The NBA and the NHL Finals both ended with winners and losers. Some got to hoist the Cup and the rest were left to contemplate the missed opportunities they had for the next four months. There were players that proved that they could be clutch and carry their team to victory on the biggest stage. There were also those that proved that they’re good, but not great. Those that let their egos do the talking, but couldn’t dig deep to deliver when their teams were counting on them. They could have been amazing during the regular season, but when the games really mattered, they were unable to find a way to produce.
And that’s the thing about the playoffs – nobody cares about what you did in the regular season. Once you’re in the playoffs you have to earn every shot, every stop and every point. Nobody sits back and let’s you have it easy because you were the king shit a couple of months ago.
There is value to being clutch. To being the member of the team that everyone can count on to make the big play when the game (or the series) is on the line. Everyone wants to be a hero. People pay a premium for people with that ability. But being clutch doesn’t come easy. It takes three things: skill, experience and heart.
Skill is the raw ability to perform. It’s having the toolbox of weapons that you can draw from to win. Whether it’s amazing design skills, a brilliant way of simplifying complex problems or an undefendable pull-up jumper, the skill is the base level required in order to be clutch. It’s the bread and butter that allows someone to physically complete the tasks required to win.
In some lucky cases, skills are obtained through god-given talent. But more often than not, they are developed through practice. Through experience. Through experimentation and repetition. For most of us, it’s about putting in the hours.
Experience is the key to performing in high pressure situations. When it’s the first time, it’s easy to let expectations and uncertainty unravel the nerves. But experience brings a sense of calm. They’ve been there before. There’s no panic. They are aware of adjustments that occur in different people’s games as the stakes are raised. And they are able to adjust yourself to fit the new situation in a rational way.
Experience prevents panic and nerves from shutting down your skill. It allows people to make the right choices and focus on doing what needs to be done in order to win.
Heart is the catalyst. It is the desire to win. It is the realization that what you’re trying to achieve is more important than anything else in the world. It’s more important than a million dollar contract, than how your legs feel right now or even the ability walk correctly tomorrow. People with heart find a way to win. They find a way to make a play. They take a 50/50 jump ball and make it a 90/10 ball. They put their blood, sweat and tears out there trying to achieve those extra inches. Trying to fight for those small details and tiny advantages that could provide a win.
Heart also has the uncanny ability to make up for gaps in Skill or Experience. Pure desire can allows a young startup to challenge a big incumbent for the title. Heart is what makes champions. Excuses are what make second place teams.
To make yourself a clutch player on the court or in the boardroom, you need to combine all three elements of skill, experience and heart. But once you get there, you’ll be the member of the team that everyone can count on to make the big play when the game is on the line.