I’ve seen it happen in volleyball. A team holds a two games to none lead, then proceeds to give up the next two games and they head into a deciding fifth game.
Or in basketball, both teams exiting the final timeout and the game is tied with only five seconds on the clock.
Or in track and field, a sprinter has dominated their event for the entire season and now it’s time to go for the conference title.
Pressure is the running theme throughout all of these scenarios.
In Pressure Performance: Do You Have the X Factor?, Daniel Coyle talks about elite athletes and how performing under pressure is a myth. The good news (for the rest of us, at least) is that we’re not coaching the top 1% of our sport, so there is something to the whole “clutch” player idea.
What is clutch?
The clutch player is the person who executes a skill successfully when the team needs it. John Wooden called it competitive greatness. It could be a game point serve or a game-winning free throw…whatever your sport, whatever the scenario. Being clutch is just being at your best when your team needs you to be.
Being competitively great isn’t doing something outside of your skill set. It’s performing a skill that you’ve done a million times, except this time, the team needs you to perform. The team result will suffer if you don’t execute a particular skill. Now that’s pressure. That’s sport.
Value emotional control
A clutch player can have lots of great qualities—a great leader, best player on the team, excellent communicator—but they’re greatest asset is their ability to control their emotions when they need to execute.
Years ago, I coached an incredible player. She may be the most physically gifted player I’ve worked with—tall, long, fast, quick off the ground. She was really good. We made it to the conference final when she was a senior and, unfortunately, we were losing and the prospect of winning was slowly fading away. I looked out onto the court and this player, my best player, was crying. That’s right, she stood out there, while the game was still being contested, and cried.
Suffice it to say she wasn’t clutch.
Competitively great players—maybe not your best players, but your clutch players—rise to face the fear of “the moment”. They do it by figuring out how to manage their emotions.
Hopefully you’ve got time to check out both links, both posts have different things to say about performing under pressure and becoming competitively great.