Ever been in a high-stakes, mega-pressure situation in which it’s critical you perform at your best? It’s a situation aptly described in sports terms — in a clutch, bases loaded — and there’s a reason for that. Sports have a direct, no-illusions, you-can’t-do-it-over outcome based on the simple fact that you either win or lose. In major league baseball, if you lose, it’s in front of thousands. Rick Peterson, famed pitching coach from the Moneyball era of the Oakland A’s, had seconds to get his jittery pitchers focused in the most intense situations imaginable — and he did. His methods form the cornerstone of Crunch Time: How to Be Your Best When It Matters Most. Written with human performance expert Judd Hoekstra, it lays out just how to win in any high-stakes situation, from work to life.
The book is filled with fascinating stories from Peterson’s illustrious, intense career, where he coaches pitchers to miraculous, game-changing feats. Peterson has spent his lifetime focused on just what enables us to us rise to an occasion instead of collapse under pressure. He combines can-do fervor with practical, gritty tactics. For the incredible pitcher Tom Glavine, Peterson enabled him to reinvent his own game and win more consistently than ever. From stars like Michael Jordan, he gained insights in the importance of being not just prepared, but overprepared. He doesn’t just list the steps involved in turning fear and doubt into boldness and determination, he guides us through each one.
There’s no excess in this book, either, which gives it a nice lean feel — just how you want a book on performance to read. Each chapter is about a different tactic and how to practice it. All of these strategies are well-tested in a number of realms, not just on the baseball diamond. All adhere to the essential philosophy that performance isn’t a matter of sheer physical talent in sports or sheer mental acuity in business. It’s a matter of training the brain. Teaching ourselves to very deliberately, very intentionally reframe our perception of pressure — from threat to opportunity — will enable us to transcend panic and truly focus and perform.
Both Peterson and Hoekstra are perpetual students of performance in a sense. As coaches, they have enthusiastically gathered all manner of information on why we do what do, and think what we think. They trace back our internal panic switch to our most primitive origins as cavedwellers, faced with the kind of threats that would eat us if we didn’t run fast enough. We evolved into a jumpy species as a matter of survival, they point out. But now that jumpiness has the opposite effect. Sports or work or life, we’re all faced with stressful moments, but now the biggest threat we face is our own inability to focus and prevail.
Reframing — shifting our perception from threat to opportunity — is a vital technique for overcoming that inner cavedweller. So, actually, is laughing. Another effective strategy: learning how to stop trying so hard. All of these methods ring true in essential ways, but they’re also so well explained by Peterson and Hoekstra that the reader feels downright empowered. And that’s intentional.
We are all entirely capable of making the mental shift we need to in order to excel, the authors assert. Great coaches can boost their players to greatness just when it’s needed the most. Not all of them write books, but fortunately, Peterson and Hoekstra did. Whether you’re in business, sports, or just looking for great techniques for being more effective at living your life and excelling in your pursuits, this is a must read.