Stephen Hendry health: The snooker legend’s secret condition – the symptoms

Stephen Hendry, 51, opened up about the condition in his autobiography Me and the Table which was serialised exclusively in the Mirror in 2018. He wrote: “I can’t overstate the part the yips played in bringing my career to a close. I think the word yips trivialises it; it is completely debilitating, like a cancer spreading through your game and just destroying it.

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“It affects golfers, causing them to struggle with what should be simple putts. In my case, the inability to cue ‘through’ the ball results in weak shots.

“There is a debate about whether the yips is a physical or psychological condition, or a mixture of both.”

The snooker star went on to explain: “In around 2000 I became aware of a recurring problem of the ‘tightness’ around my cueing action, which somehow stops me believing that I can play the shot – even shots I could previously play with my eyes shut.

“Even though I say to myself that I was seven-times World Champion, the voice in my head says, ‘You can’t play this shot.’, It’s completely mental – quite literally. My confidence is sapped every time this happens.

“Before, I could play every shot in the game. Now, I feel that it is nothing less than a handicap that creates difficulties during matches. I can’t dominate matches and I’m finding it very hard to win anything.

“It’s like trying to paint without ever using red, or write without using the letter ‘s’. It took away a major part of what I could do as a player and to this day there are shots I can’t play properly because I’m not hitting the ball correctly.

“I always loved playing in front of big audiences; now I’m jittery if one person is in the room watching me.

“However much I try, I can’t shake off the effects of the yips. For me, it’s a psychological difficulty that has translated into a physical one and although I’d love to play more snooker I really don’t think there is a way back for me now.”

So what is the yips?

The yips are involuntary wrist spasms that occur most common when golfers are trying to putt, explains the Mayo Clinic.

The yips can also affect people who play other sports, such as cricket, darts and baseball.

The Clinic goes on to explains: “It was once thought that the yips were always associated with performance anxiety. However, it now appears that some people have the yips due to a neurological condition affecting specific muscles (focal dystonia).

“Changing the way you perform the affected task might help you find relief from the yips. For example, a right-handed golfer might try putting left-handed.”

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The most common symptoms linked to the yips is involuntary muscle jerk.

But some people experience tremors, twitches, spasms or freezing.

The Clinic advises: “In some people, the yips are a type of focal dystonia, a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions during a specific task.

“It’s most likely related to overuse of a certain set of muscles, similar to writer’s cramp. Anxiety worsens the effect.

“Some athletes become so anxious and self-focused — overthinking to the point of distraction — that their ability to execute a skill, such as putting, is impaired.

“‘Choking’ is an extreme form of performance anxiety that may compromise a golfer’s or any athlete’s game.”

Risk factors linked to the yips include:

  • Older age
  • More experience playing golf
  • Tournament play

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