Brainspotting & Pitchers: Coach’s Experience with “the Yips” in Batting Practice
by Earl Poteet, MSW, LCSW
(Author’s Note: Although I have written two previous descriptions of Brainspotting work that I have done with baseball players for Podium Sports Journal, I thought it beneficial to have the reader get a perspective from both my viewpoint as a sports psychotherapist, and from the athlete. While the coach that I am writing about here wished to remain anonymous, he did agree to submit a summary of the session to correct his “yips,” and I have included it at the end in the hopes that the reader will gain insight on how effective the Brainspotting session can be. After you read the coach’s summary of the Brainspotting session, I would implore the neuroscience and sports psychotherapist communities, to come together to find out why Brainspotting has this type of effect.)
Editor’s note: Podium Sports Journal has featured previous articles where Brainspotting has been utilized as a neurobehavioral treatment for sport related trauma. Place “Brainspotting” into the search function for a full listing of articles.
The World of Collegiate Baseball – A Coach’s Experience
In the world of collegiate baseball, it is as important for a coach not to develop the yips when it comes to throwing batting practice as it is for a player not to develop a yip when it comes to hitting, fielding, or pitching. That was the case in 2012 when an assistant baseball coach for an NCAA Division Two baseball team developed the yips while throwing to hitters during practice and pre-game. As a former coach who had to throw thousands of pitches to hitters in those situations, I know the importance of giving your hitters’ good looks and pitches to hit so that they can properly prepare for game situations.
Brainspotting Case Study:
When the coach first approached me with his “problem,” we discussed what might have happened to develop the “yip” while he was throwing batting practice (BP). The coach stated that he had not recently been hit while throwing BP, which would be a first obvious sign of the possibility of developing a “yip.” The coach also made clear that he had been hit before during his coaching career (he was in his early 40’s at the time) but nothing that he hadn’t overcome. He didn’t think that there was a possibility of anything else from his past that could be currently causing the present yip. What he did know, however, was that the physical signs of the “yip” were very real and very present every time he threw to certain hitters. The fact that these “certain hitters” happened to be the middle of the lineup hitters, seemed to make the problem more of a concern because if the best hitters in the lineup weren’t getting good pitches to hit in practice and pre-game, it could cause performance problems in game situations for them.
The coach described the physical symptoms of his performance problems. “When a certain hitter steps into the batting cage,” he told me, “I can feel my right (throwing) hand start to burn and tighten around the baseball, causing me to grip the ball too tightly and therefore causing a problem with my release point.” According to the coach, this problem had started innocently enough a few weeks earlier. He thought the problem would work itself out with more concentration, focus, and positive self-talk. As a sports psychotherapist, I knew that he was experiencing a fight-flight response of the Autonomic Nervous System/Limbic System. Reactions most likely emanating from somatic cues recently triggered from either a current or, more likely, previous life events.
When he arrived at my office on a warm spring evening in April 2012, the problem was getting worse. He tried the aforementioned tactics to no avail and he had finally decided to take my advice to work with him to see what we could do to get rid of his “yip.” We also needed to get him back to his old self sooner, rather than later. I was also anxious to try a new technique that my colleague Rob Polishook had told me about a couple of weeks earlier that he had used on a college pitcher with huge success.
The First Session
The session began like most of my Brainspotting sessions, except in this case of the coach with the yips, his anxiety was prevalent as he had just come to my office after practice and the “yip” was present when he had thrown BP just hours before. I gave him some bilateral music to listen to (as always at a low enough volume so that he could hear me above the music) and had him get into a relaxed feeling, just simply noticing the music and the felt sense of what was going on in his body. The feeling that he was experiencing as tightness in his wrist and hand around the baseball was present, and so we started the session with the coach visually placing himself back on the portable pitching mound and facing the hitters that were causing him to have the “yips.” Immediately he felt his pitching wrist and hand (right) get hot and start to tighten up. Then we found the eye position where he was feeling the burning and tightness most profoundly. I allowed him to simply process what was going on. I could tell he was processing by watching his physical reactions to the eye position (eye blinks, mouth gulps, shifting in the chair, etc.) and I simply allowed him to continue to process. Occasionally, I would check into see what he was processing, and how intense it felt on the SUDS (Subjective Units of Distress Scale—a scale of zero to ten that is meant to measure how intense an experience is currently).
Finally, it came time to pull the technique that Polishook described to me out of the therapeutic bag. I had the coach scan his (right) throwing hand, and then his left hand. His right hand still had some tightness and a hotter feel than the left, just as Rob had described with his pitcher a few weeks prior. Then I had him take his right hand and grip the left hand as if it were a baseball. When the feeling of heat and tightness from his right hand started to dissipate, I had him replace the left hand with an actual baseball to provide a permanent “resource” for his pitching hand while throwing BP. When the SUDS Scale in his right hand could not be brought off of a zero, we ended the session.
