By: Sammy Clough, Sports Editor
Injuries, as horrible as they can be, will always be part of sports. But there is one type of injury that is perhaps more sobering than the rest, and it doesn’t even involve physical pain. This is a psychological injury that is commonly known in sports as “the yips”.
The yips are a rare mental block that can sometimes occur among athletes. When an athlete has the yips, it suddenly become extremely hard or impossible to perform normal, routine tasks of the sport. One of the most common forms of the yips is seen in golfers, who once they have the yips, can experience involuntary wrist spasms and struggle to sink even the most basic putts.
Another example of the yips, and one that I witnessed first hand, was Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s struggles with the yips. Saltalamacchia, an MLB catcher who once played for my hometown Braves, experience what can be described as the yips while he was playing minor league baseball in 2010. After catching a pitch, the catcher throws the baseball back to the pitcher’s mound, a meaningless play that doesn’t really affect the game. However, in 2010 Saltalamacchia couldn’t get the ball back to the pitcher. On each attempted throw he would drive the baseball straight into the dirt in front of him.
Saltalamacchia was fortunate enough to eventually get past his yips, but some athletes with the yips are stuck in this strange psychological state forever.
This conjecture about the yips may seem random, but I assure it is not. This is because I believe Markelle Fultz of the Philadelphia 76ers has the yips. Fultz, the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, is a gifted guard from the University of Washington. However, he was sidelined for most of his rookie season with an apparent shoulder injury.
As the season progressed, and Fultz’s scheduled return from injury was delayed, questions began to arise about the nature of the injury. Then, videos of practice began to leak showing that Fultz had completely altered his shooting form from his time in college. This became concerning to the 76ers as Fultz now had an awkward, herky jerky shot that missed the entire rim more times than not.
Fast-forward to this season, and Fultz has gone through multiple shoulder and shooting specialists, while still struggling to find a consistent shooting form. Concerns bubbled over in a game against the Miami Heat in which Fultz attempted a free-throw. On what should be the most basic shot in basketball, Fultz got halfway through his shot before the ball slipped out, he shot-faked, and then shot the ball and missed poorly.
A few days later, the 76ers announced that Fultz would not participate in games or practices with team in order to consult more specialist. This leads me to believe that Markelle Fultz has a form of the yips.
This is a scary thing to deal with if you’re Fultz or the 76ers, as this kind of mental block could have the potential to derail his career. National media attention on the issue most likely makes it worse for Fultz too. Often with the yips, the more you think about having them, the harder it is to get out of them, similar to quicksand.
If I were the 76ers, I would send Futz to the G-League to get more reps in and try to get past this issue. I think Fultz can still shoot a basketball, and has shown flashes of number one overall abilities, but he needs to get past this on a smaller stage. If he gets used to shooting in motion, with no time to second-guess himself maybe he’ll be able to make a comeback.
Whatever Fultz and the 76ers need to to do to fix this problem should be of major concern. Fultz may have the yips, and he needs psychological help in order to get past this. If he has them or if he doesn’t, Fultz’s ever evolving shooting form is an interesting saga, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.