Success Strategies

5 Simple Steps Toward World-Class In the Clutch

Performing under pressure comes from preparation, mental focus and fearlessness.
5 Simple Steps Toward World-Class In the Clutch
Image credit: g-stockstudio | Getty Images

Clutch is a word often connected with sports. We think of the elite athlete who always comes through when the lights are the brightest and the game is on the line. However, producing when the moment most demands isn't exclusive to the world of athletics. Nailing the big sales pitch, pulling off the impossible deadline or anticipating a client’s needs before they do also can fall in the category of clutch. How is it that when the time calls for excellence some wilt under the pressure, while others step their game up? Here are five ways to go from average to world-class clutch:

1. Practice like you play.

Repetition through practice breeds familiarity. The more accustomed you are with any given situation, the less your nerves will be a factor. When you've been there and done that dozens or even hundreds of times, this naturally increases the level of confidence you have to complete the task at hand. The one critical mistake most people make when they prepare is that they go through the motions instead of practicing at real life "game speed." In other words, when they get to the actual situation, it feels different. The familiarity they attempted to lock-in with practice was partially wasted. To be truly clutch, you need to make your rehearsal as close to the real deal, at full speed. As an example, if you've got an important speech coming up, go run through the speech in the board room or stage where you’ll actually be presenting later.

Related: Winning Sales Strategies from National Champion Alabama Roll Tide Football Coach Nick Saban

2. Stick to your routine.

When you're clutch and in a big moment, it often doesn't often feel like one. The "moment" feels like any other one of the countless times you've been successful because you've executed time and time again. It's also critical to be in the right frame of mind leading up to the moment. In the hours, minutes or seconds beforehand, get yourself in a familiar rhythm. It could be wearing an outfit that you feel comfortable and confident in, visualizing success in your mind or even listening to the same song that gets you in the right mindset.

3. Appreciate the moment.

Clutch means that you embrace the big moment and the time leading up to it. Contrast that with someone who can't wait for the moment to pass or thinks to himself, "If I can just get past this." Remember, the moment is what you've worked hard to achieve. This is why you've put in the work -- to get this opportunity.

Related: 8 Great Entrepreneurial Success Stories

4. Slow things down.

When in the midst of a tremendous opportunity that calls for a clutch performance, it's all too easy to chase too many mental targets at once. Distractions creep into the picture. Clutch moments demand total focus and concentration. They don't require more thoughts processed quicker; they require fewer distractions, or a simplification of the process.

One way to help keep your thoughts simplified is to consciously direct them toward the positive and to drill down to the bare bones. When we get overly ambitious with our mental pursuits, allowing our thoughts to flow from one topic to another, it can be draining and take us off target. Slow things down by thinking only of the task at hand and the basics it will require.

5. Don't be afraid to fail.

The fact is, no one can come through in the critical moment 100 percent of the time. Look closely at the statistics of any ice-water-in-their-veins athlete and you'll find a time where they lost a round, big game or struck out with the bases loaded. Nobody is perfect, and the pursuit of the unobtainable imposes a pressure that will surely cause more misses than hits. Allow yourself to get past failures -- learn, move on and enjoy the wins. 

Related: 6 Stories of Super Successes Who Overcame Failure

The media and fans will sometimes describe an athlete as possessing a "clutch gene" after delivering in a key moment. For just about any performer, particularly in sports, this might be one of the ultimate compliments. Performing under pressure, however, doesn't come from hitting the genetic lottery; it comes from the right amount of preparation, mental focus and fearlessness.