As we analyze the upsets of the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, it can be easy to forget the upsets that didn’t occur. Chalk outcomes are never as enticing, but they provide just as much wisdom for life and faith as those tantalizing upsets that bring all of us back to March Madness. While single-digit seeds are already licking their wounds and unraveling what went wrong, many other higher seeds are still alive, despite the heroic efforts of the underdogs. It’s safe to say at the major college level most of these teams prepared well, had well-thought out game plans, and did all they could to minimize distractions for their teams, but yet, some very good teams came up short. Life is like that, too. You can prepare, put in the necessary work, and have a path of success all mapped out only to have the unexpected happen and you simply fall flat. While it’s impossible to plan and prepare for everything, coaches, players, and the rest of us often overlook some of the subtle errors that can lead to our down fall.
BASKETBALL – Avoiding Upsets
I’ve got my Baylor alum hat on right now and as a fan, I was not happy about the Bears performance in their first round loss to Yale. While the seeding seemed a little off, I also knew that Baylor came out with a lackadaisical attitude we’ve seen before during the regular season, as Yale’s Justin Sears confirmed:
Overlooked them or poorly scouted? I doubt that. Most major college coaches like Scott Drew are meticulous in their planning and preparation and even in carefully presenting information about the opponent to their teams. Coaches are painfully aware of the “Respect All and Fear None” concept, but far too often subtle changes in five key areas prior to and even during the game can rock the boat just enough to allow a marginal performance. I used to believe that teams and coaches who,come tourney time, followed consistent preparation patterns were usually the most successful, but in recent years I’ve gained a new respect for building a team attitude of flexibility throughout the year to help teams handle the stress and excitement of postseason play. Here are five impact areas to consider:
- Schedule: Teams who are unaccustomed to changes in their routine often succumb to the changes of the big stage. I’ve witnessed firsthand teams and coaches who mishandled structured and monitored practice times and pre-game warm-ups. Preparing a team to thrive in changing circumstances throughout the season will help.
- Scouting: Focus on your opponent or focus on your own team? Use the same report and same staff member for each round or change it up? Players respond to the delivery. It’s not just the plan. The delivery of the plan sets the tone for the team’s perspective. Looking ahead can bolster confidence, but it can also foster complacency!
- Game Adjustments: We discussed this a few weeks ago in Game Adjustments with the OODA Loop, but too often when the pressure is on, coaches hold on to their scouting report so tightly that they fail to see the need to adjust. Mike Krzyzewski helped Duke avoid Baylor’s fate against Yale by switching to a zone with 6’9 Brandon Ingram at the top to disrupt Yale’s shooters – see Duke vs. Yale.
- Life: Try as we might to focus solely on the game, the stresses of life still can change our tone when we talk and how we relate to our players. For example, in the days before the tournament, Baylor assistant Grant McCasland was announced as the new head coach at Arkansas State. Great for him, but one can only speculate about the possible effect it had on the Bears.
- Balance: Making the tournament, or winning any tough stretch of games, is something to celebrate, but it can easily lead to a relaxed tone or approach to upcoming games. Coaches have to help players enjoy the moment and the experience, but also maintain a rock solid focus on the task at hand. Balancing emotions can be tricky.
Will paying attention to these concepts help the favored team win? Maybe. And if not, you can always rely on a 14-2 run in 38 seconds and then go on to win in double overtime like Texas A&M:
or a tip-in from a seldom-used freshman like Notre Dame:
It’s an amazing time of year and this year, we’ve seen it all.
LIFE – Silent Killers
My wife is more important to me than any basketball game, yet so often I make the mistake of neglecting some of the same issues as favored teams in the NCAA tournament. When it comes to a healthy marriage, or any other important relationships, there are obvious elements like quality time, showing affection, communication, and a shared vision, but the subtle obstacles we ignore often have significant impact. Schedules, long-term planning, flexibility, handling stress, and balancing emotions all affect how we treat each other. If the goal is to have a healthy marriage, one that stands the test of time and can effectively handle the cultural trends of today’s world, I need to be aware of the effect these silent killers can have and do what I can to address them before an upset can occur!
FAITH – Certain Victory
This world is coming to an end, but did you know that we are not only favored to win, but through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are guaranteed the victory? There is no upset to worry about:
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
Yet, so many of us doubt that and question God’s promise. Rather than live our lives confidently assured of our salvation and living in obedience to God’s word, we fall victim to those same subtle obstacles that the world throws in front of us. Before we know it, the observance of Holy Week and taking the time to consider what Jesus’s death on the cross truly means becomes an afterthought or a robotic ritual we feel compelled to observe. Don’t let that happen to you! Consider your ways and consider the subtle influences the culture throws in your way. Enjoy the games this weekend, but more importantly consider Christ’s death for you and the joyous celebration he brings through His resurrection!