The yips are athletes’ worst nightmare

Cowboys kicker the most recent victim of the unexplainable 


Courtesy of Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Dallas Cowboys Kicker Brett Maher missed four straight PATs in an NFL playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday.

BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor

The yips are an informal term that is used to describe a phenomenon where a professional athlete will suddenly and disastrously lose the ability to perform at a high level, or even a decent level. It is a mental blockage that causes athletes to overthink or over-analyze their movements which makes it impossible to complete a task.

It is not the most common phenomenon in professional play and it is even less likely to occur in front of a national audience out of seemingly nowhere.

Football fans and national audiences witnessed a drastic case of the yips. On Monday, in the NFL Wild Card matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cowboys kicker Brett Maher suffered from the dreaded term.

It had started for Maher in the final regular season game for the Cowboys, where he missed his final extra point attempt. In an unfortunate tweet Brad Townsend, Dallas Morning News sports reporter, tweeted about the miss before the playoffs.

“Maher getting that extra point miss out of the way before the playoffs,” Townsend tweeted.

After that tweet, the kicker had a dreadful showing on national television, missing the first four extra point attempts of the night and becoming a beacon of public scrutiny in a matter of only a few hours. He became the first in history to miss four extra points in a single playoff game, a record he likely will be looking to forget.

Twitter specifically had a field day in their attempts to make fun of the kicker, with several tweets doing nothing more than kicking a man while he is down.


Maher is not the first athlete to be at the center of attention in the world of sports due to the yips. One of the most documented cases is that of Rick Ankiel, a former MLB pitcher turned outfielder.

In the matter of only a few pitches on a fateful playoff game for Ankiel and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000, everything fell apart for the once-promising pitching prospect.

The first mistake was a curve ball that Ankiel said he had held onto for too long. The pitch bounced in front of the plate and over his catcher’s head. After this pitch, he said he overcompensated and began overthinking every movement.

Within the same inning, he threw several pitches that ended up nowhere near the strike zone and it was clear that something was wrong with the young lefty.

Despite flaming out in front of a national audience, Ankiel did not give up on his dream of playing baseball professionally. In 2007, many years after he first developed the yips, he returned to the Cardinals, albeit this time as an outfielder.

He lasted another half-decade in the majors once he returned, even being an above-league-average hitter for the first two seasons of his comeback.

Another story of an athlete overcoming the yips came to a head in the 2021 World Series. Atlanta Braves reliever Tyler Matzek went from a pitcher who was unable to control his pitches and was a wild pitcher, much like Ankiel, to a dominant force in the Braves bullpen.

“I was pitching with fear . . . That put me into a freeze mindset and that’s what led to the yips,” Matzek said.

Despite his early career struggles with the mental block, he came back strong with Atlanta and was a driving force out of the bullpen and without him, the Braves likely do not win the 2021 World Series.

The silver lining for Maher and the Cowboys is that the yips has a “cure,” and it may just be a single-game issue. For the sake of his mentality and Cowboys fans everywhere, that is the best-case scenario after the events that transpired Monday.