What Are Yips?

Yips are involuntary wrist movements that can impact athletes’ performance.

Yips are involuntary wrist muscle spasms that strike athletes. They’re often associated with golf or baseball, but athletes who play bowling, darts, cricket, and other sports can also experience yips. Researchers believe that yips are caused by psychological factors and muscle dystonia, a condition that causes muscles to contract involuntarily.

This article will provide more information on yips, including causes, diagnosis, and what might help if you experience yips. 

Baseball player

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Types of Yips

Yips are commonly associated with muscle spasms. However, some people use the term to refer to generalized performance anxiety. Researchers have identified three types of yips that affect athletes:

  • Yips I: Muscle spasms or freezing
  • Yips II: Performance anxiety and psychological symptoms
  • Yips III: Muscle spasms and performance anxiety

Yips are common. A small study of 155 experienced athletes found that nearly 68% of archers and 40% of golfers experienced yips.

Yips Symptoms

The most common symptom of yips is muscle spasms. These often happen in the hands and wrists. That’s why yips are most common among athletes who play sports that require precision hand and wrist movements. Yips affect an athlete’s fine-motor skills.

In addition to muscle spasms, symptoms of yips include:

  • Tremors
  • Freezing up
  • Twitching
  • Psychological distress


Healthcare providers, coaches, and researchers used to think that yips were caused by performance anxiety. However, that’s not the full story. Today, we know that both psychological and physical factors cause yips. 

There’s an underlying physical cause at play. The overuse of muscles in the wrist can lead to dystonia, or involuntary muscle movements. This is also known as task-specific dystonia. It can also strike other people with repetitive muscle movements, including musicians.

Performance anxiety and psychological stress make this dystonia worse. Oftentimes, elite athletes can become so focused on their movements that they overthink their actions and perform worse. People who have anxiety, self-consciousness, or stress about a game or performance often find that their yips are worse.

Risk Factors

Yips are most common in athletes that use their hands and wrists to execute fine motor skills. Yips are most likely to strike more experienced athletes, people who are competing, and people older people.

In addition, yips seem to be more common when an athlete is focused on smaller movements or shorter distances. For example, golfers commonly experience yips when putting, and baseball players are more likely to have yips when throwing less than 20 meters.


There is no official diagnosis for yips. However, you, your coach, athletic trainer, and others will likely be able to observe the pattern of symptoms and behavior and give an informal diagnosis. 


In order to treat yips, it can be helpful to identify your trigger. Yips can be triggered by:

  • Psychological distress, like anxiety or fear
  • Pain
  • Changes to the mechanics of the movement

Once you identify your trigger, you can address it. These treatments may help with yips:

  • Change your hand position. This may provide relief from dystonia and overthinking. 
  • Use a different tool. For example, golfers can use a different putter. This allows you to activate different muscles. 
  • Mindfulness. Reducing your anxiety and distress can help with yips. Have a mindfulness practice before games or competitions to help reduce psychological triggers for yips.
  • Botox injections: Botox injections can treat some types of dystonia and may help with yips. 

A sports psychologist is a healthcare provider who studies how the mind impacts sporting performance. A sports psychologist may be able to help you create a program that reduces your stress or anxiety around performance. 


Having yips can impact your love of the game. While there is a physical component to yips, addressing the psychological part is often helpful. Talk with your coach or a sports psychologist. Remember that yips do not reflect your skill level. Experienced athletes still have yips. 


Yips are involuntary wrist spasms that athletes experience. Some people also use the term to refer to performance anxiety without physical spasms. Researchers believe yips are caused by muscle overuse that leads to dystonia. However, psychological factors like performance anxiety and overthinking can make yips worse. 

A Word From Verywell

Yips are common among athletes. Some people feel embarrassed about yips, but they do not reflect your skill or ability. Talking openly with other athletes, your coach, and supporting staff like trainers might help you find a solution to yips.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do athletes get the yips?

    Researchers believe yips are caused by muscle overuse. This can lead to involuntary muscle spasms. Psychological factors like anxiety seem to make yips worse. 

  • Are the yips a mental health issue?

    Yips have both mental and physical causes. Yips appear to be linked to muscle overuse. However, performance anxiety and overthinking can worsen physical symptoms—like muscle spasms or twitching. 

  • Can yips be cured?

    Yes, many people are able to cure their yips. Psychological approaches, like seeking a sports psychologist and physical approaches, like botox injections, may help.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Beacon Health Systems. Yips.

  2. Clarke P, Sheffield D, Akehurst S. Personality predictors of yips and choking susceptibility. Frontiers in Psychology. 2020. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02784

  3. Aoyama T, Toshiyuki K, Souma H, et al. Difference in personality traits and symptom intensity according to the trigger-based classification of throwing yips in baseball players. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 2021. doi:10.3389/fspor.2021.652792

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.