IT Professional

The Hole In The ‘no such thing as clutch’ Argument

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No such thing as clutch? Well what about the game turning on a single play? Or a series, like Boston/ New York a couple of years ago. Or Bucky Dent letting the grounder dribble through his legs… Aren’t these essentially the same thing? A tangible situation under particular circumstances, met with extraordinary play, be it positive or negative? Some might argue that the Yankees were just not good enough to beat the Red Sox. Some might say that clutch and game changing or series changing events are apples and oranges. Are they really?

If a series can turn on an event or a play than that means that emotions are affecting the players. Boston down 0-3 to the New York Yankees is an enormous load one way or another in the playoffs. Some guys were clutch and other either had not so clutch moments. Those moments based on the body of their careers add to or subtract from their clutch quotient (no I don’t have a formula for that). Emotions as much as we hate to admit, get the better of each and every one of us.  Some of us flip out dramatically, other panic looking as stern and resolved as can be. It all depends on the situation, but its the outcome of a situation measured against the outcome of a particular event.

To deny the existence of emotions affecting our performance is to completely discount reason. The problem is that we cannot measure the inner workings of one players’ level of intensity at any moment, let alone those moments when we think the game or the season is on the line. For instance the laws of physics tell us that more energy is needed as the load increases. Reinforcements, another man, tools or whatever. If we take that and apply it to hitting a baseball, the mental load increases along with the physical load of either playing a long season or being at the end of one. Of course every ballplayer at some point is playing for something, the playoffs and possibly a championship I suppose. The deeper into the season they get, it is clear if what the player wants is within reach.

Based on the above, it seems to me that later in the season, clutch is even tangible or measurable. Look, players play an entire season based on training in the offseason. After so many games, the body begins to break down. Especially at the end of a long season every player is weaker than when he started. Now I guess you could say that every player is weakened and so it evens out. Whatever…the point is that strength, hand-eye and ability to perform are diminished significantly for everyone.

Some players seem to raise their game later in the season due to a first half warm-up, if you can say that. Some players are relatively consistent throughout the season. Those groups however only define where the true clutch player performance lies. Above we wrote that  ‘the deeper into the season they get…’ a player knows if what he wants is in reach. At some point it stares him directly in the face and how he responds under these circumstances is definitely a characteristic that should be taken note of. That said it can never be a statistic that stands on its own. It needs a world created where it can inhabit.

Players have thresholds as to how much they will endure on the way to their goal. It gets to the point where the athlete (a person who has trained their entire lives for largely one moment) will change his course to achieve it. Think Carson Palmer threatening to retire unless he is dealt by the Bengals. That man has taken all he can and he just wont take it anymore for many reasons. Every once in a while it repeats itself clearly so that we can see. Jim Brown famously retired by wire. Barry Sanders just didn’t show up, pretty much, no press conference for a man who many believe is the best running back in NFL history.

Of course e above happens when an athlete’s career comes into sharper focus. He reacts the same way. I suspect Derek Jeter may have a better season than most believe he will. Over the course of a career, players have an idea of how close they are to their ultimate goals. Over a season, the clutch player despite the conditions as mentioned above, is able to better maintain positive production and sometimes increase what he would normally produce.

The interesting thing about this idea is that we never really know what motivates any athlete. Some of them have holes to fill be it love, confirmation, some kind of complex or another (no disrespect intended for those who suffer from those conditions). Those are negative reasons, but there are als other motivations that are completely positive. We also can only guess what drove them to take such measures to become what the are. It surely is nothing that one will do purely for the hell of it. Athletes are constantly bursting out of their bodies begging them by means of pain to rest. They don’t. The rest of us become accounts, or project managers, or photographers and ours is a different pain entirely.

Of course to this motivation, there are differing levels for each athlete. Some guys wait until the bottom of the ninth, other guys wait until someone is in position and that’s their que…it could be anything. The fact is that the lesser ‘clutch’ players will be the guys standing around depending on the stakes. Jordan shooting the game winner against the Cavaliers was not only ‘clutch’ by him but provided evidence that Craig Ehlo has very little clutch in him. That is evident in how he fell down the way he did as Jordan rises. The next year no one remembers Gerald Wilkins getting the same treatment, because he was game. He stuck in there against one of the greatest of all time which is all you can pretty much ask.

Players like Kobe and Jordan keep the clutch on ALL THE TIME. There are but a few of those guys. Albert Pujols, Jim Brown again, Joe Montana. Some other guys likely do too but it isn’t clear because they aren’t winning championships or their teammates are letting them down. Reggie Miller. At the absolute moment, every coach has to know who his clutch player is and involve him as the primary player in a clutch situation. The clutch player succeeds quite simply more than the rest of the league’s players comparatively. And THAT is what clutch is.

The truth is when we think of clutch we talk about a situation we judge to be important. Last five minutes of the game, bottom of the ninth with two outs, overtime. The guys out there on the field are all in different places. Most are likely thinking about the game and whats going on, but the clutch guy is thinking about the exact counter to the oppositions next move. Some players have that knack. Ray Lewis knifing through the line to snuff Tiki Barber in the SuperBowl may not have been a clutch moment, but it was a clutch play. Thats when everyone knew that the Giants were in trouble. He practically bent the will of the game on that one play. Others are like the story of the original Marathon runner who after telling of victory (post the 26 mile run) collapsed and died. That was clutch to his detriment. Of course there is the story of the woman who lifted a car off of her daughter (at least I heard it that way). Once when a dog ran at me barking, scaring the shit out of me, I just roared and the dog ran back to its owner. It was maybe a 9 months old puppy after I got a better look at him, but the way he charged me left the analysis for later. Now I havent had enough of these situations to know if in fact I am clutch, but I definitely go it in me.

Clutch any way you look at it

The Catch


Written by lionoah

March 21, 2011 at 21:37

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