Clutch Time

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scoreboardEverybody knows what clutch time is.  At least, they know it when they see it.  Or they know it when they think they see it. Or…


The NBA in it’s official statistics as the last five minutes of a match when one team ahead by five points of less.  When you look at the clutch statistics you can see that there are familiar names at the top of the list.

A top professional tennis coach has told me that they only scout what players do on big points.  For them, big points begin at 15-30 or 30-30.  At other times, outcomes are more or less random and they don’t want to waste time even looking at them.  He went on to tell me that the best players are the most predictable at those clutch moments. But that is a story about frontrunning and for another day.

We can all agree that the scoreboard above shows clutch time in volleyball.  But the question is, when does clutch time begin?  My first reaction is after 20 with a score difference of 2 or less. But I’m not sure. What do you think? Please take the time to do the poll and feel free to make a comment.


  1. Your post are always riveting! I like your approach to analyze every aspect of the game. Always a joy to read!


  2. I’ll explain my poll answer just a little. And this is just my first thought… In professional mens volleyball where break point % is the highest of any level, you will probably have a smaller “clutch” window. I coach NCAA womens volleyball, last year in our competitive matches our break point % rarely get out of the mid 60s. For us, 22-19 isn’t a very big cushion. So I would say for us the window might be 20 points with a 3 or even 4 point difference.


    1. That’s a great point, Chris. I pretty much concentrate on men’s top level volleyball in everything I write, which I presume most people pick on, but it is an important point.
      Do I read correctly that your point percentage on your own serve is in the 60s?


  3. From a scouting perspective the tennis idea is very interesting. However from a practical point of view, comparing it to volleyball, it is problematic for two reasons:
    1 – A player can play an entire match of volleyball without entering a ‘clutch’ time, or even if they do, without executing a skill during the clutch time that did occur.
    2 – Compare this to a tennis game where there are only 5 scenarios when a player is NOT participating in clutch points (out of the theoretically infinite number of points in a game).
    Basically, this means that the sample size for clutch performance in tennis is vastly greater.
    My vote on the poll was actually from 23 and within 2 points, which severely limits the sample size volleyball, and may actually be too limiting.
    In my Masters proposal I looked at ‘critical times’ in games and had a slightly wider scope. If I recall correctly there were three:
    1 – both teams 20 points of more
    2 – both teams within 2 points
    3 – immediately after a previous error (for an individual)
    I certainly found some statistical differences in performance over a season’s data when looking at these scenarios.


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