Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

10 Life Lessons We Can Learn From The 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament

duke-blue-devils-NCAA-national-champs-400x242Life Lessons Learned From This Year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament

We just completed a fantastic NCAA tournament and though for me the greatest part of March Madness was that the team who has been my favorite team since 1986, the Duke Blue Devils, won the National Championship, there was far more than just a championship that grabbed my attention this year.   One day after that great final game, I sat down and made a list of 10 life lessons that even if you are not a sports fan can learn from what we witnessed this March and early April.

  1. Enjoy Every Moment – For many, One of the greatest  memories coming out of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was Georgia State’s RJ Hunter hitting the game winning shot that caused his coach/father, Ron Hunter, to completely fall off his stool in celebration.   That had to be one of the proudest moments that father had ever had, coaching his son who hits the game winning shot.  However, what stood out to me was Ron Hunter’s words later when he said that he wanted to enjoy this time tournament with his son as a father, not merely as his coach.  He stated that he was enjoying every minute , soaking in every moment, of his time in the tournament.


What an incredible truth that we all need to take to heart.  Our moments on earth are fleeting.  Those times to be treasured with our families are here today and gone tomorrow.   Ron Hunter knew that his coaching time with his son would be over soon.  His relationship with him would never be the same again, so he made sure he enjoyed every moment he could.

What about the people in your life?  Your family?  Your closest friends?  If you are a coach, like I am, what about your players?  Do you treasure and enjoy every minute you have with them?  Your time with each of those closest to you is fleeting.  One day, it will be over.  Don’t let the time slip away from you.  Enjoy every moment.

  1. Don’t Ever Give Up – It seems that every year in the tournament, there are teams who have no business winning a game, somehow pulling off the miracle and beating a much better opponent. Often times, these wins come when a team is trailing with seemingly very little chance to win, yet they continue to play with a never say die  And when it is done, they somehow manage to pull off the great upset.  2015 was no different.  How many people had their brackets completely busted by  a team winning that no one expected to win?

That never give up attitude needs to permeate through every aspect of our lives.    No matter how bleak things appear to be, no matter how much it seems there is no chance, don’t ever give up on the people in your life, the circumstances in your life, and especially yourself.  I sometimes wonder what we miss out on and what great things didn’t get accomplished because we gave up too soon.  Just as in so many tournament games, it is never over until the final buzzer sounds, our lives are never over until that final buzzer calls us home.  Until then, don’t ever give up.

  1. When you play for each other rather than playing for yourself, you accomplish more.  – One of the reoccurring themes you heard in postgame press conferences  this year was how that particular group of guys played that season more for each other than they did themselves.  As a result, those teams as a whole were much better than the sum of their parts.  Perhaps no one epitomized that concept more than the Wisconsin Badgers, who came within a couple of breaths of winning the whole thing.  This was a group of guy who hung together after last year’s heart-breaking loss in the semi-finals, committing themselves to each other to return to make another run at a championship.   Throughout the year and the tournament, they played hard, played smart, and played together like few basketball teams do.

In virtually every facet of our lives, whether it be our job, our family, our church, or some cause or organization that we believe in, we will always rise higher and make a stronger impact when we live for other people instead of ourselves.  When we become part of something that is bigger than ourselves, that is when we find success.    Conversely, if we live for mainly ourselves, failure becomes the end result.

Allow me to challenge you to live to love and serve others instead of living for yourself.  Although that has become a forgotten fact, that living to show love to other people is what Jesus Christ said is the one essential thing that proves who follows Him and who does not.

  1. To be successful, you must learn to change and adapt. Many Duke haters will want to argue the greatness of Coach K, but the one thing that can’t be debated is his ability to adapt and to change to be successful.  During his three decade plus tenure of coaching at Duke, he has changed and adapted his style to keep up with the changing times.  The way he coached his first national championship team is not the same way he coached any of his other four national championship teams.  His style of play changes to match the players he has and he always adapts to the needs of his players as to how he leads and motivates them.

However, as a basketball coach, one of the things that most impresses me about Coach K as a coach is his ability to adjust things during any given game.   How many times in this year’s tournament alone, did he make a simple adjustment here and there to bring his team from the brink of defeat to the victor’s podium?   Whether it was changing from their staple man-to-man defense to a zone defense or changing their offensive formations to exploit a mismatch, Coach K once again has proven that he is a master of in-game adaption.  One only has to look at the final 9:00 minutes of the championship game to see this point.  Down by nine points and his star player going to the bench with four fouls, his Blue Devil team outscored the Badgers 29-15 the rest of the way.

