As OCC mentioned in his post this morning (http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2012/7/6/3140785/dallas-cowboys-seven-thoughts-for-2012), there are different categories that define the ability of an athlete to be considered clutch. The categories can be redistributed and divided into subcategories as follows:
- 1. Decreased deterioration of skills
- a. Maintenance of mental skills secondary to fatigue
- b. Maintenance of physical skills secondary to fatigue
- 2. Mental superiority
- a. Faster ability to learn / adapt
- b. Better ability to block out distractions
- c. Superior strategic formulation
- 3. Individual strengths suited to clutch situations
In examining the three basic categories, the essence of the ability of an athlete to be considered clutch can be derived. Competitors realize that performing at a high level in times of extreme pressure (as when facing an impending loss or attempting to sustain a lead in the waning moments of a competition) indeed exists, and only certain athletes can exhibit that skill.
The deterioration of physical skills secondary to fatigue is frequently attributed to poor conditioning. Athletes that boast better endurance will not suffer a drastic deterioration in their physical or mental capabilities as the athletic competition reaches a conclusion.
From a physiological standpoint physical fatigue will affect mental capabilities. As an athlete fatigues, they lose some of the ability to make sound decisions. All athletes experience this deterioration of mental function as they approach exhaustion, but those athletes that are in better physical condition approach this threshold later than others, and therefore hold an advantage as a competition continues.
In 2011, Dez Bryant was the poster boy for athletes that could not function as well when fatigued due to poor conditioning. By contrast, Jerry Rice's superior conditioning frequently gave him a physical and mental advantage towards the end of a game.
Given that most athletes do not differ significantly in their respective level of conditioning, this factor alone generally contributes very little to the ability of an individual to perform in the clutch. Mental superiority, however, does directly lead to the ability of certain athletes to be clutch.
During the course of competition between two individuals, athletes provide one another with clues as to their intended actions through their movements. In other words, a defensive lineman that intends to rush the passer will change the distribution of their weight when in their stance. Some athletes observe these patterns during the course of competition and are able to adapt quickly. This gives one athlete a decided edge.
In addition, certain athletes have a better ability to block out distractions that detract from their performance. External factors that may affect some athletes more than others include (but are not limited to): the audience, the time left in the game, the score, and the pressure from the situation. The perception that some athletes thrive in situations associated with great pressure has more to do with the ability of athletes to focus on the goals of the competition, when external forces affect other athletes negatively.
Furthermore, athletes that are able to elevate their performance in times of great pressure frequently modify their strategies to cope with their opponent's relative strengths. The ability to adapt a strategy frequently appears as one competitor staging a dramatic comeback to snatch victory. In reality, it was a successful shift in strategy combined with a failure by the opponent to revise their game to the new strategy.
Occasionally, athletes perform better as the pressure increases due to the inherent strengths being suited to the situation. A competitor that is behind and needs to attack, can stage a comeback if his strengths align with the necessities of the situation. Conversely, an athlete that has a propensity to defend will frequently find success towards the end of contests when protecting a lead.
This category frequently can be applied to individuals as well as to teams. Many NFL teams are put together with this in mind.
In conclusion, athletes can be clutch in certain situations despite the ability to measure such variables through statistics. Being considered an athlete that thrives in clutch situations depends on a multitude of factors, not the least of which is tied to mental superiority.
I look forward to hearing everyone's feedback. I apologize in advance for the length of the post, which is why I divided it into two parts.