What we can learn from March Madness

Madness, insanity, absurdity, fanaticism, hysteria! However you want to describe it, there’s one thing we know for sure: the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is unpredictable and full of passion.

As a basketball fan, this tournament is one that I look forward to every March, and even though I follow the NBA a lot more than I do college basketball, I dare not miss an NCAA tournament game in March. I dare you to change the channel on my television.

As I watch this year’s tournament, I can’t help but to try figure out why this particular tournament is such a fan favorite, and one that captures the entire nation.

It’s pretty easy to answer that question. Most people would say the tournament is exciting because of its unpredictability. Others will tell you that it’s exciting to follow the Cinderella team that captures the entire nation and keeps dancing for as long as they can. Cheering for the underdog and seeing them actually pull off the upset is probably more possible during the NCAA tournament than in any other competition.

The ability to fill out a bracket and predict games is also intriguing, and even though we all get our feelings hurt after the first round of games, the unpredictability and that belief that we will have a perfect bracket the next time around keeps us coming back for more each year.

I remember seeing the #14 seed Mercer (a school I had never heard of) beat tournament favorites Duke in 2014. This year, Big Twelve tournament winners Iowa State were upset by UAB. For those of you who don’t even have a clue what UAB stands for, it’s the University of Alabama in Birmingham (not to be confused with roll tide). Oh, and let’s not forget about the #15 seed Florida Gulf Coast crushing the #2 seed Georgetown in 2013 and capturing the hearts of many fans by reaching the Sweet Sixteen with a win over San Diego State. Storylines like these are why they play the games and why we watch every year. Being able to see a school you’ve probably never heard of galvanize and beat a tournament favorite is something a lot of people can relate to. It’s easy for us to cheer those schools on because at some point in our lives, most of us have been the underdog.

But allow me to take it a little further by saying that another reason this tournament is so exciting and must-watch television is because it gives us an opportunity to believe the impossible can happen. It allows us to see a group of young men believe in themselves and accomplish goals that no one thought they could accomplish. It teaches us that even when no one gives you a chance, all you need to do is work hard and believe in yourself.

Let’s be real, if the tournament was like the NBA Playoffs and required a seven-game series in order to determine the winner of a matchup, the higher seeded team would most likely win a majority of the matchups, and it would be easier to predict. Yes, there would still be underdogs that will rise to the challenge and win a seven-game series, but just like the NBA Playoffs, you usually have a decent idea of which team will come out on top in a best of seven series. The NCAA tournament is one game per round. It means that in order to win the championship, you must win six straight games. There is no room for error. It means you have to come prepared for each opponent. It means you can’t have a bad day or take a night off.

The reason why it’s very possible to have upsets in the NCAA tournament is because teams that should not have a chance to win actually believe in themselves and are confident because they are prepared and trust each other. They approach a game they should not win with belief and a chip on their shoulders. Those teams also bring their very best because they understand that all they have to do is beat a “better” team once and move on to the next round. They play with passion, energy and leave everything on the court. Those boys make believers out of all of us, and even when they don’t win the national championship, they exit the tournament with their heads held high. They make themselves and their loved ones proud because they gave everything they had.

What if we approached life with a similar mentality? What if we approached our jobs with the mentality that we can be successful if we approach each day with our best effort? What if we went to class each day with the mentality that we can be successful if we brought our best each day?

I’ve always been a strong believer that you either approach a task or project with your best or you don’t do it at all. It’s very easy for us to go through the motions and get comfortable with just doing the minimum of what’s required of us. We do it at work because we think yesterday’s accomplishment should cover us for a few months, so we check out and just do the minimum until it’s time for reviews or until the next project comes up. We do it as students when we shoot for the minimum grade we need to pass a class or the minimum GPA needed to graduate. We do this in our relationships because we expect our significant others to be there no matter what. We do it in our personal lives. We want to do the minimum whenever possible.

Can you imagine what we can accomplish if we approached our jobs, school, relationships, our work out plans, our walk with God, etc. with the mindset that we are going to put forth our best effort everyday? We are only fooling ourselves if we think we are smarter than everyone else because we’re doing the minimum and still expect the same results as someone working twice as hard. 

We are human, and there will be tough days and times when we are just not on top of our game. But at the end of the day, whether or not we are successful at something, we should be able to look ourselves in the mirror and be happy with the effort we put forth. You should be able to look at yourself and be able to say, “I gave it my best shot and worked hard” even if you fail. This mentality eliminates the “what ifs” and the unknown. It clears up the doubt and the sleepless nights when we stay up wondering if things would’ve been different if we gave it our all or tried a little harder.

I’ll be the first to tell you that hard work and dedication aren’t always enough. There are other factors that can have a negative impact on you even when you’re putting forth your best effort. You could be in a relationship where your partner doesn’t appreciate you no matter how good you are to them. You can have a job where even though you approach each day with your best, someone with a lot of power dislikes you for no apparent reason. You could have a leader who doesn’t have your back or fight for you. You could even be a victim of discrimination. You could be taking a class where your professor doesn’t really care about your success. I can go on and on about some of the obstacles that could stand in your way even when you put out your very best effort.

…BUT at the end of the day, we still have to control the things we can. And that is the effort we put into something. No matter what happens, can you look back and be happy with the effort you put into that relationship, that job, that class, that walk with God, that project, that work out plan? Knowing that you did your part and gave something your best effort makes you sleep better at night when things don’t go the way you expected.

Those small schools that upset the big boys in the NCAA tournament don’t usually go on to with the national championship, but I bet you that they go back to campus knowing that they gave it their best shot. That’s a great feeling!

Just look at yourself and ask, “Am I giving it my all?” You might be an underdog. There’s a chance no one believes in you. But who cares? The only thing that matters is that you are giving it your best and believing in your abilities. The abilities God gave you. Control the things you can and leave the rest to God. He’s in control. But never put yourself in a predicament where you’re up at night wondering what could have been if only you would have tried a little harder.

Just like those “no-name” schools that pull off the unbelievable, I believe we can all find things in our lives that we can be successful at if we believed and put forth maximum effort. You don’t need to be famous; you don’t need to be rich. You don’t need the validation of others. All you need is belief in yourself and your abilities. 

You are Cinderella. Put on your shoes and keep dancing. Your evil sisters are watching.