What Should You Focus On In a Clutch Moment?

From the world of sports psychology, this is an interesting breakdown of three different points of concentration golf putters had in mind during a clutch moment. Concentrating on a single "holistic cue word" like smooth proved most successful:

There are two common explanations for why some athletes perform poorly in the clutch: either the pressure distracts them, or it causes them to focus too intently on usually automatic actions. To test the competing theories, two researchers studied 20 experienced Australian golfers in a low-stakes contest and a high-stakes competition with monetary prizes. The participants played three 10-putt rounds, and they were given different instructions at the start of each: first, they were told to concentrate on three things that were irrelevant to the task; then to focus on three words that related to technical aspects of their swing, such as arms, weight, or acceleration; and finally to concentrate on a single “holistic cue word” describing their intended movement, such as smooth. In the high-pressure situation, participants did worse when thinking about words related to execution; overall, golfers in both situations did best while concentrating on the holistic cue. The authors speculate that focusing on a cue word prevents experts from trying to “consciously control their movements under pressure,” which suggests that overthinking, rather than distraction, may be the greater danger facing athletes in the clutch.

Clutch moments exist in business, and the sports idea of "muscle memory" transfers as well. When I was doing a lot of enterprise software sales calls I had a successful routine. When the stakes were unusually high, it was easy to over think how I delivered my pitch and try to change my routine. Bad approach. I learned this lesson in basketball, too. What successful athletes and CEOs figure out is how to channel heightened adrenaline in a productive way.

Source link is subscribers only; hat tip to Atlantic Monthly’s Primary Sources.

9 Responses to What Should You Focus On In a Clutch Moment?

  1. Krishna Mony says:

    Frankly, I found this pretty dumb. This is death by analysis.

    When you come to shoot, shoot. Don’t think of this and that. Then your shots will go in.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    Krishna, easier said than done. Everybody always says, “Don’t think about it.” But you can’t not think about it. You have to think of something. The point of this study is to examine what the best possible something is.

  3. Ben is right here… often times we fail because we forget to realize that we are human and not as easily focussed/programmed as a computer. Depend on sheer strength and skill alone? Not I.. just look at what happened with David and Goliath…

  4. Ben, I completely agree with this one. As an avid golfer, especially back in my high school days there was nothing that was a bigger mental stresser than staring down a 4-foot putt in the final round of a tournament.

    If you didn’t have a strategy to focus you were done. It took me a while to learn this, but once I did it paid off well.

    Curious, what was your strategy for the sales calls?

    -Cameron

  5. Randy says:

    Could not agree more with this post. The Inner Game of Tennis talks extensively about this exact topic.

  6. We often confuse adrenaline from excitement with nervousness. If you are about to do something high-stakes, your heart rate will rise. This is quite natural. The BPS research digest summarized this last december (I knew I had seen it somewhere), here:

    link to bps-research-digest.blogspot.com

    Good analysis and congrats on the MR link.

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  8. Fredex says:

    The Army, masters of managing the clutch moment, understand that you do what you have trained to do.

  9. Dan Kras says:

    The book Blink by Malcom Gladwell talks about “thin slicing” which is “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.” Experienced athletes have developed their “thin slicing” of certain in-game situations to such a level that they are capable of completing difficult maneuvers automatically, without any conscious input. For these athletes, I can totally see how using a “holistic word cue” to let their muscle memory do the job would be better than stressing over technique.

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