Does “clutch” exist?

“Clutch!” proclaimed the Olympics sports announcer from the arena in Brazil.

He just finished watching two USA women’s gymnasts perform their “Event Finals” routines in the Floor Exercise. This was the final competition for the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics at the Rio Olympics.

While many of their competitors made “beginner’s errors” or messed up skills they had c0nsistently performed earlier in the Games, Alexandra Raisman and Simone Biles kept calm and performed their routines without the mistakes commonly attributed to overwhelming mental pressure. Such players are referred to as a “clutch” in the world of sports.

In team sports such as baseball and American football, players with the “clutch” reputation are frequently brought into a game near the end, when many players begin making mistakes because of the increased pressure to win the game. “Clutch” players seem to perform as well, or even better, when the mental pressure is high.

I recognized their routines– that was the third time Ms. Biles performed the same routine in the final rounds for Team, All-Around, and Apparatus Events. On video I also watched her SAME routine from performances earlier in the year. Same effects with Ms. Raisman. The announcers echoed my thoughts, reinforcing the observation these WERE the same routines performed many times this competition season, and in fact the ladies performed them “better each time.”

What makes a “clutch”? Is it something they’re born with?

While the judges were calculating the score, I reflected on my knowledge of the “Clutch” phenomenon.

Last year I read the book “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most” by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry.

The authors claim “clutch” doesn’t exist.

Their research shows the players who perform well under pressure also perform well when the pressure is minimal.

In other words, “clutch” players are consistent performers who have the mental toughness to reduce or ignore the self-defeating thoughts that lead to errors.

The announcer’s comments support the authors’ conclusions.

Ms. Biles and Ms. Raisman performed the same routines with increasing confidence. I’m sure “body memory” adds to the confidence, because if one has performed a routine many times it becomes almost second-nature.

A more accurate term for “clutch” is “consistent.”

–LYnn Selwa, “The Rocket Science Coach” ™

P.S. Congratulations to all athletes participating in the Rio Olympics, including #Love4GabbyUSA

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