Have you heard of the “serving yips” on the pickleball court? The yips are not unique to pickleball. They can appear in other sports, like golf, baseball, softball, tennis, darts, gymnastics, and others. Regardless of the sport, the yips are an unexplainable, sudden inability to do a routine skill. For instance, in the case of pickleball, the unexplainable, sudden inability to hit a simple serve into the crosscourt serving box to start a rally.
Oftentimes, the yips are associated with performance anxiety, which is heightened during competitive play. However, the yips can also be due to involuntary muscle contractions. Whether it is a mental or physical reaction, the result is usually in the form of a spasm, twitch, or, at times, freezing. These spasms, twitches, or freezes, then lead to a missed serve. This can lead to a vicious cycle of more anxiety, which causes more bad serves, which causes more anxiety, etc.
The serving yips on the pickleball court can be very challenging to overcome. The vicious cycle of the yips (between more bad serves and more anxiety) can take a toll on any pickleball player’s mental game. If you are suffering from the serving yips, or know someone that may be suffering from the serving yips, try these tips:
- Identify Your Fear – As noted above, oftentimes, the serving yips on the pickleball court are due to some kind of fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. For instance, some pickleball players will tell themselves after a missed serve, “You can’t even get the serve in. How are you supposed to do anything else, if you cannot get your serve in? You let your partner down. No one will want to play with you.” And, so on. The first step is identifying and understanding what your specific fear is. Sometimes, putting a name or identifier on it can give you at least a little power over it and get you one step closer to overcoming the yips.
- Take a Breath – When you are anxious, it helps to breathe. Breathing helps relax your muscles, so you can perform at your best—both physically and mentally. So, before you step on the pickleball court to serve, take a breath. If you have a pre-serve routine that relaxes you, do that, too. But, at least take a moment to steady yourself physically and mentally. Breathing will help.
- Keep It Simple – Many pickleball players that suffer with the yips are (a) trying to do too many things at once and/or (b) telling themselves to do too many things at once. For instance, toss the pickleball (maybe with spin?), pull the paddle back, watch your feet, use your legs, keep your paddle head below your wrist, serve to the crosscourt box, try to serve to backhands, get ready for the next shot, finish your serve, question whether you bent your arm at your elbow or wrist on your serve, and so on. This is way too many things to think about. In other words, pickleball players with the serving yips are usually trying “too hard.”
- Paddle back a little. Paddle forward through the pickleball. No fancy things or rushed shots (you have more time than you think!). Just a little back and forth from your shoulder in a loose, controlled manner.
- Watch the pickleball all the way to your paddle.
- Try narrowing your target to just one small quarter-sized space on the crosscourt service box (which gives you plenty of room for error). Sometimes, making the target smaller helps your mind focus more.
- Take the Pressure Off – If you find yourself with a case of the serving yips during game play, take some time to hit some serves by yourself. Sometimes, it helps to practice your serve by removing any pressure from game play or from your peers being there with you. By removing this additional pressure, you can focus more on your serve technique, and then add that pressure back in when you are ready. The serve is the one shot in pickleball that you do not need anyone else to practice, so take advantage when you can. Also, consider using a cone or other marking to identify your target (which, as explained above, can help your mind focus).
- Be Kind to Yourself – The yips can happen to anyone. If you have the yips, you are certainly not alone. So, be kind to yourself as you work to overcome them. Try to play like a kid, without any fear of consequences. Enjoy the moment—whether you hit the perfect serve or a serve into the net or out of bounds. You’re still playing pickleball, right? And, if you know someone with the yips (maybe your partner), be kind to them, too. They need your positivity.
Try these 5 tips and before you know it, those pickleball serving yips may just be gone for good.
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