Anxiety is an unpleasant motivational state (Lundqvist et al. 2011) comprising of cognitive (worrying thoughts) and somatic (oneself perception of physiological arousal) anxiety (Englert and Bertrams 2012), commonly measured by the CSAI-2 (Martens et al. 1990 cites Edward and Hardy 1996); hardy individuals believe they are in control of events and reportedly have reduced levels of somatic anxiety (Hanton et al. 2013 cites Hanton et al. 2003). Alongside these two types are also trait (personality) and state (situational) anxiety (Derakshan and Eysenck 2009). Anxious individuals worry about reaching their goals (Derakshan and Eysenck 2009) with each athlete having a specific, preferred level of anxiety (Pijpers et al. 2003).
The most used model of anxiety, the Multidimensional theory of anxiety (Edwards and Hardy 1996 cites Hardy 1990) believes that components are additive rather than having an interactive relationship. Whilst the directional perception approach Jones (1995) cited by Lundqvist et al. (2011) states that anxiety is perceived as harmful (debilitative) or favourable (facilitative) by the performer; facilitative if the performer is able to cope, debilitative to those who are not. Those who suffer from a higher than normal level of anxiety are said to endure selective attention upon the wrong stimuli; a footballer taking a penalty thinking about how badly they have played during the game would be focusing on threatening internal stimuli rather than the current task. Whilst a batsmen in cricket listening to abuse from the crowd would be focusing on threatening external stimuli rather than the current task, reducing attention levels (Englert and Bertrams 2012 cites Vine and Wilson 2011). If anxiety becomes too much for the performer with no strategy to reduce levels, then performance will deteriorate (Pijpers et al. 2003) which could lead to discontinuation (Grossbard et al. 2009 cites Scanlan et al. 2005); degrading performances can mean that the performer resorts to an earlier skill level (Pijpers et al. 2003). Anxiety is most prominent in elite gymnasts (De Pero et al. 2013 cites Kolt and Kirby 1994) who worry about being at risk of becoming severely injured from falling off an apparatus or from performing the routine wrongly. Also, elite basketballers taking free throws may become aware of the spectators, increasing anxious feelings and reducing the likelihood of the succeeding. However, the sport in question is golf, specifically putting where anxiety seems to be greatest.
Anxiety in golf
Predominantly occurring in a golfers putting stroke (Bell and Thompson 2007), the yips is chronic anxiety appearing as focal dystonia (type 1) and choking (type 2), the difference being physiological or psychological (Stinear et al. 2006). Those who already have the wrong movement along with performance anxiety suffer from focal dystonia, whilst choking is a combination of performance anxiety and high state anxiety (Smith et al. 2000); golfers with an incorrect putting technique and their general anxiety as well as those who have a good technique who become anxious when have to sink a putt from 3ft away, suffer from the yips. Klämpfl et al. (2013) confirmed that the yips is situational as Stinear et al. (2006) cites Wertz (1986) claimed that it occurs when needing to take easy or tricky putts, playing against specific competitors and when leading competitions. However, trait anxiety does have an effect implying that it is a combination. Furthermore, Klämpfl et al. (2013) cites Rotherham et al. (2012) that the yips are associated with a specific life event such as humiliation, and those affected are developed and accomplished golfers, rather than beginners (Bell and Thompson 2007); beginners cannot suffer from the yips as they are yet to master putting. A loss of fine motor skills occurs due to a greater occurrence of muscle activity in the forearms (Smith et al. 2000 cites Cook 1993) creating abnormal movement, resulting in an apprehension to putt (Philippen and Lobinger 2012). Smith et al. (2000) cites McDaniel et al. (1989) established that the yips are induced via anxiety, so feeling more anxious is not due to the cause but a result of the yips, with focus specifically on technical aspects (Philippen and Lobinger 2012); research from Linder et al. (1999) cited by Bell et al. (2009) found that as a result of anxiety, golfers become more self-conscious, exacerbating the yips due to evaluation from a playing partner or from own fear of failure.
Bell et al. (2009) used a large sample of 1031 yip affected professionals and findings were that a significant increased level of anxiety was evident, suggesting that anxiety accentuates the yips along with stress, confirming previous results. On the other hand, Philippen and Lobinger (2012) discovered that golfers’ anxiety levels were of the same as non-yip affected, but that yip affected struggled to cope with anxiety. Results came from studying 17 golfers of varying standards and reported that those affected by the yips, had abnormal putting movements in the hands or forearms and a change in grip style and putter; this link requires more research for it to be confirmed. Furthermore, Beilock and Carr (2001) stated that pressure situations raise anxiety specifically in tournaments, with an increased grip strength and faster heart rate (Philippen and Lobinger et al. 2012 cites Smith et al. 2000). Although, Marquardt (2009) claimed that there still is no way of determining how mechanical changes occur as a result of anxiety.
