Okay, so… what are the yips? From Rick Ankiel to Simone Biles, ‘Losing Control’ investigates one of the strangest phenomenons in sports

Sports April 21, 2022
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Listen to ‘Losing Control’

Have you ever heard of the yips? For decades, it was thought to be a myth or a side effect of performance anxiety. All of a sudden, elite athletes who have trained for countless hours to master their craft, can’t even do the most basic of tasks (well, elite athlete-level basic tasks), like throwing a routine ball to first base, or kicking a routine field goal.

Rick Ankiel is perhaps one of the most famous cases of the yips happening in baseball along with Steve Blass, whose name was used to describe the yips for decades in the sport. You’ve also probably heard of the gymnasts‘ version of the yips. Honestly, how could anyone forget when Simone Biles had to withdraw from nearly all of her events in the 2020 Olympics because of the twisties?

So what exactly are the yips? An unexplainable phenomenon? Or a mixture of psychological and neurological problems that we hadn’t discovered until recently? On this new podcast, “Losing Control,” mental performance coach Justin Su’a tries to uncover the truth about the strangest wonder that affects elite performers across numerous disciplines.

“Losing Control” is a new podcast from Sports Illustrated Studios and iHeartPodcasts. Throughout its 10 episodes, Justin will speak with athletes, coaches, sports psychologist, neuroscientists, reporters, and even a concert pianist about the yips. As a mental performance coach and also the Head of Mental Performance for the Tampa Bay Rays, Justin has worked with some of the most elite performers around the world, and he is sharing their stories on “Losing Control.”

As Justin tells us, the yips are a broad and multifaceted topic, so naturally, we’ll hear from a wide variety of people. One of the first people he speaks with is Stephanie Apstein, a reporter for Sports Illustrated who has been writing about the yips for five years.

She defines the yips as the sudden, inexplicable inability to do something simple. For golfers, it’s often putting. For Simone Biles, it’s winning only bronze at the Olympics. For pitchers, it could be anything from losing the ability to pitch to not being able to simply throw the ball to first base.

The latter of which is exactly what happened to Jon Lester, whose story inspired Stephanie Apstein to dive into the mystery of the yips. Lester is a five-time All-Star, three-time World Series Champion, and even threw a no-hitter back in 2008 with the Boston Red Sox.

He retired recently after earning his spot as one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen. But, he literally could not throw a baseball to first base. And as Stephanie tells us, opponents knew this and tried to use it against him, especially after the 2014 playoffs.

Everyone knew Jon Lester couldn’t throw to first, and people had certainly been blaming it on the yips for a long time. Yet, he still won the World Series with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. How? Stephanie noticed that many people had opinions on Jon, the yips, the game he played, but no one seemed to be talking to Jon about it, so that’s exactly what she did. In 2017, Sports Illustrated published her article Jon Lester didn’t just beat the yips; he improved once the secret was out.

In “Losing Control,” Stephanie tells Justin how many people saw Lester’s yips as a weakness, when in fact, it was one of the strongest mental feats she had ever seen. He navigated this potentially embarrassing, frightening, and frustrating thing and still had some of the best years of his career.

The two talk about Simone Biles’ case of the twisties in the Olympics, noting that even just one year ago, people still couldn’t grasp why she wasn’t competing. As Stephanie says, while the yips are frustrating for golfers, baseball players, and football players, they can be fatal for gymnasts. Stephanie also wrote this cover story about Biles and her incredible comeback.

Throughout this podcast, Justin will speak with people who have experienced the yips, studied the yips, and overcome the yips. You’ll hear from the aforementioned Rick Ankiel, who had to take a five-year hiatus from the major leagues in order to play again.

You’ll hear from 2021 World Series Champion Tyler Matzek, who nearly left baseball with a bad case of the yips. You’ll hear from kickers, golfers, quarterbacks, and even musicians about what it’s like to lose control.

This podcast, and the stories shared in it, are not just about “Losing Control” of the abilities that make elite performers elite, but real people losing control of their life and who they thought they were.

Justin tells us that this podcast will not only shed light on one of the greatest mysteries in sports, but how we live our lives. The yips seemingly defy reason, but the most important part of “Losing Control” is getting it back.

Listen to ‘Losing Control’

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