example, an athlete who experienced a traumatic injury may subconsciously associate the sport's movements with pain and danger, leading to a fear response and involuntary movements.
2. Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance
Traumatic experiences can result in a state of hyperarousal, where an individual is constantly on high alert, anticipating danger. Athletes who have experienced trauma may be hypervigilant, scanning for threats, even in a seemingly safe sports environment. This heightened state of alertness can lead to muscle tension, trembling, and the yips when performing under pressure.
3. Loss of Control as a Reenactment
Trauma often involves a profound loss of control over one's safety or well-being. The yips can be seen as a reenactment of this loss of control in a different context. Athletes experiencing the yips may feel helpless and out of control in their movements, akin to how they felt during their traumatic experience.
4. Disrupted Attachment and Self-Concept
Trauma can disrupt an individual's sense of self and their ability to form secure attachments. Athletes who have experienced trauma may have difficulty trusting their own abilities or forming healthy connections with coaches and teammates. These disruptions in self-concept and attachment can impact their confidence and overall mental well-being, contributing to the yips.
5. Need for Safety and Support
A trauma-informed approach to addressing the yips focuses on creating a safe and supportive environment for athletes. It acknowledges that athletes may require a sense of safety and trust to heal from past traumatic experiences. This approach involves empathetic coaching, mental health support, and interventions like EMDR to reprocess traumatic memories and reduce the emotional impact on sports performance.
Why EMDR for the Yips?
At the core of EMDR is the concept of bilateral stimulation. Traditionally, this is achieved through side-to-side eye movements, but other modalities such as tactile or auditory cues can also be used. For athletes seeking to overcome the yips, bilateral stimulation and EMDR stand out as effective choices because they address the issue through a unique bottom-up processing approach. The yips, with their sudden, involuntary movements, often stem from deep-rooted emotional and traumatic triggers, which are primarily processed through the brain's lower, more instinctual areas. Top-down processing, typical of talk therapy, may not reach these core issues effectively. Bilateral stimulation and EMDR, on the other hand, engage in bottom-up processing by targeting the emotional and sensory aspects of trauma. They allow athletes to rewire their neural connections, reprocess traumatic memories, and reduce the emotional intensity associated with the yips. This approach helps clear the yips by addressing the problem at its source, bridging the mind-body disconnect, and allowing athletes to regain control over their movements and perform at their best under pressure.
EMDR offers athletes a powerful path to conquer the enigmatic challenge of the yips, providing them with the means to resolve underlying trauma and emotional blocks that hinder their performance. As we've explored, EMDR's unique approach of bilateral stimulation helps synchronize the mind and body, fostering the reprocessing of traumatic memories that lie at the heart of the yips. And the benefits don't end there. Once the trauma is resolved, EMDR techniques can be a transformative tool for athletes to visualize their future goals and proactively prepare for the anticipatory pressure from upcoming games and matches. In this way, EMDR not only clears the path from the past but also illuminates the way forward, allowing athletes to step onto the field or court with a newfound sense of control, determination, and the confidence to achieve their goals. With the yips conquered and a clear vision of the future, the possibilities for athletic success become limitless.
Sean O'Connor is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.
Sean specializes in sports psychology and trauma informed counseling to helps adults and athletes overcome anger, depression, anxiety, PTSD and stress.
Sean loves working with athletes and survivors of childhood trauma and helps them heal from the past, love the present, and have hope for the future.
Sean has availability to take new clients virtually and in person Mondays - Thursdays.