7 famous cases of the yips

Anton Oliver. Photo / Getty Images.
Anton Oliver. Photo / Getty Images.

Maybe the Breakers are enduring team yips at the free throw line. Their title-defending basketball season is collapsing due to the worst free throw statistics by any team in the NBL for 15 seasons.

Yips was a phrase coined by the golfing great Tommy Armour, to describe the loss of confidence and attendant freezing/shakes which destroy a regimented sporting skill. It is an affliction usually applied to individuals, but who is to say there is not a team version?

We check out a few famous cases.

Mackey Sasser (baseball)

This just has to be the strangest case of the yips. Mackey Sasser was a terrific catcher for the New York Mets in the 1980s and 90s. But he couldn't do the most regular of tasks - throw the ball back to the pitcher. The problems were traced back to injuries but also childhood trauma, including being brought up by an alcoholic father and witnessing his brother being hit by a car.

Sasser would double, triple and quadruple pump the ball before letting it go, and even then it would be a soft throw. Yet he could still rifle the ball to second base. His career petered out. Sasser was not alone as a baseballer with this issue, but his is the most famous of cases.

Mark Richardson (cricket)

A spin bowler who got the yips, and responded by turning himself into one of New Zealand's few world-rated openers. Nerves and fear were his constant companion. "I'm motivated by fear of failure. I failed once as a spinner and I don't want to fail again as a batsman," he was quoted as saying in the Independent.

Anton Oliver (rugby)

The most famous yips in New Zealand sporting history? There were wider All Black team issues around the lineout operation, but ultimately the spotlight fell on Oliver's throwing. The nadir - 10 lost lineouts in a Bledisloe Cup test when Australia apparently decoded the calls. Oliver didn't look comfortable, and being a left-handed thrower added an unusual element which didn't help his cause. The problem curtailed his career, and gave him an unwanted reputation that sticks.

England penalty shootouts (football)

Shootout experts like Germany hover around the 70 per cent success rate. England, by far the worst of the "leading" football nations, have won only once in seven attempts. Some say repeated failure in this crucial department has destroyed England's confidence. Former Portugal goalkeeper Simao Sabrosa - reviewing a 2006 World Cup shot out win over England - said: "(I knew) if I save their first kick, we've won...because I knew if they see (Frank Lampard) Lampard miss a penalty, they will never recover."

Eric Bristow (darts)

One of the most interesting cases, because the "Crafty Cockney" was an outwardly cocky character not apparently prone to self doubt. And yet...
Bristow got hit by "dartitis" in the late 1980s, meaning he couldn't let the darts go properly.

"For a time I wondered what the hell I was going to do if I didn't recover...some people never play again once they get it," he said.

It took Bristow 10 years to free himself of the yips completely. His battles hinted at the complexity of personality as opposed to public masks .

"I still don't know how I got it or got rid of it," Bristow told ChronicleLive last year.

IK Kim v Doug Sanders (golf)

Golf has very famous cases of the yips costing players major titles - Kim and Sanders duel for the most famous example. Sanders committed the "quintessential yip" as a Guardian feature put it. He botched a 75cm putt to win the 1970 Open, then lost the 18-hole playoff to Jack Nicklaus. The story noted this was a yip long in the making.

Sanders had taken two set-ups and 21 fairway looks on the 17th tee, followed by another 16 looks out of the Road Hole bunker. Kim missed from about 30cm to win the 2012 Kraft Nabisco, lost the playoff, and has yet to win a major. Korean Kim was stunned at the time, but has been graceful and philosophical about it since.

Scott Boswell (cricket)

It took Leicestershire paceman Scott Boswell 10 years to get over one over. In a 2001 final, he lost the plot and bowled eight wides in that over and was cut by the county soon after. The Guardian sought him out years later.

"I just couldn't let go of the ball. I wanted to get on with it, so I began to rush. The more I panicked, the more I rushed."

Stephen Hendry/Steve Davis (snooker)

The legends both suffered the yips. Hendry once said: "On some shots I don't even get the cue through...it's so frustrating, it's like giving these guys a 50 [point] head-start, it's horrendous." Davis said: " The more you try to stop it, the worse it gets. It is debilitating for a player."

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