Exploring the “clutch” in clutch performance: A qualitative investigation of the experience of pressure in successful performance

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Psychology of Sport and Exercise


Objectives: The term “clutch” is colloquially used to describe important or crucial situations in sport, with clutch performance referring to successful performances during these pressurised circumstances. Positioning the clutch as an objective, situational variable, however, may not account for the athletes' subjective appraisal of such situations. Accordingly, this study aimed to explore athletes' perceptions of clutch situations, and further, how these perceptions influenced their performance. Method: Sixteen athletes (M = 26.88 years) participated in event-focused, semi-structured interviews soon after a clutch performance (M = 4 days later). Data were analysed utilising reflexive thematic analysis. Results: Four themes were generated: (1) the clutch involves situational and subjective factors, suggesting that the appraisal of the clutch is influenced by situational and subjective components; (2) the perception of the clutch comes and goes, suggesting that there may be multiple, fluctuating episodes of the clutch within an event; (3) pressure affects performance, and performance affects pressure, suggesting that the appraisal of pressure was perceived to impact performance, and that performance also influenced appraisal of pressure; and, (4) experience of anxiety during the clutch is varied, suggesting that the experience of anxiety is not inherent to clutch performance. Conclusions: The clutch has traditionally been considered an objective, situational variable. This study suggests, however, that the clutch relies upon the athlete appraising pressure in response to these situational variables, which may not always occur. Further, other subjective factors may increase the appraisal of pressure, suggesting that the clutch cannot solely be considered as a situational variable. age

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