The Process Behind March Madness

men basketball CLIPARTDan McEssy shares how the journey to the NCAA Tournament begins long before the calendar flips to March. 

March Madness is upon us! The excitement of postseason tournaments invigorates a nation emerging from yet another winter season. Elite teams put their final touches on an envious regular season, while others scrap for a postseason opportunity. The nation eagerly awaits for Cinderellas to dance as giants fall. The purpose of a regular season is unclear, if not fully forgotten. National rankings become irrelevant, and tournament seeds are no guarantee to success. So why did we have to wait for all this excitement? The truth is, March itself didn’t create the madness. It’s a result of a process.

We are often prisoners of the moment. Contributing performance solely on present forces. Rarely does a missed shot get contributed to skipping practice weeks or months ago. Likewise, rarely does a struggling team get blamed for lackluster off-season conditioning attendance. The outcomes we see on game-day are not a result of raw talent lead by inspirational coaches with a haphazard plan. Rather, a team’s success is the sum of the individual practices, film sessions, games, and trips to the athletic trainer’s office that starts long before that calendar flips to March. Successful performance is the result of a process. The diligent process of shaping individuals, teams, and programs to what they are today.

Realizing that success comes from systematic hard work is not novel. People have used goals and aspirations to drive their behaviors for centuries. Goal setting has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for millions hoping to achieve a desired outcome. However, the majority of those who set goals do not adhere to them after the first month! Poor goal setting technique is certainly a factor, but so is the human desire of near-immediate gratification. We have been trained to seek a grand achievement with a tunnel-vision-like focus, but dismiss the small victories as insignificant along the way. The very reinforcements we need to stay on track are the things overlooked by so many. Setbacks will begin to beset dedication to progress, and deadlines will seem too distant to comprehend. The negative spiral of giving up is all too predictable.

Embracing the process takes mental preparation. Those who successfully navigate the journey ahead have set aside ego and see setbacks as learning opportunities rather than proof of their inability to succeed. They prioritize the present moment as the most important time in the process: never skipping steps. The small victories are celebrated to reinforce that they are on the right track. And they are prepared to have fun! It may seem silly, but by putting themselves in the mindset of smiling at adversity, they have eliminated the one thing that derails millions from the everyday “grind.”

As a nation, we forget what happens behind the curtains of March Madness, but we sure love the show! The process of creating an exciting March is rarely captured by cameras. The games account for only a minute fraction of the time spent improving in practice, watching film, in the weight room, etc. The teams “dancing” into the tournament are a product of dedicating each and every day to the process of marginal improvement. They’ve embraced the long process, trusting that they will play their best in March.

Teams sit on the edge of their seats waiting for their name to be called. “Selection Sunday” makes dreams come true for hundreds of athletes. Their seeds are announced and the match-ups are in. Davids and Goliaths clash across the country. Records are meaningless, and seeds are just a number. A clean slate provides new opportunities without a guarantee for tomorrow. The immediacy is great for spectators, but it will be the team who takes one possession, one game at a time that will find themselves experiencing the most excitement of us all.

Dan’s Bio

Dan McEssy is a first-year Sport and Exercise Psychology graduate student at Minnesota State – Mankato, emphasizing in group dynamics and athlete transitions. Dan graduated from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse with a B.S. in Sport Management. He later worked at the USOC training complex in Colorado Springs, and USA Baseball before returning to school with the hopes of making a more direct impact on athletes’ lives through sport. Currently he works as the Graduate Advisor to Leadership at MNSU alongside his work at the Center of Sport and Performance Psychology.