If you watched the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Monday night’s Wild Card game, you would have seen Cowboys kicker Brett Maher have one of the worst nights of his career.
Maher set an unenviable record when he became the first man ever to miss four extra-point attempts in a single game. For Maher, who completed 94.3 percent of extra-point attempts in the regular season, it was a clear case of the dreaded yips.
His kick has led to some commentators questioning whether Maher should be the Cowboys starting kicker when they take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.
What are the yips?
There are few people better qualified than coach Dr. Mike Rotheram who can explain what the yips are. Coach Rotheram completed a PhD on the yips at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK and has worked with the English Cricket team as well as countless professional athletes at the English Institute of Sport.
“In basic terms the yips are a sudden and unexplained loss of ability to execute certain skills in experienced athletes,” he said.
“In doctor speak that’s a psycho-neuromuscular impairment affecting the execution of fine motor skills during sporting performance.”
“If you have the yips, you can experience jerking movements, feeling body parts becoming stuck and locked and generally it’s accompanied by feeling fear, self-consciousness, panic, anxiety, and embarrassment.”
While the yips are commonly associated with golf, there have been notable cases of baseball players, basketball players, darts players, gymnasts, and cricketers suffering the crushing affliction.
What’s next for Maher?
While some athletes across golf and cricket have had their careers curtailed by the yips, the good news is that they aren’t always recurring.
Cowboys Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel spoke to the media on Wednesday and has backed Maher on being their starting kicker against the 49ers. Their method for overcoming his yips: just get back to kicking.
“This week will give him confidence, just getting back out there,” Fassel said.
“He’s probably going to be mentally hurting pretty bad until he can kind of sweat and kick again. There’s no medicine like being back on the practice field. I am optimistic. A good, professional man who really gives a damn… leads me to be optimistic about a good rebound.”
This approach is what’s called flooding. Coach Rotheram explains it is one of the few methods used to treat the yips. The other notable method being graded exposure.
“It takes a very brave person to take on flooding,” Rotheram said.
“With flooding you’re going straight back to kicking with pressure. With a graded exposure approach, you strip the skill of kicking right back to the basics. No pressure. No opponents. No ball.
“You then work your way back, step-by-step, until you can complete the skill in match simulations where there is pressure attached to the outcome of your kick.”
“Flooding does work but it is risky while research shows that graded exposure is the most effective method to overcome something that provokes anxiety or fear.”
With time being of the essence for Maher and the Cowboys, they’re hoping it was a one off and the NFL’s third highest scoring player can bounce back to his best on Sunday night.
Are you suffering from the yips?
Dr. Mike Rotheram has an exclusive series on dealing with the yips on the Optimize Mind Performance App. Download the app from the App Store or Google Play and find a few strategies to help you combat the dreaded yips.