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Jarrod Saltalamacchia taps the yips away

Feb 9, 2011, 9:05 AM EDT

Boston Red Sox catcher Saltalamacchia holds up the ball after forcing out Toronto Blue Jays' Lind at the plate in the fourth inning of their American League MLB baseball game in Boston

Interesting story by Gordon Edes about Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s struggles to get over the throwing yips that plagued him down in Texas.  The key: working with sports psychologists, including an expert on yips who has developed a unique system:

The system, he said, is modeled after the pressure points found in acupuncture. And athletes with the yips, he said, “are in so much pain.”

“Tapping helps clear out the negative emotion,” he said. “Say you struck out to end the seventh inning, and you still have to play defense and might come up to bat again. How to clear out that negative emotion?

“You focus on the negative. Start on your eyebrows. Focus on the negative. Each site, your eyes, below your nose, below your lip. The idea is to do a tap lap, go down and around, tap the top of your head, then start again. Tapping helps clear out the negative emotion.”

I tend to be skeptical of this sort of thing, but when it comes to hard-to-diagnose and even harder-to-fix problems like the yips, I’m firmly in the “whatever works” camp.   And as Edes reports, it seems to be working for Saltalamacchia.

I’m just cringing, though, at the thought of what some of the harsher Boston columnists, talk radio guys and fans are going to do with concepts like “energy psychology” and “negative emotion” if Saltalamacchia struggles early this season.

  1. bobwsc - Feb 9, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I can hear Ordway and the rest of the WEEI goons shredding him already, cuz you know, they’re perfect.

  2. Reflex - Feb 9, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    The theory here is about as bogus as acupuncture itself(the theory behind acupuncture, not the actual act which has some demonstrated effect beyond placebo). However given that the issue is clearly psychological, using a bit of placebo may be enough..

    • Professor Longnose - Feb 9, 2011 at 12:03 PM

      You’re right about acupuncture. James Randi’s new book (don’t know if it’s out yet) will have some interesting stuff about the mainstreaming of acupuncture without much evidence that it works.

      The yips are not (always) psychological. There’s some interesting stuff about it in a book called Why Michael Couldn’t Hit, by neurologist Harold L. Klawans. What’s happening is that the brain creates pathways that work very quickly, faster than we can consciously recognize, to get certain tasks done. (The brain can only grow new pathways while it’s still growing, that is, before the age of about 21. That’s why we can’t learn new languages easily, or become virtuoso magicians, after that age.) What happens in the yips, called a dystonia, is that the brain creates a false pathway–a pathway that accomplishes something close to the task, but not exactly the task. Then, instead of practicing the correct path, every time someone tries to do the task, he or she is in essence practicing the wrong thing, and getting better at it.

      Sometimes it’s possible to piece together a new pathway, or get the brain to stop using part of the incorrect pathway, by changing a small part of the task–throwing sidearm instead of overhand, or things like that.

      But relaxing has nothing to do with it.

  3. Jeremiah Graves - Feb 9, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Has he tried reading about the various undergarments in Frederick’s of Hollywood and Victoria’s Secret?!

    If it’s good enough for the esteemed Rube Baker, it’s good enough for Salty.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 9, 2011 at 1:58 PM

      As a youngster, my hands worked quite well after “reading” literature such as that.

  4. spudchukar - Feb 9, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    Why, if I am a Red Sox fan, am I not encouraged by this tidbit. At some point won’t all these histrionics slow down one’s release. Please don’t tell me Saltalamaccia, will be calling time out, stepping out of the batters’ box and going through this routine before every pitch.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 9, 2011 at 11:40 AM

      What I can imagine is Saltalamacchia is when he’s catching before he throws the ball back to the pitcher he takes off his face mask, touches his eyebrows, then his nose, then his lips and finally his chin. Then he overthrows the pitcher and the ball lands in between the mound and 2nd base. He’s going to wind up being the catching equivalent of Rick Ankiel in his pitching days.

      • JBerardi - Feb 9, 2011 at 12:21 PM

        Good thing that outside of your imagination, Salty has been catching with no major issues for quite some time now. Certainly the entire time he’s been with the Red Sox.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 9, 2011 at 2:52 PM

      To JBerardi – You mean the 7 games he caught for the Red Sox in 2010 when they were out of the playoff hunt with absolutely no pressure on him. You are right I never thought to count those. I was really thinking more of all the time he spent in the minors in 2010 between OK. City and Pawtucket to try and work out his problem. Considering he spent the vast majority of 2010 in the minors, it’s just my opinion but I think the Red Sox are still concerned. Otherwise they would NOT have resigned Varitek.

    • Glenn - Feb 9, 2011 at 8:03 PM

      Good god – a Dice-K to Salty game could last longer than a cricket match!

  5. trevorb06 - Feb 9, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Ugh, I read the title and thought Salty took up tap dancing to help with the yips. Way to ruin my morning.

  6. pkers - Feb 9, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    I wonder if this explains Nomar’s batting “ritual”.

    Oh, and in high school, I developed the yips when throwing overhand. Could not even play warm-up catch throwing overhand to a guy 10 feet in front of me. As soon as I switched to 3/4 or sidearm, i was fine. Being an analytical, logical thinker, it bugged the hell out of me that I simply could not throw overhand anymore. Stupid brain pathways!

  7. genericcommenter - Feb 9, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Nothing particularly new about this. I use tapping for treatment of anxiety. It’s not something I use exclusively or as a main treatment, but it’s one thing that can possibly help. Other things that I personally use are affirmations, visualizations, and relaxation exercises, as well as just cognitive self therapy.

    It makes sense that if someone is suffering from something that is related to psychology rather than a physical sports issue, he might seek to to treat it with a mental/psychological tactic.

    Though, as someone else already commented, it might not be purely psychological.

    I didn’t see anywhere in the article that mentioned him doing these exercises at the plate. It’s probably a pre-peformance or in between innings exercise.

  8. Walk - Feb 9, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    I believe mackey sasser had a throwing issue for a while as well. He hurt a pitchers hand on a throw back. Not too long after that he would tap the ball in his glove in order to gather himself a bit and not throw a fastball to the mound.

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