David Sender was my teammate, 2008 US all-around champion, and one of the greatest clutch performers I’ve ever met.

This is a three part series on what gymnastics taught me about acquiring and mastering skills, overcoming fear and delivering clutch performances.

Gymnastics is a sport about delivering under pressure. Even though you can make it a team sport by aggregating scores and swapping out players, there is actually not interaction between your teammates outside of them cheering for you and helping you prepare for your performance, or even between you and your competition.

When you raise your hand and salute before your routine, it is all on you.

There is usually nothing else for the crowd to focus on but you. Your entire team is watching you. There are 2 professionally trained judges whose sole job is the evaluate your performance and grade your 30-60 second performance in executing extremely difficult maneuvers without any mistakes or flaws. Competing in gymnastics is kind of like a basketball game of all free throws.

Talk about pressure.

I estimate that I’ve had saluted for nearly 1,000 routines over 16 years of competition [1], with over 200 of those salutes / routines being performed for a national level competition (Winter Cup, Jr Nationals, USA Championships, NCAA Championships, Future Stars Nationals).

Video: 2008 Beijing Event Finals – Li Xiaopeng PB (Gold – 16.450). Look how calm and relaxed and focused he is before the routine. He’s in control and knows he’s going to nail it. And he does.)

Gymnastics has taught me a lot about how to perform under pressure, in clutch situations.

I don’t think I’m invincible under pressure. I’ve blown it when it counted. I get nervous and fumble my words – especially on camera or in front of beautiful women. I’m no Li Xiaopeng (see video), but I’m certainly much better than I would have been without gymnastics. Here’s what I’ve learned [2]: Continue reading