On Super Bowl sunday the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story by reporter Ron Kroichick about the pressure athletes face in big events. Titled “Handling pressure lifts good athletes to greatness,” Kroichick’s interviewed me and others about what great athletes need to do in the clutch. What played out in the game couldn’t have been more to the point.
In the post-mortem, Patriots wide receiver, Wes Welker, commented on the pass he missed that could have won the Pats the game: “It comes to the biggest moment of my life, and (I) don’t come up with it…most critical situation, and I let the team down.” What happened? Welker drew a blank. “It’s one of those plays I’ve made 1,000 times,” he said.
That’s the clue and here’s my two cents: no matter how many times you’ve done something successfully in the past, what matters is what you’re doing right now. This is as true on the ball field as it is on stage as it is when you take an test.
What slipped– besides the ball– for Welker? I would say it was likely his focus. Of the three legged stool– calm, confidence and focus– if his confidence was over-strong (“It’s one of those plays I’ve made 1,000 times”)– it could have thrown him off balance, causing him to lose focus at the critical moment. In other words: he wasn’t in the present. The consequence: missing the ball and losing the game.
It’s a hypothesis. But you can test it out yourself. When you do something you’ve done 1,000 times before, take note of how much (or how little) you are actually paying attention at that moment to what you are doing. Are you really in the present or are you on autopilot? You’ll be surprised. In fact, you might find that you actually have to turn up the focus juice just because you’ve done it so many times before. It’s not rocket science, but it easily could mean the difference between winning and losing.
P.S. Of course there were other mishaps for the Patriots, and Welker’s is only half the story. The other is how accurate (or not) Tom Brady’s pass was. Remember: he’s done that play 1,000 times too.