Friday, August 6, 2021

Yips, Twistees, & the Psychology of Sports

When I was growing up and playing little league baseball, my dad used to say, "The only difference between a major league ballplayer and a triple-A player is right here," pointing to his gut, "and all in here," tapping his temple on the side of his head. The mental game is a huge aspect of sport, and that is nowhere more true than at the highest levels where the competition and the pressure is beyond intense.

At this year's Olympics, sports fans have been introduced to a new bit jargon in reference to Simone Biles' withdrawal from the team competition. She was suffering from "the twistees." Basically, she is experiencing an inability to find herself in the air while doing the twists and flips integral to gymnastics routines. While this seems sort of abstract, it's easier to understand for anyone who has ever done a flip, a gainer, or a one-and-a-half from a diving board. Now imagine multiplying that weird displaced feeling by about a hundred. 

The twistees are also not hard to understand for baseball fans, for the stories about "the yips" are legendary on the diamond, as are the sad stories of careers derailed by psychological struggles on the field. Of course, while a pitcher facing the yips is a heartbreaking situation, it's nothing like a gymnast with the twistees. One is sad and frustrating, the other could be incredibly dangerous. Losing your sense of spatial orientation while flipping eight feet in the air risks serious injury or even paralysis and death. And, it's simply not something an athlete can just "tough it out" or "get over it." We are long past the days where we shrug off the mental health burdens that come with athletics.

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