Although I did find solace during my last collegiate game, my experience with the yips was far from over. I mean that in both a physical way, as I have still struggled with the yips as a coach, when throwing BP as well as in other circumstances, but also in understanding that it will always be a part of me and a part of my story.
As someone who has felt the helplessness of losing control and also the freedom of escaping that hopeless state, I know there are many others who are still searching for the ability to throw freely again. If a few words of advice or shared experience can help, I want to be the one to share. After a wonderful response from my initial article, I wanted to continue telling my story and the different "fixes" and mindset that helped me through it.
As I mentioned above, my experience with the yips did not last just one season. Despite finding myself comfortable in the circle again in my NPF career, there were still pitches that felt a little off. Specifically, when I threw inside dropballs to right-handed hitters, I never quite had the same control that I once did. I sometimes battled the “please don’t hit them” thought in the back of my head, but other times, I knew I was fully in control.
To me, after the first go-around, this experience was a day to day occurrence, and I imagine it’s very similar for others. Some days may feel like a breakthrough while others feel neverending. This is why I feel the worst thing you can do when you’re in the thick of it, is give up or give in to that hopeless feeling.
I know you might feel like quitting. You might think, I’ll be okay without softball, or I can play another position where it won’t affect me. And you’re right, you will be okay without softball. We all will have to let the game go at some time or another, but this experience is about so much more than just softball.
If you give up now, when things feel dreadful, you’ll never know the joy of picking up a ball and throwing freely again. You won’t experience that ah-ha moment of triumph once you overcome your current obstacle. Most importantly, you may face another circumstance in your life where you feel like quitting, and you will not have this experience in your back pocket to remind you to persevere.
The thing is, you’re still capable of doing all of the things you’ve done before. You’re still physically capable of throwing the ball just as hard, and you can still spin it. All those years of practice have not gone to waste. They did not disappear. Physically, nothing about you has changed, which can be refreshing when you think about it. You did not lose the ability to do what you enjoy, but it feels like you did, and I understand that. I had to will myself into thinking that things would be okay, that I would not let the yips beat me. I knew I was stronger than this obstacle and I had to prove that to myself over and over and over again by continuing to try. So, all I ask is that you give yourself the same chance because one day you’ll be glad you did.
Imagine all of the things you can overcome, if you can overcome this feeling of embarrassment, of letting others down, of letting yourself down. Even if it never feels quite the same, it’s important that you understand that you are good enough and you have to believe in yourself enough and be willing to fight your negative thoughts to try and get through it.
I can’t imagine if I would have quit altogether, but I did consider it. It was my senior season, and I hoped to continue playing in the NPF. Then, the yips happened, and I thought, would I be happier if I stopped playing after this season? Would I be happier if I never pitched a softball again? Will teams even want to draft me after seeing that something was off? Even worse, what if they did draft me and I couldn’t even throw a strike?
Well, they still took a chance on me, and I am so thankful that I did not give up on the sport I’ve loved for well over a decade. If I would have given up, I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful teammates, coaches, and competitors who I admire and who have taught me many life lessons. If I would have quit, I wouldn’t have been able to share this experience and speak with many other athletes who are contemplating quitting right now, and I also wouldn’t have been able to overcome the second time that I experienced the yips on a large scale.
You heard that right, the yips found me again, and once again it was in my final season, this time as a professional athlete. It was the same dread, the thought of “not again, I thought this was over”, but this time I had experience, and I knew I could figure things out. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the yips did not always affect every pitch I threw. Granted, prior to these struggles, I probably threw my fastball 60-70 percent of the time, so it still affected a lot, but I could still normally throw my curveball and my change-up for strikes.
That is how I got by during my second round with the yips, I threw offspeed (my curveball is also offspeed) nearly every pitch, and when I needed to, I loosened my grip on my fastball and just let it fly. Sometimes the loose grip would help me get the ball somewhere near the plate, enough to make it enticing, but I didn’t know what side of the plate it would go to or if it would be a little high or low. It wasn’t a guaranteed strike by any means, but it was enough to give me a small spark of confidence.
Luckily, a few days after, we had a week-long break. During that week, I went to work on finding a solution. Normally I throw my fastball with a four-seam grip, so I thought, what if I try to grip it like my curveball? I did just that, and it did help. I think somehow, a different grip eased my mind into thinking that it was okay to throw the ball because when I normally gripped the ball this way, I didn’t have the same jello-like arm. After working on it for a little bit, the pitch became more natural, and eventually, I then started throwing my fastball with a 2-seam grip. Slowly but surely, I gained some confidence back throwing hard strikes again, and since then, things have been closer to normal when I throw to hitters.
So, if you’re going through this, is there a pitch you can still rely on? Often, I find that many pitchers I’ve spoken with can still throw their change-up, so why not make the pitch you can throw great. It might just give you the confidence boost to keep going. Finding that first step, that first boost of confidence is a huge key to freeing up your mind to enjoy pitching again. That’s the big key, you have to find joy in what you’re doing. It’s so hard to find joy in this situation, but you can! Small victories lead to big victories, but you can't have small victories without an initial attempt. Quitting is not your answer, and you owe it to yourself to keep trying to find your solution. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you’ll learn so much more about yourself through the journey.