Making Sense Of The Yips
I believe I've finally made peace with it. And that's not to say an occasional thought or two about a fairly traumatizing three-week experience from nearly five years ago doesn't linger in my subconscious and make an appearance in my dreams from time to time.
It was then that my mind first betrayed me and started to convince me that my throwing arm—the same arm that carried me through a 16-year playing career and to Fordham University on an athletic scholarship—could no longer work on a softball field. At that time, I was a senior catcher on Fordham's softball team, just weeks shy of graduation and the end of a playing career that had, to that point, defined me.
So, when I felt the first rush of anxiety hit me during an in-season practice in late April 2015, the timing couldn't have been worse. That feeling, a helpless one that soon became synonymous with the mental block I encountered at that time called The Yips, prevented me from freely throwing a softball overhand for my final three weeks at Fordham.
And I'll never forget how The Yips first affected me. We had practice indoors that day and I was warming up with one of our pitchers a few days before an important conference series against George Washington. When I sailed the ball over her head to the other side of the gym, I thought, "That felt strange," but didn't pay too much attention to it. When it happened again a few throws later, however, I knew something was wrong.
At first, I didn't think I could tell anyone what was troubling me. I thought it would appear weak, and maybe even support the underlying view I had of myself in college, which was that I was an imposter on the softball field just waiting to be found out. Despite earning a starting spot on Fordham's team as a sophomore, receiving multiple accolades for my performance on the field and helping the team to two consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference titles up to that point, I still thought I wasn't good enough to be there. In my mind, I had made it through nearly four years of Division I softball simply because of my work ethic and desire to win, and not because I was actually good at playing the sport.
Adding to my predicament was the fact that I was both a senior and a team captain. I believed I was the one who was supposed to keep our team, and especially myself, together at all times. But instead, I felt myself falling apart, and quickly.
At first, my case of The Yips started out slow, as I made it through senior day and the rest of our weekend series against George Washington with limited issues during our games. Our midweek contest against St. John's—the last home game of my career—also went by without a hitch. But by the time our last regular-season series against George Mason came the following weekend, my mind was racing and in the midst of a full-on battle with itself.
Every pitch that weekend was a struggle for me. Every throw back to the mound was made as I encountered nearly crippling anxiety. Outwardly, however, I hadn't yet overthrown or underthrown the ball to one of our pitchers during a game, so it wasn't obvious to onlookers that anything was different or that I was struggling at all. But things were definitely different and I was definitely struggling. I wondered how much longer I could mask my pain and keep it together.
I wouldn't have to wonder for much longer because things came to a head for me the following week at UMass during the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, which happened to be the most important week of our season. I believe I made it through our first game of the tournament against St. Bonaventure relatively unscathed, though my mind has since blocked out many of the details of that week. What I know for sure is that everything fell apart for me during our second game against St. Louis.
Most of what happened that day is a blur, but I distinctly remember the feeling of my heart beating like it was going to explode out of my chest. I remember having the feeling of being in a fishbowl, like everyone at Sortino Field was watching me and knew I was struggling mentally. I remember the feeling of having my arm paralyzed and needing to underhand toss the ball back to our pitcher. I remember the feeling of having to pull myself off the field and crying in the dugout as my coach hugged me. It was like a nightmare I couldn't wake up from.
Just a few days prior to that point, I informed my best friend, Michele, who was one of our pitchers, what I had been dealing with for the past two weeks. But because I struggled in silence and waited two weeks to tell anyone on my team what I was going through, it was too late for me. My situation had already progressed to a point that made it unsolvable in the short term. My catching days were over.
I remained in the lineup after the St. Louis game, however, and contributed with my bat for our remaining six contests that season in the role of designated player. To my great pleasure, we went on to win our third straight Atlantic 10 Conference championship and advanced to the Regional final in the NCAA Tournament, falling just short of what would have been our program's first-ever Super Regional appearance. It was then that my playing career officially ended, and my new life began.
Since then, I've tried to make sense of the experience I endured for the final 15 games of my senior season. I even went to counseling in the years that followed to attempt to work through and understand the underlying causes of my case of The Yips. What I think it boils down to is this: I was striving for unattainable perfection in my life, on and off the softball field. That, combined with the fact that my world as I knew it, with softball at its center, would never be the same after graduation, caused me to reach my tipping point mentally.
I know, however, that if I had truly believed then about myself what I believe now—which is that I am defined by who I am, and not what I do—then you probably wouldn't be reading this story right now.
But I think it's a good thing that you are. Now, almost five years removed from one of the hardest experiences I've ever been through, I'm actually thankful for it. It has shaped me, grown me and helped me to help others I have encountered along my softball journey who have gone through similar experiences. And it has made me stronger in just about every way.
To me, that is far more important than anything that could ever take place on a softball field.