5 Lessons You Can Learn from Upsets


Photo by Chris Lee, STL Post-Dispatch



March brings us warmer temperatures, a change in our clocks, and the NCAA basketball tournaments. Each year we see lower-seeded teams upset higher-seeded teams in what can be described as March Mania (that other, more commonly known named is copyrighted, believe it or not).

As most of us watch in amazement at some of the team’s performances, such as a last-ditch three pointer by Wisconsin, there are also some great communications lessons that these teams share that can be used on both the basketball court and in the boardroom. Here are 5 lessons your team can learn from those teams that pull off the classic upsets in the month of March:

  1. Embrace the Moment: Sure, it might be a big stage or much riding on the moment, but instead of cowering at the fear of failure, look at it as a tremendous opportunity. After all, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. Especially if you are the underdog, you have nothing to lose other than not giving your best effort.
  2. Remember What Got You There: Now that you’re “at the table,” don’t try to greatly alter your plan or way of doing things. After all, it’s the way you’ve done them which has got you to this point. Plus, this prevents you from having to learn or do something that may be foreign to you when the pressure is at its greatest.
  3. Focus on the Current Task at Hand: A team in the tournament typically needs to win six games in a row to become national champion. But, the task of a six-game winning streak may seem daunting by itself. Instead, focus on the current game or presentation you’re in, then worry about the next one hopefully when it comes. Breaking it down into manageable chunks helps you not only focus on the opportunity, but block out any doubt of the larger, overall goal. Just ask Texas A&M who somehow overcame a 12-point deficit in less than one minute to eventually win in double overtime.
  4. Control What You Can Control: You cannot predict how many turnovers the other team may have or what type of presentations your competition is giving to the prospect. But, you can control your team and what’s included in your offerings. Concentrate on what you do and do it well and let the other guys falter by worrying about you. If you simply just “do your job,” everything else will fall into place.
  5. Believe: If you don’t believe in yourself or your team, then you’ve already lost. Your team as this opportunity or has come this far because they are a great team. If teams didn’t believe, then there wouldn’t be any upsets in the tournament. But the fact that they do, means even a half-court Hail Mary shot has a chance to go in.

How the Buckeyes Beat the Odds

Ohio State

On Monday night, Jan. 12, The Ohio State University won its eighth college football national championship with a resounding 22-point victory over the Oregon Ducks. But what makes the victory – and Ohio State’s season – even more impressive is how the team rebounded from obstacles stacked against them to go on one of the most impressive three-game stretches in college football history and beat the odds – literally.

In August, the team lost its starting quarterback to injury for the season. Their odds as one of the favorites to win the title dropped to 50-1.In September, the Buckeyes were bounced, at home, by a very mediocre Virginia Tech 35-21. Ohio State’s title hopes seemed to take a death blow after that loss and their title odds plummeted to 100-1. In late November they lost their backup quarterback to a leg injury. Then this happened:

  • Starting their third-string quarterback in the Big 10 championship game, they were 4-point underdogs to Wisconsin. They proceed to beat the Badgers 59-0. (Read that again.)
  • Going into the first College Football Playoff (which many said they should not have been selected), they were a 9-point underdog against Alabama. They beat the SEC Champions 42-35.
  • Making it into the national championship game, Ohio State was a 7-point underdog to Oregon. They beat the Pac-12 Champions by multiples of 11 (42-20). They now open the 2015 season as the favorite to repeat next year.

So what can the casual fan and the common company learn about what propelled the Buckeyes through this adversity? These 3 things:

  • Numbers Can Predict Outcomes; They Cannot Measure Pride: Given the betting odds against the team all season it would be easy to fold. However, the team believed in their individual abilities and the collective team. Thus, while the odds may not have been in their favor, their determination to persevere was immeasurable.
  • Focusing on the Past Blurs Your Vision of the Present: Two lost quarterbacks and a bad loss at home would be enough for most teams to not only dwell on, but to knock them completely off track. But the Buckeyes kept looking forward, kept their faith in the “next man up,” and accomplished each task at hand, which was simply winning the next game.
  • Internal Belief Supersedes External Opinions: Many questioned why the Buckeyes were even in the playoffs when other contenders had seemingly stronger arguments. (Read more on how the first selection could have gone smoother.) Despite the doubters, Ohio State did the only thing that could silence the critics: produce undisputable results in decisive fashion.