Paradoxical performance can be described simply as a sudden decrease in a top athlete’s performance despite the athlete’s having striven for superior performance, such as the lost-skill syndrome in trampolining or “the yips” in golf. There is a growing amount of research on these phenomena, which resemble movement disorders. What appears to be missing, however, is a clear phenomenology of the affected movement characteristics leading to a classification of the underlying cause. This understanding may enable specific diagnostic methods and appropriate interventions. We first review the different phenomena, providing an overview of their characteristics and their occurrence in sports and describing the affected sports and movements. We then analyze explanations for the yips, the most prominent phenomenon, and review the methodological approaches for diagnosing and treating it. Finally, we present and elaborate an action theoretical approach for diagnosing paradoxical performance and applying appropriate interventions.
Babett H. Lobinger and Martin K. Klämpfl are with the German Sport University, Cologne, Germany. Eckart Altenmüller is with the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, Hanover, Germany.