Being Present for the Holidays

The holiday season has given me two of the purest examples of clutch performance and its opposite, choking. They both come from college sports and illustrate the fourth trait of clutch performers: being present.

The first was the 89th consecutive victory of the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team. Clutch is an individual trait so team efforts are hard to gauge. Maya Moore, the team’s star forward, has been present for every one of the 89 wins – and she set a personal scoring record the same night as the Huskies beat Florida State to go into the record books. That’s impressive. But in many ways, the efforts of Coach Geno Auriemma were key.

Keeping the streak going was no doubt tough at various points, and tying the record at 88 was no mean feat. But what the team needed last night was something more: they had to be totally present. They couldn’t think of the 88 previous games they won because they didn’t matter. And they couldn’t think of the glory they are receiving now. They had to be totally present and play the game for the 89th consecutive win as if it was any other game. And they did.

Not being able to do this has rough consequences. Ask Kyle Brotzman, the Boise State kicker who missed a 26-yard field goal attempt to win a key game a few weeks back. He then came back in overtime and missed a 29-yarder that would have put his team into the Rose Bowl. Yesterday he got to read the opinions of an official for his team’s Western Athletic Conference: those missed kicks cost the team and athletic conference $8 million.

While I doubt Brotzman had that dollar amount in mind when he missed two routine kicks, he was surely not present and thinking about the team’s bowl prospects. He was clearly thinking of what those kicks meant (even though a touchdown by any of his teammates would have also sent Boise State to big-time bowl).

In this case Brotzman had all the qualifications to be clutch: he is a field goal away from the collegiate record for points by a kicker. Yet it wasn’t to be, showing just how important being present is for people who need to be clutch.

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