Every March we rally up for “March Madness”. The annual men’s college basketball tournament where 68 college teams who’ve earned the right to play in the tournament get a chance to play for a national title or maybe just a chance to compete in the sweet 16, elite 8, or final four. Those who watch the Madness know that every year there are upsets…meaning, for example, the number 5 ranked team may get beat by the number 22 ranked team. If you’re a bracket player you have to plan for these kind of upsets, even though they’re essentially unpredictable. Madness-fans never know how things will turn out. A history making example happened this year when the number one seeded team in the south region (University of Virginia) was defeated by the number 16 seeded team (University of Maryland-Baltimore County). Another stunning upset occurred when number 11 seeded Loyola-Chicago defeated a string of higher-seeded teams. Both of these upsets “busted” my bracket, but like many others who watch the Madness, I loved seeing the underdogs overcome the odds and create a new destiny for themselves. A lot has been written about underdogs and there’s some science behind why we humans like to see an underdog overcome the odds. A key reason is that we see inequity in life and a winning underdog restores a sense of equity, fairness, and levels the playing field. The routine, but necessary ranking of teams that precedes the Madness, explicitly engages a sense of inequity and sets the stage for underdog fans everywhere. We want to believe in a fair world and the winning underdog makes our dreams a reality.
What does it take to be a winning underdog? Here’s some insight. (Source for some information provided: https://hutchcraft.com/blogs/ron-hutchcrafts-blogs/worth/four-things-all-successful-underdogs-have-in-common)
Underdogs shine when they let underestimation become their motivation. No one else may think you’re up to the task, but YOU do. Not because of some inflated ego, but because you have confidence from knowing you were born with the gifts it takes to succeed.
Underdogs know that money, pedigree, and status don’t always decide success: heart, tenacity, and will to win do. Some of the biggest heroes in history were underdogs. The Bible’s King David (the guy that beat Goliath) was the short, young guy whose own dad didn’t think he had what it took to succeed. Abraham Lincoln was a tall, awkward, bad speaker that grew up in a log cabin and barely attended school. Only once in the last ten years has the MLB team with the highest payroll won the World Series. Even if you don’t have the most resources, you can ALWAYS choose to have the most “undefeatable” spirit.
Underdogs succeed because they say no to fear. Underdogs choose faith over fear. Successful underdogs put aside fears of going up against the powerhouses and take one game at a time instead of worrying about who they’ll take on next. Don’t sit around worrying about whether you’re as equipped as the next person to “win”. “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the disregard of it.” Successful underdogs become champions when they live that motto.
Successful underdogs respond well to adversity. The reason no one picks that perfect bracket is because sometimes the “experts”, the decision makers, are wrong in their assessments of strengths and weaknesses. Maybe a decision maker in your life has been wrong about you. So, what? You can decide to respond to being slighted in one of two ways: by saying “you’re probably right” and retreating to your corner or saying “I know I’m better than you think I am” and let being underestimated motivate you to being even better.
Underdogs have other people that believe in them. One of the greatest and true, underdog stories about the racehorse Seabiscuit demonstrates that the support, compassion, faith and belief of others is critical. YouTube has a short trailer from the 2003 academy award nominated movie about the horse Seabiscuit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv6RnFTlu4I). Seabiscuit was sired by the legendary Man o’ War racehorse (https://www.racingmuseum.org/hall-of-fame/man-o-war) but in his early years didn’t produce the racing wins of his father; he ran funny; was temperamental; mistreated by his caretakers; and run into the ground on a grueling race circuit. He was rehabilitated by a new owner and trainer who changed his diet, got him a companion horse, let him get adequate rest, and created for this animal the right conditions to win. Under new owners, trainers, and a jockey that believed in him and treated him with compassion and intelligence, Seabiscuit went on to beat American horse racing records and odds of all types. Once an underdog, now a legend.
Back to Madness... the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers is made up of young men that believe in and support each other, led by a Coach (Porter Moser) and a 98-year old team chaplain (Sister Jean Delores Schmidt, AKA “Sister Jean”) that also believe in them and set their stage for success.
There are so many inspiring underdog stories that show what happens when others’ underestimation of us is turned into motivation for success.