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Tips for the Yips: How to Overcome Your Pickleball Serving Woes

by Jason Flamm on

The first rule of the yips is you don’t talk about the yips

Except, sometimes, you have to. This is one of those rare times. During Major League Pickleball (MLP) in Atlanta, pro Connor Garnett seemed to have a bad case of them while serving.

At one point, he had missed around 15 serves in just two games.

The reason it's so crushing in rally scoring is because, unlike traditional pickleball scoring, the non-serving team gets a point on the sideout.

This means CG was giving away free points like he was handing out samples on a Saturday at Costco.

Of course, we don’t actually know what’s going on with CG. Still, we thought it beneficial to discuss the yips (at the risk of cursing our own game) and provide ways you might overcome them.

What are the yips?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the yips are "involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers try to putt. However, the yips can also affect people who play other sports."

They are considered a neurological condition – a type of focal dystonia, when performing a specific task. It could be due to overuse of a certain set of muscles, and anxiety will often worsen the effect.

Essentially, the more serves you miss, the more anxious you become, leading to even more misses.

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Unfortunately, the exact cause of the yips is not completely understood. Which, of course, means that an easy fix is also unknown. 

Let’s try to find some anyway.

Ways to fix the yips

Because the yips are neurological in nature and cause involuntary movement, fixing the yips with any one thing likely won’t work. So, we scoured the internet for help and here’s what we came up with.

Use your non-dominant hand for a while

Changing the way you perform the task could provide some relief. For a right-handed pickleballer, this means try serving left-handed instead. It sounds daunting, but if giving up a few points with your non-dominant hand can cure you, go for it. 

At least you’ll have a good excuse for why your serve is so bad.

Use behavioral therapy

Positive self-talk becomes quite the challenge when you’re shoulder-deep in the yips. However, since they are driven largely by anxiety, that might just be what the doctor ordered. Developing mental exercises ahead of time that you can utilize in a time of crisis might provide some relief. 

Of course, if you haven’t laid the groundwork before the moment you feel them crawling under your kin, this strategy isn’t doing you much good out on the courts.

Do something silly, aka the "Tin Cup" method

If you’ve seen "Tin Cup" – the Kevin Costner golf movie – you may remember a scene where his character gets a case of the yips, and his caddie cures him by having him:

  • Take out his change and put it in his left-hand pocket
  • Tie his left shoe into a double knot
  • Turn his hat around backward
  • Take a tee and stick it behind his left ear

After that, he hits a perfect fade while everyone is watching.

While a tactic like this may seem silly, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to slay those demons.

What not to do to get rid of the yips

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also talk about a few ways to definitely not get rid of the yips for you.

Drilling balls over and over again

Drilling specific movements helps us develop a great technique to use during important game situations. It helps you to develop a strong muscle memory, even when stress is through the roof. Unfortunately, that’s all mechanical.

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The yips are not mechanical.

Drilling or going out and hitting a thousand balls will likely not eliminate the yips for you. If only it were that easy.

Seeking advice from others

When you’re struggling, the last thing you want to hear is advice from others on how to get out of it. They might tell you to try a different posture or drop the ball before you serve it or this or that – but, truly, none of that will help you overcome your problem. 

Unless the person you’re seeking advice from is a professional therapist, you’re better off putting earplugs in.

You don’t talk about the yips

Talk about your paddle position being too high, your weight shift being off, or how you forgot your lucky hairbrush that morning. Whatever you do, never admit that you have the yips.

It's the first rule for a reason.

Because once they get a hold of you, they may never let you go.

Good luck.


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Jason Flamm

Jason Flamm

Jason is a writer from St. Louis. He’s been a coach in several sports and is currently working on his pickleball coaching certification. He loves to teach and share his passions.

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