Lessons Learned from March Madness

By |Published On: March 24, 2014|

There are many lessons we can learn from sports – both positive and negative.  Just off the top of my head I am thinking about these – how to build a great team; how to coach, not preach; the virtues of ethical behavior and more.

This weekend as I was participating in the annual ritual we have come to call “March Madness”, I witnessed another lesson, one I am calling “Gracious Losing”.

Now this NCAA basketball tournament has become known as “March Madness” for  a reason.  Fans across the country literally go nuts for their team and even for teams they’ve never heard of before – just because they selected the team to win in their “bracket”.  I have witnessed coaches go nuts too.  They’ll go nuts over winning, they’ll go nuts over losing.

Coaches and players have invested their lives for this one crowning moment – to play in and advance in the NCAA tournament.  So, it’s no surprise when a team loses (and one loses in every game), the fans, players and coaches will be disappointed.  Many players and coaches will even be crushed.  You will witness both players and coaches falling to the ground with their heads in their hands sobbing.  You will witness both players and coaches throwing towels or cups in anger and despair.

These visions are common.  They are also somehow understandable by our society.  They are NOT however good and healthy reactions.  They are NOT examples of “Gracious Losing”.

One of my favorite coaches in the NCAA is Roy Williams.  Roy coached my alma mater the University of Kansas for many years.  I have always thought of him as a ‘class act’.  Yesterday, he proved it to the world.

As his North Carolina Tarheels found themselves down with the clock running out.  They inbounded the ball with just under 2 seconds remaining in the game; Roy was clearly signalling for a timeout but the referees didn’t see him; eventually they saw him and called the timeout.  However, before allowing North Carolina to inbound the ball and try their last desperation play, the referees reviewed “the tape”.

After that review, they determined the clock operators started the clock late allowing more time than they should have AND when the referees eventually recognized Coach Williams was calling a timeout, there shouldn’t have been any time left.  The referees gathered the two head coaches at center court and explained the situation to both.  The game was over, North Carolina lost.

In this intense and emotional situation, I would suggest to you that nine out of ten coaches in Roy Williams position would be seen arguing with the referees, pleading with them for just one more shot, probably throwing their arms in the air in disgust, possibly throwing other things like towels or cups (maybe a chair if you’re an old Indiana University coach), possibly even physically bumping the referees in an attempt to intimidate them.

Not Roy Williams.

Roy clearly asked for clarification.  The expression on his face was not angry.  He turned to the opposing team’s coach, reached out a congratulatory handshake and then hugged him.  We later learned he even wished that coach and his team the ‘best of luck’ going forward in the tournament.

That is the act of “Gracious Losing”.

Roy Williams demonstrated that in life, we win some and we lose some.  In the end, it may not be how many we win that we’re judged on but by how we acted in those occasions where we lost.

I certainly learned something in this experience I can apply in my daily life – both business and personal.  I hope you did too.

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