It’s inexplicable. After all, it’s a huge area – 15 feet from the opponent’s non-volley line to their baseline and 10 feet from the center line to the sideline. That’s 150 square feet of pickleball space in which to hit a serve. And yet, for whatever reason, serving the ball into this large swath of court poses a very serious challenge for those who have the service yips. And for those suffering, all you want to do – whatever the cost – is get rid of them ASAP!
It makes no sense. Serves aren’t just barely missing the service box. They’re missing by wide margins – into the bottom of the net or several feet wide to either side. There’s seemingly no rhyme-or-reason to the misses.
The problem may have, and likely, never surfaced before – after thousands, perhaps tens-of-thousands of serves. And then whammo! While you were once aiming at a tiny target like a water bottle when you practiced, you are now just trying to get the ball anywhere into the ocean which is a 150 square foot service box.
What are the Yips?
The Mayo Clinic website actually has a page devoted to the yips. The yips are involuntary (and unwanted) muscle jerks/twitches/spasms (as a result of mental anxiety and physical breakdown) that make once simple tasks (such as serving) excruciatingly difficult. For those that haven’t experienced it, it is difficult to fully understand.
It’s mentally exhausting. It’s embarrassing. It’s beyond frustrating – for both the player experiencing the tension and anxiousness associated with the yips – as well as his/her partner.
For those experiencing the yips, know that you’re not alone. Who can forget second baseman and former Gold Glove Award winner, Chuck Knoblauch, suddenly unable to make an accurate throw to first base? Or perhaps you’ve seen the struggles of five-time All-Star pitcher, Jon Lester, attempt to hold would-be stealers from taking an extra base. It’s not pretty.
7 Potential Fixes for the Service Yips
So how does a person with the service yips remedy the situation aside from putting all one’s change in the left pocket and turning one’s cap backwards like was famously done by golfer, Roy McAvoy, in one of golf’s most endearing movies, Tin Cup?
Here are 7 practical remedies that could help if you struggle with the pickleball serve yips.
1. KISS – “Keep it Simple…”
The serve has multiple moving parts associated with it and many things to think about when executing it. Keep it simple. Line your shoulders up to the target. Get your paddle back early. Toss and hit the ball while keeping the wrist stable (don’t flick). Yeah, I know. Easier said than done.
2. Grip it and Rip It.
While you may be overthinking the serve with this first suggestion, this second one recommends that you don’t think at all. Easier for some than others! When it’s your turn to serve, let every possible thought you have about technique evaporate into thin air. Grip it and rip it. You may be surprised.
3. Keep your Eye on the Ball.
Simple and to the point. Don’t look up too soon. Keep your eye on the ball through contact. Sometimes we just need this simple reminder.
4. Loosen your Grip.
Tension in the body and muscles is the enemy of hitting anything smoothly. Relax your body and loosen your grip on the paddle. It may work wonders.
5. Develop a Pre-Serve Routine and Use it Consistently.
Few will argue that the yips are, in-large-part, mental. A pre-serve routine will help “reset” your mental state. That routine may involve bouncing the ball two or three times before every serve. Perhaps it’s turning your back to your opponent while you gather your thoughts. The routine must be consistent and repeatable.
6. Do a Backhand Serve.
Lots can go wrong from a technical perspective when serving. As I mentioned previously, there are a lot of moving parts. Try a backhand serve. It’s a bit easier to keep the wrist locked in place when executing with the backhand… and it’s different – which often helps!
For those who don’t currently have the yips, practice the backhand serve. Then when you need it, you will know how, and, most importantly, will have the confidence in which to hit it.
7. Do a Drop Serve.
The drop serve was legalized a few years back, in part, for those with the service yips. By dropping the ball, you will have more time to execute the serve. It may feel silly. But it helps. Sure beats missing the service box by three feet.
The serve yips is real. While I have not personally experienced the phenomenon (I am now knocking on wood as I write this), I know several who have. The remedy is different for every player. And the time it takes to get it remedied is different for each player as well.
Give these suggestions a try and let me know what has, or hasn’t worked for you. And if you’re a partner of someone who is experiencing the yips, be encouraging. Who knows, it could happen to you next. You’ve got this!
See you on the courts!