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Clutch is a word that gets thrown around in sports at every level and that word can make a player, or in some cases destroy that player.
That word is nothing new in sports and I’ve often wondered if that level or lack thereof for some players really explain their behavior in pressure situations or is it just a cop out for us fans who don’t exactly know the mind set of these athletes…then again, we always hear athletes describe themselves and other players in these terms as well.
I have never been the type to throw that word around because there are so many factors that contribute to the success rate of any athlete, but I’ve come to realize that there is a certain pattern that goes with being the definition of the word clutch itself instead of crumbling under the weight of the moment.
Before I get into my view on this word, it is important to explain why it took me to this point to fully appreciated its meaning and to notice when a player lacks the mental make up to be clutch. It happened during the NBA finals several weeks ago…no, this is not another article bashing Lebron James or any other athlete who is perceived to be weak mentally. Instead it taught me that some players, aside from lacking a certain clutch gene do not possess the will to win…maybe they are one in the same but I don’t think so; especially in the case of Lebron James.
I describe Lebron who is still the most talented and physically gifted player in the league as a front runner and one thing we know about front runners is that when it comes down to bitting down, fighting back and willing a victory, they disappear.
The great ones are both…they find a way to win by being clutch and willing their team to victory.
A player like Gilbert Arenas for example is clutch but in the form of a role player, not as a player you can build a team around… but being clutch is nothing more than taking the shot. Yes Lebron has been clutch at times, we were witnesses to that during the Celtic series and the Bulls series… also back during his time in Cleveland facing the pistons where he scored 29 straight points; the man is talented, but as a great player you must be all things at all times. We must see the clutch gene accompanied by the will to win.
No one hits every shot on the basketball court, Kobe doesn’t hit every shot and Jordan the definition of will and clutch never hit every shot, but he took those shots.
Basketball ball is a sport where you can hide behind teammates; you appear to be a great team player by making a great pass to an open shooter who hits the game winning shot, which we have seen Lebron do many times.
What is in the mental makeup of these players who seem to lose confidence in the same things which got them to the heights of their respected sports?
A player that has been compared to Lebron is Alex Rodriguez and the comparisons are pretty fair when you consider what the Yankee 3rd basemen went through early in his Yankee career. He was known as a regular season player who seemed to shrink on the big stage. The difference with Arod and Lebron is the stage itself; in baseball, a player stands alone in front of thousands, there are no teammates in the batting cage with you.
What Arod went through is tougher only because baseball is tougher as a sport; there are no passes to be made to open teammates to pick you up…those flashing lights of stardom blind the weak ones and they never recover. But he did.
Did his mind set change, becoming more comfortable in the big stage, maybe he did. Or maybe he started out well and the confidence that goes with getting one hits snowballed forming a different man with less to prove.
Will the same happen for Lebron, no I don’t see it…not until he gets better as a player.
Sports Psychologist are becoming the new performance enhancers of the sports world and that becomes the next step for a player like Lebron, but as I just stated he needs to improve his game first before he improves himself mentally. His game didn’t allow him to will his team to a victory in the process showcasing the “clutchness” which he is capable of.
Every team will need a sports psychologist at some point. It was surprising to find out that the Mavericks had a sports psychologist on staff over the last couple years. Is that the reason Dirk shed his soft not clutch label and has become the player we see today. Will that be the fate of a player like Lebron on whom the pressure will increase until he wins a championship?
Tennis great Jimmy Connors once said that winning is 90% mental and we have seen examples of this in all sports from Skiing to boxing and most obvious sports like football and soccer.
Competitive Anxiety is what they call what I witnessed from the best athlete in basketball…let’s just hope he is not too proud to admit he needs help and decides to live in a gym this summer.
For the NBA’s sake and for the sake of this hopeful global icon.