The following day, the coach returned to the practice field to throw BP. We got together afterward so he could brief me on how it went. Coach reported that when a certain batter stepped into the cage he felt the tightness start as it had before the session. Then, after throwing a few pitches, the tightness went away! He said that he had a few pitches that had gotten away from him, but for the most part he felt better than he had in weeks. He stated that the rest of the BP went pretty smoothly, with an occasional feeling of tightness and heat. He said that it was a big relief!
We kept in touch after that first follow-up, and he soon declared to me that the head coach had recently told him that he had just thrown the best BP he had ever had! The coach then told me that he was once again throwing like his old self. When I asked him to clarify that further, he told me that he was throwing, not just as he had a month ago, he was throwing as he had twenty years ago! Somehow, in one session of Brainspotting, we had turned the clock back. Not only did we get rid of the dreaded “yips,” but we also unblocked his performance altogether! While I don’t have the scientific equipment to explain the rationale of what we did, I did ask the coach to explain what it was like to have gone through the Brainspotting session. What follows is the coach’s perspective.
The coach involved was good enough to keep a journal of the experience and how he has processed Brainspotting since……….
“The Positive Affect Brainspotting Had On Me”
“Coaching at (I, [EP] have deleted the University to maintain the coach’s confidentiality), my responsibilities were to work with the hitters. My primary responsibility was to prepare the hitters for the anticipated type of pitching they would see in the course of a game. This is a part of my job I am passionate and committed to. I have performed this task at different levels of baseball using my right arm to throw batting practice to hitters. I would estimate that I have thrown in excess of about a million pitches to many players over the course of my coaching career. This is done from a platform about 30 feet in front of home plate, or about half the distance between home and the rubber. It’s a task that is accomplished by few people.
I have never had any control problems before, but in 2012, at the start of our season, I suffered a minor arm injury that caused me to lose my control. I became very erratic and unsuccessful at performing my job. I became more and more wild to the point that I started hitting players with pitches. I started to lose my confidence to throw and more importantly my confidence to prepare the players for what they would have to face in games. My confidence level to perform this task at a high level of expectation was beginning to take its toll on the mental part of my job.
Shortly after coming close to hitting players, and players having fear of getting hit by my pitches, I reached out to Earl Poteet, whom I had known or about a year at that point and who had an interest in the mental side of baseball. I related my situation to him and how I wasn’t able to throw effective batting practice like I was before. I related to him how I felt and what I was feeling in the course of throwing batting practice. I would usually start out good, but that wouldn’t last long. As soon as I would come close to a hitter (with a pitch), I would start to think about it and anxiety would kick in. It wasn’t long after that I would hit a player and eventually leave the cage and surrender to another failed attempt to make the hitters better. I had never been in this situation before, so naturally I didn’t know how to fix the problem. That was when Earl suggested I go to his office to do some Brainspotting; a mental technique he said would focus on the part of the brain that was being affected. Naturally, at this point, I was willing to try anything to rectify the problem.
Setting up a date to do this technique, I was very skeptical, but I was willing to try it because of my love for the game and my passion for the players’ success. I remember sitting in his office for about 15 minutes just talking about the team and baseball in general. I believe this helped me relax a bit and begin to focus on this technique. Earl gave me some headphones to wear, where I could hear a very soft, low sound that would go from one side of my head to the other. He then took out a long silver pointer with a red tip on the end and told me to follow it with my eyes. After several minutes of him moving it back and forth, he asked me to tell him when I felt anxiety, to which I did. We stayed in that general location for a few minutes where he asked me to visualize throwing to the hitter. We did this for about twenty minutes, I suppose, and after felt very tired, but really comfortable. I felt very positive about the process and was looking forward to the results the next day.
Starting batting practice with hope for positive results, I began throwing and started out strong. Good location, good velocity, and, more importantly, lots of confidence. Had a very little issue, but (it) was gone within a few pitches. I am happy to report that I was able to accomplish batting practice with great success. I was able to perform my job with the expectation level that I set for myself. After being skeptical of Brainspotting, I now have so much respect for what Earl and all other psychologists do for players, and in some cases, coaches, on the mental side of this game. I never had another batting practice issue since, and have been back to my old self since. I like to thank Earl for taking the time to work with me, as he saw the negative effect it was having on me.”
About Earl Poteet, MSW, LCSW
Earl has been a professional therapist/case manager/counselor/teacher/coordinator since his undergraduate days at the University of Southern Colorado in 1979. Graduating Magna cum Laude from Colorado State University in 2008 with a Masters in Social Work. Trained in the cognitive-behavioral aspects of human behavior and psychology of “Love and Logic”, his 30+ year history as a part-time professional stage and radio entertainer, he sought out training in Dr. David Grand’s Brainspotting to work with people in resolving their previous life trauma’s issues to achieve great progress in their lives.
Earl has worked in the world of athletics as a Head Baseball Coach at the high school, collegiate and semiprofessional level. He has served as an assistant football and basketball coach as well. In addition to playing baseball, football & basketball, Earl currently enjoys an occasional round of golf. Earl operates under the principle that everyone deserves the utmost that life has to offer and to live up to his or her personal and professional potential. Earl is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in the state of Colorado.
Earl can be reached at: [email protected]