With early round upsets and Cinderella runs, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament lives up to its “March Madness” hype every year. This season has been no exception, as we watched 15-seeded Norfolk State and Lehigh take out #2 seeds Missouri and Duke, respectively. Such early round upsets are incredibly exciting to watch, but they should also serve as cautionary tales to talented teams.
Upsets happen for a variety of reasons—underpreparation, lackadaisical warm-ups, low intensity—all of which stem from a single mistake: arrogance. It’s human nature for heavy favorites in any sport to develop an arrogant, overconfident attitude. The players assume that talent alone is enough to deliver a win. Despite coaches’ best efforts to talk up the opponent and instill mental toughness, many teams cannot find a way to shake this attitude.
In my consulting work with pros, NCAA Division I teams and Olympic athletes, I often share my “4 C’s to Championship Performance” to help world class athletes maintain the proper mindset and steer clear of an upset. Maintain focus by adding these C’s to your game:
Every player should know his or her role on the team and contribute exactly what the team needs—nothing more, nothing less. As a player, your contributions include both production on the field (goals, assists, defense) and on the sidelines (communication, energy, motivation, leadership). When players become arrogant, they start to believe success will come even when they stop doing their part.
Arrogance is false confidence that only lasts while things are going well. When the underdog starts making plays and the clock starts winding down, arrogant teams begin to panic. Anxious thoughts like “Is this really happening?” and “Are we going to lose?” are signs of ebbing confidence and inevitably lead to poor play. Good teams win close games because they maintain confidence that their skills, preparation and tough play will win the day.
Arrogant players are not ready for hardship, because they aren’t consistent in their preparation, thoughts or internal dialogue. Since they’re not disciplined enough to maintain focus through a slump, they become only as consistent as their opponent’s play. Maintain mental toughness by developing a consistent, disciplined approach to your game.
Your confidence level should dictate your play, not vice versa. A steady level of confidence will help you handle the mistakes and failures that will inevitably come. Let your strong preparation and play carry you through slumps, and avoid drops in confidence, which only perpetuate the cycle of poor play.
In the Final Four this weekend, the teams that have solid contributions, composure, consistency and confidence (plus a little bit of luck) will come out on top. Enjoy the next upset; it’s just around the corner!
Mike Voight, Ph.D., CC-AASP, is a team leadership consultant on player development for the New England Revolution (MLS), as well as for teams from USC, Texas, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State. He is also an assistant professor at Central Connecticut State University. Visit his website at drmikevoight.com for comments and to ask questions.