If you’re one of the 60 million Americans following March Madness wondering exactly what makes the 16 remaining teams peak right now—and what will inspire your corporate team or family—keep reading. The following are five essential things that successful teams in the NCAA Sweet 16 demonstrate, and any team that does these five things will position itself for high performance.
1. Focus only on things they can control. Average teams get distracted. Not these teams. The Princeton women’s basketball team is undefeated, joining Kentucky men’s basketball as the only undefeated team in the tournament. Princeton’s rank coming into the tournament: 13th in the country. Tournament seed: 8. The Tigers had to let that go, along with a bunch of other distractions: midterm exams, senior theses, and even President Obama showing up for the first-round game. Princeton won that one, and will have a tough test coming up tonight against top seeded Maryland.
2. Hold each other accountable. Average teams rely on the coach to keep tabs on their behavior. Not these teams. The Notre Dame men’s team picked one another up at a critical point near the end of regulation against Butler. Forward Zach Auguste committed two turnovers in the final minutes, and in his despair, fellow forward Pat Connaughton took initiative to refocus him. Demetrius Jackson was also in high emotion during the next timeout and teammates Connaughton and Jerian Grant calmed him down. Never once was it the coach who had to set the tone. Connaughton ended up blocking Butler’s 3-point attempt as time expired in regulation. Notre Dame won in overtime because its players held each other accountable. The coach did not have to take control; they did.
3. Recover quickly from adversity. Average teams shrink when things go bad. Not these teams. The N.C. State men’s team came in with a streaky record, so it wasn’t surprising to see the Wolfpack trail LSU by more than 15 points in its opening round game. They hung tough, and they were never ahead in the second half until the last-second shot gave them a 66-65 victory. They then knocked off top seed Villanova to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Another example: Michigan State. A few weeks ago, the Spartans weren’t sure they would make it to their 18th straight NCAA tournament, because their regular season performance was spotty. They rebooted to beat Georgia and second-ranked Virginia.
4. Embrace Pressure. Average teams crumble under pressure. Not the Connecticut’s women’s basketball team. They have made the last six Final Fours and taken home four national titles. They appear indomitable because at their very core, they love pressure. Every game is a chance for another team to knock them off, and their opponents have nothing to lose. “We love the fact that we’re expected to win every single game,” Auriemma said. “Beating us gets you on TV.” Every game for UConn is a test of whether they can remain on top, and they thrive in that space.
5. Demonstrate Selflessness. Average teams have players who focus on themselves. The undefeated Kentucky’s men’s basketball team is the opposite. Ten players average more than ten minutes a game; none plays more than 26 minutes a game on average. Coach John Calipari has persuaded his roster of great athletes, who have heard accolades their entire lives, to sacrifice personal stats for the good of the team. ““Instead of me, me, me—it’s us, us, us,” he said. They are also one of (if not the) best defensive teams in the country. If they win the title, the Wildcats will become the first undefeated champion in 40 years.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
The five habits of successful Teams in the NCAA Sweet 16 create a chemistry that leverages personal choice to create a bond of trust. The ones that make it to the Final Four will have that extra edge from this synergy of focus, accountability, quick recovery, love of pressure and selflessness. For greater success, integrate one or all of these practices in your team.
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The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach businesspeople the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.