Overcoming the “Yips” or “Dartitis”

What is this so-called affliction called the “Yips” or “Dartitis”? Dart players around the world seem to contract this motor skill malady without notice or build up. One day you are throwing fine and the next, the dart won’t leave the hand or will fly in precarious directions, or as is happening in my own throw, the dart is being left on my shoulder or being dropped in the back of my throw over my shoulder. This has seen an increase in my vocal disappointment, pulling from a vernacular not heard since my early days as a sailor.

England Cricket Team sports psychologist Dr Mark Bawden suffered from the yips himself as a teenager. He completed a PhD on the topic and has published a paper on the yips in the Journal of Sports Science.

Centre for Sport and Exercise Science, Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

The ‘yips’ is a phenomenon that affects individuals who perform finely controlled motor skills. The result is involuntary movements that occur throughout the execution of a skill. A qualitative study was conducted to identify the psychological characteristics of the ‘yips’ experience in cricket bowlers. Eight bowlers of varying ability were interviewed about their thoughts, emotions and feelings before, during and after their initial experience of the ‘yips’. After the interviews, inductive content analysis revealed 15 general dimensions that were descriptive of the overall ‘yips’ experience: conditions before the initial experience, the first experience, anxiety, emotions and feelings, conscious control of movement, self-presentational concerns, inappropriate focus, negative thinking, future performances, reasons for not bowling, bowling experiences after the initial experience, the difference between the ‘yips’ and bowling badly, characteristics of good bowling performances, personal characteristics and personal explanations for why the ‘yips’ were experienced. We conclude that the experience of bowling with the ‘yips’ shows many characteristics similar to a severe form of choking.

In 2007, webmaster for Patrick Chaplain Darts Historian, David King, managed to convince the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary that the word was a well-established one and, as a result of David’s hard work, from that year the OED included ‘dartitis’; the official definition being:

‘A state of nervousness which prevents a player from releasing a dart at the right moment when throw”

Knowing how to cure the yips begins with understanding what causes it in the first place. While we’ll talk about the many psycho-physiological aspects of the yips, our focus will be on what you can do to eliminate this nightmare from your game.

Anyone who has needed a cure for the yips knows that calling the experience a nightmare is not an overstatement. Many of the best players in the game suffered from the yips. In fact, it is fair to say that the yips, or dartitis, has caused more players to prematurely leave the game than any other reason.

Since this experience seems uncontrollable. And in fact it is. The very nature of the yips is an uncontrollable tremor or “flinch” in the hands while attempting to throw and is associated with repetitive motor skills.

I have always compared a properly thrown dart with that of a skilled basketball player shooting a foul shot. Proper stance, firm grip, focus on your goal, then its elbow, wrist and fingertips following through to your target.

A couple techniques that I have found to help with this is similar to therapy exercises for strengthening the wrists and fingers.

The following hand strengthening exercises are designed to improve strength of the muscles of the wrist and hand. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Begin with the basic hand strengthening exercises..

Hand Strengthening – Basic Exercises
To begin with, the following basic hand strengthening exercises should be performed approximately 10 times, 3 times daily. As your hand strength improves, the exercises can be progressed by gradually increasing the repetitions and strength of contraction provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Tennis Ball Squeeze
Begin this exercise holding a tennis ball. Squeeze the tennis ball as hard as possible and comfortable without pain. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Thumb Opposition
Begin this exercise taking your thumb to your index finger. Squeeze your thumb and index finger together as hard as possible and comfortable without pain for 5 seconds, then move your thumb onto the next finger. Squeeze your thumb and middle finger together for 5 seconds and so on. Repeat 3 times on each finger.

Finger Adduction
Begin this exercise with your fingers and thumb parallel. Keeping your fingers straight, squeeze your fingers and thumb together in this position as hard as possible and comfortable without pain. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Hand Strengthening – Intermediate Exercises
The following intermediate hand strengthening exercises should generally be performed 1 – 3 times per week provided they do not cause or increase pain. Ideally they should not be performed on consecutive days, to allow muscle recovery. As your hand strength improves, the hand exercises can be progressed by gradually increasing the repetitions, number of sets or resistance, provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Resistance Band Wrist Flexion
Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your fingers, your hand palm up as demonstrated (figure 4). Your elbow should be at your side and bent to 90 degrees, your forearm supported by your other hand. Slowly curl your wrist and fingers up against the resistance band tightening your hand and forearm muscles. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions as far as possible and comfortable without pain.

I hope this add some light to this bizarre affliction that has hit so many athletes from different sports. I personally believe that this condition is not a psychological one but that is rooted in mechanical aspects of repetitive motor skills. But I’m not a doctor and maybe it is just in my head.

Here is a video of Eric Bristow talking about dartitis.

Good shooting!