kottke.org posts about Daniel Bard

Forgetting How to Be Yourself

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2023

For the New Yorker, Louisa Thomas on major league pitcher Daniel Bard, who has struggled with the yips on and off during his career.

Many baseball players have minor control issues at one point or another. Sometimes it happens after an injury, when a player is relearning how to throw, over-attending to discrete motions that used to feel fluid and natural. “Overthinking” is the simple way to put it: the brain’s prefrontal cortex trips up the sensory cortex and the motor cortex. In other cases, the mind can essentially go blank. Players usually snap out of it, the way Bard had years before. But the brain can get stuck in certain patterns, and the yips can take over in a way that no one fully understands.

I used to write quite a bit about the sort of practiced autopilot that’s necessary to perform at a high level and what happens when the wheels come off the wagon and you start overthinking and second-guessing. From a 2021 post about Simone Biles’ case of the twisties:

This phenomenon goes by many names — performance anxiety, stage fright, choking, the yips, cueitis (in snooker), and target panic (for archers) - and the world-class are not immune. Daniel Day-Lewis had stage fright so bad he quit the stage decades ago — an affliction he shared with Laurence Olivier, Barbra Streisand, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you’ve read anything at all about this stuff, Biles’ case of the twisties doesn’t seem so unusual or mysterious — it’s just one of those things that makes her, and the rest of us, human.

Back to Bard, who tried a bunch of different fixes for his pitching problems:

Once Bard acknowledged the problem, he tried every available fix. He met with sports psychologists; he saw a hypnotist; he meditated. He whispered mantras, which he found counterproductive — athletes “don’t think in words, we think in shapes, feelings, and visions,” he told me. He had a rib removed, to help with the blood-flow problem caused by thoracic-outlet syndrome. He tried different arm slots. Adair posted inspirational messages around their house. At one point, she and Bard drove to a Holiday Inn to meet a woman who used eye-movement therapy to treat soldiers with P.T.S.D. Bard also tried a technique called tapping: you tap your fingers on certain places on your head, in a certain order, to reframe traumatic memories. It didn’t work.

I don’t know if anyone else has felt like this, but I think I might have the yips — not for a sport but for my life. I feel like I have forgotten how to naturally be myself. My preferences, what I enjoy doing, what I think about certain things, how I feel, how I feel about how I feel — it all feels forced right now, overthinking and second-guessing galore. What Would Jason Do? The hell if I know…but I do know that if you’re asking yourself what you would do in a certain situation instead of just doing it, you’ve already lost.

Like Bard, I’ve tried a bunch of different things recently to fix this, to seemingly little avail. Perhaps thinking about it as the yips but for my life will help me address it?