Great success in relatively obscure environments had brought him to this place in his career. He now had the opportunity to compete with the best in the game, on a big stage. He thought he had the skills, thought he was capable. But as the event neared, as attention increased, as he began to recognize the stature, the success, the power the other players had achieved, he began to doubt.
Tin Cup, the movie about an obscure golfer, Kevin Costner, who qualifies for the US Open is a great example of the impact of self doubt leading to the yips. No matter if you are in sales, sports, or the executive suite of most any profession, the opportunity to perform on a big stage will most likely occur. It’s in those instances that you will succumb to, or overcome, the doubts and anxieties that lead to the yips. The doubts that tell you “you’re not good enough”, “you don’t belong”. In Costner’s case we see the yips first expressed on the practice range just prior to the tournament. He can’t hit a ball to save his life. As the shankfest continues to get worse, he presses harder, exacerbating the problem. He grips the club tighter. He desperately wants to control the shot, force the ball to fly straight. As his performance continues to worsen, his focus is centered – on himself with thoughts that tell him “I knew I’d blow it”, “I knew I shouldn’t have come”, “I’ve just confirmed for them that I don’t belong”.
Then his coach steps in. Remember, he tells him to move his keys from one pocket to the other. To move the tee from one ear to the other. To turn his hat around backwards. Then to hit the ball and….. IT WORKS! It works simply because he allowed Costner to take the focus off of himself and place it elsewhere.
The next example of negative consequences caused by self doubt has Costner on the 18th approach facing a significant distance to the hole with water in between. The other golfer, a seasoned tour pro played by Don Johnson, chooses to lay up. Costner, wanting desperately to prove himself to himself and Don, chooses to go for it. So he goes for it and falls well short of the green, landing in the water. It’s at this point that the yips return – now, rather than laying up and taking the penalty stroke from the water, in an effort to “prove” himself again, he goes for it from the original spot, landing in the water again and digging himself further and further into a hole. The yips have hijacked him. His self image and self acceptance is now predicated on “proving” himself to Johnson rather than simply playing the game.
As the movie and tournament progress, Costner takes a journey that redefines his values and priorities. This journey ultimately shifts his view of himself and leads to self acceptance, in spite of external circumstances. We see in the final round, this confidence in who he is relates to his ability to play the game without concern over what others might think or how they might judge him. We see in the final round a presence that places the focus on the game, not himself.
Overcoming the yips, the anxiety and stress, developing presence and focusing on what’s to be accomplished, as opposed to entertaining our fears, requires that we do two things. First we must shift our focus from ourselves and secondly we must reconcile ourselves to our fears, taking full ownership of who we are and accepting that, fail or succeed, we’re defined by much more than any single event.
"It is not the critic who counts .... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat." Teddy Roosevelt 1910
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