I started watching sports around 1996. Magic Johnson came out of retirement. Michael Jordan won his first title since his own un-retirement. Brett Favre won the Super Bowl. The Yankees won their first World Series in eighteen years. Oh those damn Yankees.

The Yankees formed a dynasty and won 3 more titles… and I hated them more than any other team*. I fully bought into the Evil Empire narrative. My impression was they just bought all their players because they had the most money. My earliest memory of an elite second baseman was Chuck Knoblauch of the Twins. He could do everything–hit, slug, run, field, and throw. Then the Yankees got him too?! Unbelievable. Who could ever beat them?

*10 year old me would never believe adult me would actually move to live in New York. New Yorkers are loud, obnoxious, arrogant buttheads.

Then strangely, Chuck Knoblauch stop doing everything well. He couldn’t throw anymore. He once airmailed a routine throw and it ended up hitting Keith Olbermann’s mother on the head. Those rude, obnoxious Yankees fans with their non-stop booing probably ruined his psyche forever, so I gathered.

My understanding of sports evolved as I grew up of course. I later learned that Knoblauch had developed the case of The Yips–something wikipedia defines as “the sudden and unexplained loss of skills in experienced athletes.” I saw Rick Ankiel get the yips. I saw Markelle Fultz get it. It fascinated me that these professional athletes could just wake up one day and just… completely lose it. What they worked for and developed their entire lives–gone in a flash. How does that happen?

I live with an irrational fear that one day I will get the yips at something very important to me. I’ll hit absolute bottom and no matter what I do, it’ll just never get better because something is deeply, deeply broken.

MY OWN YIPS

My primary hobby is shooting pool. A bit of eight-ball, a bit of nine-ball, sometimes even straight pool–you name it, we’ll play. I began playing in college and I would practice, practice, practice my ass off to get better. Stop shots, draw shots, and follow shot drills all night long at the rec center, midterm season be damned.

I constantly obsessed over my pool stroke. I practiced using the old coke bottle technique in my spare time away from the table–the goal was to shoot through the small opening without touching any part of the bottle. I developed my stroke to hit power draw, force follow, and clean horizontal English. Pocket billiards is a beautiful game when you can spin the white ball.

Fast forward to my years in New York. I’m practicing my draw shot on a communal lounge table. I aim low, take a few warm-up strokes, and let her rip.

The cue ball just stops. No roll back. I stunned it.

Okay, that was a one-off, I let the cue fly up on impact.

I set up the shot and try again. I tell myself to make sure to follow through.

The cue ball meekly draws back maybe an arm’s length and fails to hit the rail.

That was pathetic. 

I chalk up the cue a bit extra, set up the shot and try again. I make sure to put some force into it.

CRASH! The cue-ball goes flying off the table and skitters away, hitting a table leg several feet away. I saunter over to pick up the cue-ball and sheepishly apologize to the young lady studying at the table. Sorry, that was just my pride dribbling onto the floor beneath you. 

What happened is that I hit too low and dug under the cue-ball–classic rookie mistake when trying to muscle your way into a draw shot. I get back to the table and I just take a pause to just evaluate where I am. All of a sudden, I can’t do this thing that I was once able to do without even thinking about it.

I have to get myself out of this. I can’t play well if I can’t trust my draw. I imagine myself in a league match botching a draw shot and it brings shivers down my spine. I keep practicing. I adjust and fiddle with just about everything I can think of–elbow hinge, foot positioning, how I bend my waist, shoulder levels, grip, anything. Nothing works. It doesn’t make any sense.  Every shot feels like so much effort for so little input as the ball barely goes backwards. I don’t dare hit power draw out of fear of embarrassing myself again. Every failure sends me into a state of internal screaming. 

Eventually, rage simmers into sadness. My game has lost its beauty. For the moment I am no longer an artist of the game, but just a caveman hitting a ball with a stick. This sucks man. I pack up and go back to my apartment.

(Eventually I figured out I was doing something to lock up my wrist. My draw shot is fine now but when it gets spotty, I worry…)

There are rare times where I am in a prolonged draw down and I worry it’s over. I’ve completely lost my nerve and there’s nothing left to do but retire in shame. There are times when I can’t apply certain parts of my total trading playbook. About a year in a half ago, I worried I was too slow at trading. I couldn’t scalp anymore. I couldn’t make fast lower timeframe entries anymore. Since then, I’ve not only completely conquered those issues, but have since achieved record level profits on trades that I would label as “fast trades”. A few weeks ago I worried I couldn’t buy stocks anymore. I had been shorting too many stocks and had developed this tunnel vision where I can no longer buy stocks. I might as well add “short seller!” to my twitter profile and become one of those annoying types that over-identify with their mode of trading. Then I made some great breakout trades that worked out just fine. It’s a constant state of worry.

Success can be temporal and delicate. Some people wake up believing they can do anything they put their mind to. I wake up in cold sweat thinking there are so many ways to fail unexpectedly. I hope that if that day comes, I have already made enough to screw off.

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