Strategies for yip affected golfers
Numerous strategies have been produced to reduce anxiety effects such as having high self-control (Englert and Bertrams 2012 cites Baumeister et al. 2007), hardiness (Hanton et al. 2013), confidence (Beilock and Carr 2001) and activating the right hand side of the brain hemisphere (Smith et al. 2000). The main strategy studied is solution-focused imagery (SFGI) which requires a facilitator to work alongside the golfer, helping create vivid images and feel less negativity about putting (Sklare et al. 2003). Various steps are used in the process, but it is imagery that increases self-confidence with a focus on success (Sklare et al. 2003); the golfer produces an easily changeable imagery script by using all their senses, conducted in the golf environment in golf clothes, writing down the process they need to go through to make the perfect putt from 3ft. The facilitator shows what is and is not working in the clients’ life with us of goals. Bell and Thompson (2007) study confirmed that SFGI decreases yip occurrence as the golfer studied, had all accounts of the yips removed from his game. Furthermore, Bell et al. (2009) enabled a decrease in the percentage of yip hit putts, not due to the accomplished golfers becoming habituated to having their data taken.
With anxiety always existent during performance, a capable strategy is required otherwise the yips will constantly be present. During a tournament, higher levels of anxiety could initiate the yips again, especially once a few missed putts occur from the same situation as before. Therefore, the strategy needs to be continued for improvements to be maintained; even with a strategy in place, it is still likely that the golfer might lapse back, due to the existence of past experiences increasing anxiety levels (Bell et al. 2009). Knowledge of previous misses will always be there, but once the player can cope then failing will occur less.
Beilock, S.L. & Carr, T.H. (2001) On the fragility of skilled performance: What governs choking under pressure? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130 (4), 701-725.
Bell, R.J., Skinner, C.H. & Fisher, L.A. (2009) Decreasing putting yips in accomplished golfers via solution-focused guided imagery: A single-subject research design. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21 (1), 1-14.
Bell, R.J. & Thompson, C.L. (2007) Solution-focused guided imagery for a golfer experiencing the yips: A case study. The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, 9 (1), 52-66.
De Pero, R., Minganti, C., Pesce, C., Caprancia, L. & Piacentini, M.F. (2013) The relationships between pre-competition anxiety, self-efficacy, and fear of injury in elite teamgym athletes. Kinesiology, 45 (1), 63-72.
Derakshan, N. & Eysenck, M.W. (2009) Anxiety, processing efficiency, and cognitive performance: New developments from attentional control theory. European Psychologist, 14 (2), 168-176.
Edwards, T. & Hardy, L. (1996) The interactive effects of intensity and direction of cognitive and somatic anxiety and self-confidence upon performance. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. [Online] 18 (3), 296-312 Available from: SPORTDiscus [Accessed 20 October 2014].
Englert, C. & Bertrams, A. (2012) Anxiety, ego depletion, and sports performance. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 34, 580-599.
Grossbard, J.R., Smith, R.E., Small, F.L. & Cumming, S.P. (2009) Competitive anxiety in young athletes: Differentiating somatic anxiety, worry, and concentration disruption. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 22 (2), 153-166.
Hanton, S., Neil, R. & Evans, L. (2013) Hardiness and anxiety interpretation: An investigation into coping usage and effectiveness. European Journal of Sport Science, 13 (1), 96-104.
Lundqvist, C., Kenttä, G. & Raglin, J.S. (2011) Directional anxiety responses in elite and sub-elite young athletes: intensity of anxiety symptoms matters. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21, 853-862.
Marquardt, C. (2009) The vicious circle involved in the development of the yips. International Journal of Sport Science & Coaching, 4 (0), 67-88.
Philippen, P.B. & Lobinger, B.H. (2012) Understanding the yips in golf: Thoughts, feelings, and focus of attention in yips-affected golfers. The Sport Psychologist, 26, 325-340.
Pijpers, J.R., Oudejans, R.R.D., Holsheimer, F. & Bakker, F.C. (2003) Anxiety-performance relationships in climbing: a process orientated approach. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 4, 283-304.
Stinear, C.M., Coxon, J.P., Fleming, M.K., Lim, V.K., Prapevessis, H. & Byblow, W. D. (2006) The yips in golf: Multimodal evidence for two subtypes. Medicine & Exercise Science, 38 (11), 180-189.
Sklare, G.B., Sabella, R.A. & Petrosko, J.M. (2003) A preliminary study of the effects of group solution-focused guided imagery on recurring individual problems. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 28 (4), 370-381.
Smith, A.M., Malo, S. A., Laskowski, E.R., Sabick, M., Cooney III, W., Finnie, S.B., Crews, D.J., Erichen, J.J., Hay, I.D., Detling, N.J. & Kaufman, K. (2000) A multidisciplinary study of the ‘yips’ phenomenon in golf: An exploratory analysis. Sports Medicine, 30 (6), 423-437.
Buy and download up to 400 infographics!Buy infographics
About Matthew Cheesbrough
20 yr Sport & Exercise Psychology student at Worcester University. Love sport. Ex-South Glos U’16s and U’18s golfer,