Being Clutch

August 23rd, 2013

Clutch is a term often used in sports. New York Yankees’ pitcher, Mariano Rivera, has allowed only 11 earned runs over the course of over 140 playoff innings. In the process, he has won five World Series championships. Mariano Rivera is considered clutch.

NFL quarterback Tom Brady is also considered clutch, despite recent statistics that suggest trouble coming through in high pressure situations. For example, Brady has only a .500 record during his last five seasons of postseason play. Tiger Woods was considered clutch at the height of his playing career, but now some are questioning whether he is still clutch. Lebron James, an NBA all-star, has won back to back championships, but his clutch status seems to still hang in the balance.

So what is clutch? Paul Sullivan, a New York Times columnist, wrote a book on being clutch. After a series of interviews with clutch performers in various walks of life, Sullivan concluded that being clutch is performing normally in the face of extreme pressure. Sullivan outlined key five factors that make people clutch. Sullivan’s book is an interesting read for anyone looking to excel under pressure. I will not summarize his entire work here. However, I will address the clutch factor that I found particularly compelling: adapting.

Sullivan interviewed members of the military who were clutch in dangerous situations. Sullivan noted that these military service members did not cling to their initial plans in the face of changing circumstances. They relied on their extensive training to adapt and to focus on the ultimate goal of survival. These military service members, Sullivan said, were clutch because they fought the fight, not the plan. While they had a well-developed plan heading into action, they noticed things changing (i.e., the plan no longer fit the fight), and they responded accordingly.

I imagine many of us have clung to an ill-fitting plan in our work, play, and relationships. We fought the plan, not the fight. Our actions in those moments were unlikely to be clutch. So, how can you become better at fighting the fight? One way is to heighten your presence during high pressure situations.

  • Ask yourself, “What’s happening now?”
  • Take note of your surroundings.
  • Seek feedback from a friend, “What am I missing?”
  • Focus on your breathing.
  • Say something to yourself that snaps you into the moment, such as “Be here. Now.”

These are just a few of the many ways that you can increase your presence in situations of extreme pressure. Finally, simply by reading this post, you are already primed to notice times when you are fighting the plan rather than fighting the fight.


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