Some incredible athletes are just born with unsurpassed talent. But many more have to will themselves to greatness. In 22+ years of working with athletes and studying many more they have these common traits.
Everybody likes being “good” at something, but truly great athletes often have an unquenchable, almostmaniacal, thirst to see just how good they can become. This passion translates into a willingness and desire for hard work. For example, the best race car driver of all time, Dale Earnhardt, once crashed and could not finish his next race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Despite the risk to his life, race officials had to remove him from his car. He later said, "Nobody loves anything more than me driving a race car." After years of success, Earnhardt eventually died in another crash on the track. He was so passionate about his sport that he was willing to die for it.
While you and I might enjoy a friendly competition every now and again, top-caliber athletes seem to constantly seek situations where they can test their skills. Their competitiveness stems from more than just the desire to beat others; they get a rush from testing themselves under pressure.
I often witness athletes go all-out to win games far outside of their sport—checkers, darts, even a table tennis or bowling competition. This mentality can make winning seem less like a thrill and more like redemption. Both Jimmy Connors and Michael Phelps once said, “I hate to lose more than I love to win.” Men and women like these fear losing, but do not succumb to that fear. Instead, they have an inner confidence and trust in their abilities so that they can continually compete.
3. “Another Gear”
Sports announcers often say that certain players can change speeds. For example, Emmitt Smith the former running back of the Dallas Cowboys holds the NFL record for career rushing yards, although few would say he was the best ball carrier of all time. He certainly wasn’t the fastest. But what he had was theability to hit the gap hard and, when the field opened up, to come alive as he turned it downfield. He had another gear. When opportunity presented itself, Smith knew how to make the most of it. He and other top athletes seem to muster up performances beyond their on-paper abilities, allowing them to finish stronger than the rest.
These three traits help the athlete’s confidence and also places them in the right mindset to perform in the clutch. Clutch players in sports are those who seem to play their best when the game is on the line—a.k.a. "when the lights are on." Players who immediately come to mind include the great Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter. Of course, these are all Hall of Fame-caliber athletes, but don't let that stop you from aspiring to become a great clutch player.
Great clutch athletes aren't born that way. They focus their training so that they are supremely confident in critical situations. In fact, confidence might be the single most important aspect of playing well under pressure. Confident athletes "play to win." They eagerly look to the next play and quickly forget the last bad one. Without confidence, athletes are susceptible to poor focus, high anxiety, and poor resiliency—which of course result in poor athletic performance.
So how do you play your best when the lights are on? The following tips are designed to help:
1. Keep in mind that confidence is king when it comes to athletic success. So you need to do things that improve your confidence, including setting (and tracking) your goals; soliciting feedback from coaches about what you are doing well; keeping a journal with your daily accomplishments and successes; and using healthy self-talk to keep your attitude positive. Learn how to boost your confidence. Examine the following three tips to help increase your confidence
Tip #1: Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. At the top of the left column, write, "Situations in my sport in which I am most confident," and on the right side, "situations in my sport in which I am least confident." Write at least three situations in each column to help you visualize.
Tip #2: Begin to pay closer attention to your own tactical strengths and weaknesses. Write down three examples of each. For each game or match, write down the major weakness of your opponent to keep it fresh in your mind.
Tip #3: Pay close attention to your coach's words of praise. Write them down and repeat them to yourself. Commit them to memory, so that when you are in a pressure situation, they will automatically come to mind.
2. Develop a pre-game routine that allows you to prepare your mind. When crafting your pre-game routine, frame the competition in a realistic way—remember it's still just a game, no matter how many people are watching or what kind of title is on the line. Your mind and body need to be in sync, so when you leave the locker room, you are secure in the knowledge that you have prepared all season to be successful.
3. Learn from role models. It's never a bad thing to learn as much as you can from legendary sports heroes. Surf the web to find interviews with clutch athletes. What do they do to be successful? What tips can you take away from their experiences?
4. After the game, go back and look for ways to get better. Whether you win or lose, review each game to learn what you did well, and make it a point to do it again in the future. Also, identify any weaknesses and develop new goals and strategies for future improvement.
Playing your best in the clutch is a realistic goal—something you can do with the right mindset. Believe in yourself, read your goals each day and always learn from your mentors and role models.