The 'Creature' plagues tennis players
You have match point, you’re serving in what could be the biggest tennis upset of your career, and then it happens. You double fault, then at duce your opponent hits the net cord for a winner. You’re flustered and you powder-puff a serve, only to have it stuffed down your throat. You lose the game, the set and the match.
At one time or another, we do things we are trying hard not to like missing a shot. We want so hard to win when in fact we are playing not to lose. After a collapse, word spreads like wildfire from the tournament desk throughout the club after the fall, It’s an awkward moment, and an embarrassment. You take a few lessons and after a while you recover, but for a professional athlete, it can end a career.
Tom House, the pitching coach at USC and former major league pitcher calls it the ‘creature’ golfers call it the yips, on the court it’s simply choking. The choking reputation is the scarlet letter of tennis and can keep you from landing that coveted league team invitation. It destroys confidence and can ruin a season of league and tournament tennis.
Whatever the name, it once attacked Boston Red Sox first baseman and (Boise resident) Bill Buckner in game six of the 1986 World Series. The all-star first baseman was unable to field a routine ground ball that many think cost the Sox the Series against the Mets (I don’t).
Choking attacks the rest of us with the same ruthlessness: a sitter volley at the net, you tell yourself repeatedly not to miss it,of course you miss it, not by an inch but a mile, and alas another match slips away.
Daniel M. Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard wrote in Science magazine that when the pressure is on, the unconscious attempt to avoid errors causes even more mistakes. The same happens with words and thoughts as it does with physical actions. Tell someone, “Don’t choke” and they’ll choke like a chicken.
I was down recently in a singles match 3-0 in the second after winning the first set. It was tough spot and nothing was working when I complemented my opponet on the change over. "This is the best you have ever played, you havnt missed a serve in three games!
See, where I was going? Match over. The opponent fell apart and never got another first serve in. With a half dozen double faults he was mired in mental quick sand. While his mind went into overdrive, I was free to just hit the ball and took the second 6-3.
Under stress the problem worsens. Tell your partner you have to have this return, no way in hell will you get that return. Also tell a partner to forget about the easy shot just missed and that thought becomes all consuming.Wegner calls this “the ironic return of repressed thoughts.” Tennis players, and athletes suffering with the disorder, have other words for it
"It can become quite embarrassing, and not just on a baseball field or a tennis court. Experiments have shown that if you ask people to concentrate on suppressing prejudices like racism, sexism or homophobia, they blatantly express those biases despite — or perhaps because of — the effort to control them.
In one experiment, researchers put eye-tracking cameras on soccer players and instructed them to avoid a particular part of the goal in making a penalty kick. Guess which part of the goal their gazes most often fell?
Wegner suggested that the ‘creature’ is with us when we look over the edge of a high cliff — that queasy feeling is a symptom of trying hard to prevent a deadly fall.
How to avoid the ‘creature’? Wegner says there's no scientifically proven therapy, so any advice offered is unproven. But some players say that accepting choking, practicing with the creature rather than avoiding it helps because the problem gets worse under stress, they also say visualization and relaxation techniques greatly help.
Fred Robinson, played in the Senior Men’s 55 National Indoor Championship at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club last week, he told me to play the points the same, ‘you can only play one ball at a time, just play the ball in front of you, clear your mind.’ Whatever the treatment, scientists say the yip's will always find a way to creep into play. Studies show that peeople who choke very bright and simply care too much, and it's very common.
Players like Robinson say its better to play the problem out and practice with it every day so when you get in match situations that you can go into a pattern of play to cage the beast and avoid the scarlett letter.