Are You Clutch?

Tuesday May 1, 2018
Ben Bergeron & Christine Bald

‘Clutch’ is a term thrown around often to describe extraordinary performances in high pressure situations.

Most people associate clutch performances with a triumphant sports moment: the home run that wins the game, the service ace on match point, the basket at the buzzer. But each of these contains an element of luck, and clutch is not luck. Paul Sullivan, in his book, Clutch, says that, “Being clutch is not the hole-in-one to win; it’s the well-struck shot close to the flag and the putt that drops in with the tournament on the line. It’s the precisely executed series of plays in football, not the Hail Mary pass. It’s the fortitude to continue battling out a Wimbledon final as you always have—even though the whole world is wondering whether you are going to choke.”

Clutch, simply put, is the ability to do what you can do normally under immense pressure. Can you deliver you absolute best when everything is on the line? When the stakes are at their highest, can you execute the same way you do in practice, when there are no stakes at all? Can you focus on the task, not the outcome? Can you adapt cooly in the face of adversity? Can you control your own performance and ignore your competition?

It is an exceedingly difficult task. Transferring what you can do in a relaxed atmosphere to a tenser one is not easy; if it were, everyone would be clutch. Here are the four components that, together, make people clutch:

  • Focus: Most people confuse concentration and focus, but they are two different things. Focusing requires us to figure out what is most important, and direct our energy there. In sports—including CrossFit—commitment to the process allows focus.
  • Discipline: Discipline is almost always a battle against yourself. On the competition floor and in the gym, it’s tempting to look around at the athletes next to you and adjust your pace or strategy to keep up. Discipline is the ability to control what you can control—your own effort—and execute your plan, not someone else’s.
  • Adapt: “Fight the fight, not the plan,” is a military axiom that reminds soldiers and officers to keep the goal, not the original plan in mind. Very rarely do things go according to plan. The ability to succeed anyway when the stakes are high depends more on anticipation than response. If we can imagine and prepare for every possible thing that might go wrong, we’ll know how to adapt when it happens.
  • Be Present: Excelling under pressure requires heightened awareness. It’s being aware of nothing other than what you are doing. Not the crowd, not the other competitors, not the clock. Not even the next rep. Being presents is focusing on this rep.

You cannot summon what you do not have.

The traits you need when the stakes are highest—grit, optimism, focus, adaptability, determination, resilience—must be forged in the crucible of training. Who you are on the competition floor is a reflection of who you are in practice; no more, no less.