Bob Franken




The mind can play tricks on a person, and little is crueler than the “yips.” Most sports fans can identify the yips, the disconnected mind-body muscle memory where, for instance, the championship golfer suddenly — or not so suddenly — gets self-conscious about putting. In tennis, the automatic-since-forever serve abandons you. Then there’s the Major League Baseball player who loses his ability to pitch or throw. For example, Ryan Zimmerman was a sparkling third baseman for the Washington Nationals. In 2009 he won a Golden Glove. The next season, he couldn’t make the routine infield throw: Every game was an adventure. What he had done without thinking since peewee baseball was awkward. As he said later, “If you let it consume you, that’s what gets you.” It nearly consumed him, but he had the opportunity to change positions, moving to first base, and he was able to beat the yips.
In gymnastics, the same thing is called “the twisties.” Simone Biles has the twisties. She told reporters: “I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun.” It’s dangerous, for obvious reasons. When you take flight, as you have since toddlerhood, and you get the twisties, landing badly can injure you for life. “It just sucks,” said Simone to reporters “when you are fighting with your own head.”
Part of the problem is the gaggle of news people who attach themselves to a superstar, as Biles certainly is. It’s fun having your own crew — until it’s not fun. I can only imagine how much pressure Biles is under being on top of the world, where it’s hard to breathe. It finally becomes an obligation, then a heavy weight, as she described it. Then always achieving the impossible becomes impossible.

Heckling or worse goes with the territory, one might say, particularly in this high-tech world, and a large group of anti-social media nasties has done their share of heckling. But then, ever the shero, Simone Biles has rallied the world around her humanity: “The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”
When you think about it, it’s not just the stellar who reach for the stars. Every one of us has dreams. Whether our pursuits are recreational, occupational or personal, in trying to exceed our limitations, we all sometimes stumble. Even those who reach the peaks have “pick- yourself-up-brush-yourself-off-and-start-all-over- again” moments. Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, who wrote a song called “Pick Yourself Up,” almost certainly crumpled up a few versions of it before they produced a hit in 1936. Or, they got writer’s block, which is the composer and lyricist version of the yips.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has tried in his quiet way to save the world from several epidemics, including the current deadly COVID-19 pandemic, tried to throw the opening pitch at a Washington Nationals game. Remember? Suffice to say, when it comes to baseball, he should not quit his day job, which is saving the planet from itself.
But in this country, so many have ignored his advice, and the wildly infectious coronavirus has gotten assistance from ignorant rejection. About half of all Americans age 12 and older have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. They’ve gotten a potentially fatal form of the yips. The muscle memory is really very simple:
Step 1. Sit down.
Step 2. Let someone jab you with a needle.
That’s it. But these yips are insidious.
Maybe Tony Fauci (full disclosure: like most reporters, I know Tony and admire him) should combine with Simone Biles (Full disclosure: I don’t know Simone, but I’ve come to admire her) and somehow get across the message that we need to live outside the imprisonment of ourselves. That way we can beat the yips and, by the way, the coronavirus, too.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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