How To Be Clutch In Stressful Situations

Watch Texas Rangers relief pitching if you want to learn how to NOT be clutch! Wow, I mean come on.  How does that one kid throw 11 balls in a row and walk two SF Giants batters in the 8th inning of Game 2 when the bases are loaded?  It’s absolutely unbelievable how bad the Texas Rangers relief pitching was, and it’s simply due to mental weakness.  Texas going from having a chance down 0-2 in the 8th to losing the game 0-9 is a 100% ass kicking.

I understand how difficult it is to close things out due to competitive tennis.  I’ve blown my share of 5-4, third set leads before, and 9 times out of 10, it’s because my mind broke down.  Tennis, like many one-on-one sports is a complete mind bend.  I started worrying and thinking about all the “what ifs”.  What if I shank the ball when going for it?  What if my calves start cramping?  What if he starts catching fire?  As soon as I start filling my mind with doubt, my body follows suite and then before I know it, I’ve blown the lead and lose.

I’ve since been able to calm some nerves that have helped me cross the finish line in tight situations before.  Here are some tips for keeping your head in the game.

* Think of nothing. During a competitive situation, my mind literally goes blank.  It’s as if I’m out of my body observing myself act.  From the service motion, to driving the top spin backhand cross court, there is nothing on my mind except the 100% commitment to win.  Some people call this act “zoning.”  To zone, I picture a pure white cloud of nothingness before each serve.  It fills up my entire mental surrounding.  There is nothing infiltrating my mind as I go ahead and act.

* Know that you will win.  In order for you to compete effectively, you have to already believe you have won.  You know this largely due to your preparation.  You don’t have to know that you are better than them at everything.  All you need to do is believe you are better than them at one thing.  I’m convinced I will be able to outrun my opponents and drive them into the ground.  They will collapse from exhaustion if they try and rally, so they try and go for more and make errors in the process.  Knowing that they will eventually wilt from exhaustion gives me confidence to succeed.

* Put everything in perspective. Once you tell yourself it’s just a game you start to relax.  When you know it’s OK to lose, you start swinging away.  Once you start swinging away you no longer worry about the little things because everything just clicks.  Having perspective is healthy in sports, work, blogging, and practically everything you do.  Once you know you are not an unattractive person, but a beautiful monkey, you start feeling great!


Being clutch is a complete state of mind.  Nowhere do you see more examples of clutch than with Olympic gold medalists.  They’ve done the moves time and time again during practice.  It’s those few moments that really count where they excel the most.  Playing competitive sports definitely helps one’s abilities in non-physical arenas such as work.  There’s a reason why so many firms look to hire student athletes, and so many CEOs are single handicap golfers.  They know what clutch is and how to deal with difficult situations.

Who knows who will win the 2010 World Series.  But, if I was a betting man, I’d go all-in on the San Francisco Giants baby!

Readers, what are some of the things you do to calm the nerves in crucial situations?  Have you ever surprised yourself with your clutchness?

PS For bloggers out there, it’s the same thing.  Survival is a tough one and it is a long slog.  How can you go straight to the top with so much content out there and competition?  You simply zone and write like no one else for a methodically consistent period of time.  And then you patiently wait for things to percolate.  You know you will win because blogging is easy compared to surviving in the Amazon jungle, naked, with no matches or food!



Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. says

    Wow, those are some great insight. I’m not a huge sports guy, but the one thing I learn is to trust your gut. All your experience manifest itself in a your gut and most of the time you already know what to do in your subconscious mind. If you fail, just move on, your gut learned something new and will be smarter next time.

  2. says

    I was just talking to my daughter about this. She is 14 and playing high school volleyball. (I think volleyball is a very ‘mental’ sport.) She was making some basic mistakes after the first match and was really down on herself. I sat her down and told her she had as much talent that day as she had the day before, but that her head was taking her out of the game. I told her to think about all the ace serves she had and past successes and that she suddenly hadn’t lost all her skill. Basically, her head took her out of the game with the first shanked ball. The next match (10 minutes later), she was back to being a leader out on the court and was a totally different player than in the previous match.

    Your brain controls every moment your body makes, and if it is loaded with negative thoughts, then your body is going to perform negatively. That applies to everything in life. I too used to be quick to get down on myself, but nothing positive ever came from that. Now, I just tell myself that I made a mistake like all humans do, and I move on.

    I love the cloud idea!

    • says

      Awesome that your daughter is battling it out on the volleyball court! Frankly every sport has a strong mental component to it. The worst/toughest are tennis, golf, pitching where it’s just you and your adversary.

      I have a good feeling your daughter will do great b/c she will draw all the battles she has had on the court into real life.

  3. Romeo says

    “PS For bloggers out there, it’s the same thing. Survival is a tough one and it is a long slog. How can you go straight to he top with so much content and competition? You simple zone and write like no one else for a methodically consistent period of time. And then you patiently wait for things to percolate. You know you will win because blogging is easy compared to surviving in the Amazon jungle, naked, with no matches or food!”

    This is both inspiring and ridiculously true at the same time.

  4. says

    I’m so removed from sports that your sports analogies fly right over my head. I’m glad you wrapped it up with a closing blurb about blogging – that I can relate to. Being able to focus on one task at a time is very important. The ability to not get distracted by extraneous elements is the key to success. I just read an article about students with ADHD and how they aren’t able to tune out anything limiting their success on any one task. That would drive me crazy!

    • says

      That would drive me crazy too!

      I don’t know what I’d do without sports frankly. It’s the Mental to Physical balance that’s so important in my life. What if I wrote about Lance Armstrong and bicycling? That you must relate to!

  5. says

    It’s important for me to visualize myself having success at a goal first. Once I see it then I know I can do it.

    And I am shocked that the Giants are up 2-0. I never saw that coming.

  6. says

    I also think it helps to know that losing doesn’t matter. Staying calm and in control with no fear often gives you more of an upper hand than you realise even if your passion to win is not as strong.

  7. says

    Competition is already a part of everyone’s life and through this, we learn so much things, for us to be able to compete we must carry an extra bag of courage and prayers, to handle my stress and be calm I’ve learned to stop for awhile and go on till the issue stops and gave a rest for itself. Acceptance too may do great; we do not win everyday, we sometimes bring home the bacon, sometimes we don’t. However, the most important thing there is the effort and hard work that we know we did our best.

  8. Charlie says

    Fear the beard – GO GIANTS!!! I give mad props to the athletes out there that can close under extreme pressure. Sports isn’t just about physical strength it’s also significantly about mental strength and perseverance. I interviewed a football player once and I gave him points for not letting a screaming coach threatening to throw him off the team break his focus and determination to play his best and improve his skills.

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