How many of us learn to adapt and change in the areas of our lives that we live?  Do we face each person and each situation as unique or do we rely on doing the same thing as we always do.  Parents, do you deal with each of your children the same way?  Do you raise them the exact same way as you were raised?  Or do you adapt to the changing times and pressures?  Do you adapt to the needs of each of your children?

In any area of our lives, if we stay stuck in doing things the way we always have, without adapting and changing, then it is doubtful that any of those areas of our lives will ever be truly successful.  Why?  Because our focus is on the formula and not on the people.   If you focus on the people you walk through life with, then all those relationships and what comes out of it, will be more successful.

  1. Without hard work and preparation, nothing great is accomplished. – As I watched the tournament games this year, there were times I was very impressed with the preparation teams put into scouting their opponents.   It went far deeper than know the spots on the floor where people liked to shoot or what mismatches they could exploit.  In some games, it was if a team knew exactly what their opponent was going to do.  Some of these teams were so well coached that each player automatically knew how to adjust when they had been forced into a mismatch.  They could not have done this without a lot of hard work and preparation.

Many of us dream of winning our own version of the national championship in different areas of our lives.  We want our family to win.  We want our career to win.  We want other interests in our lives to win.  But none of those will win if we are not willing to put in the hard work and preparation needed to make us win.  It takes time and it takes effort.  Nothing great is accomplished just by showing up.  You have to work and you have to prepare.  That is the only way to accomplish great things.


  1. Greatness is temporary and fleeting – All we heard about all year was how great Kentucky was.  How no one could beat them.  They would be that first undefeated National Champions since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers pulled the feat in 1976.  They were anointed as National Champions before the tournament ever began.  Yet, just like the 1991 mighty undefeated UNLV team who had been called by some the greatest team ever, this Kentucky Wildcat team fell in the semi-finals.  Once again, the undefeated team went home without a championship.  Their greatness was temporary and two other teams battled for the crown.

Always keep in mind that greatness is fleeting.  We are only as good as what we do today.  Sometimes the worst mistakes people can make is living on their laurels and not doing the little things to continue to get better.  No matter what area in your life you are thinking about, if you are not continually improving and getting stronger, the greatness that you might feel will be temporary.  Your job may be great right now.  Your family may be great right now.  Your finances may be great right now.  But in one single moment, a Wisconsin might sweep in and destroy your dream.  Keep working, keep striving, and keep getting better in every area of your life so no one can ever “badger” you into defeat.


  1. Win with dignity and lose with class – Perhaps more than any other year that I have watched the tournament, this year showed the worst side of coaches and players in defeat. From a few Kentucky players walking off the court after their loss without shaking hands with the team who beat them to Wisconsin’s  coach, Bo Ryan refusing to acknowledge Duke’s play, but instead blaming the officials for their loss, this tournament showed how not to face defeat.

Before this year, it has been common practice to praise your opponents for outplaying you.  But this year showed what I fear might become more and more common.  Play the blame game.  What are we teaching the younger generation when we blame others for our losses.   It is not your fault.  Someone cheated you.  You are not to blame.    Whatever you do, don’t take responsibility for what happened to you.   As a coach, I know that I cannot let my players blame anyone else for their losses.  As long as they don’t take personal responsibility and blame other people, then they will never learn what it takes to win.

Isn’t it that way in life too?  When we don’t take responsibilities for our own failures, no matter what area of life they are in, we will never truly succeed in those areas.   Blaming your relationship issues on the other person will never teach you what you need to do to change.  Blaming your failure at your job on your co-workers or even your boss will always lead to continued failure.

That is why in every area of our lives, we need to learn to succeed or win with dignity and when we fail or lose, we do it with class.  We take responsibility for our failure, learn from it, and move on.

  1. Defense still wins championships – From a basketball coach’s perspective and a sports enthusiast in general, I love those teams who still make defense a major part of their game. A year ago, Connecticut rode their great defense to a national championship.  This year, the Duke Blue Devils took their defensive prowess to the next level holding opponents to the lowest scoring average in NCAA post shot clock tournament history.   For years, I have termed the final four minutes of a game, “Winning Time” and this year’s Blue Devils seemed to find a way in the final segment of each big game to turn up their defensive intensity.  Their defense, especially down the stretch, became the biggest reason they were able to win many of their games – including the championship game.

For me, in this age of the glitz glamor of offense, it is refreshing to see a team hang its hat on and win with defense.  However, in my musings about the greatness of Duke’s Defense in this tournament, I came to the realization that in many ways we too need to hang our hats on our ability to defend against those things in our lives that pull us down.   For many of us, in many areas, if we don’t put up defenses in our lives, we WILL be crushed.  We will fall to external attacks and pressures.   Stress will eat at us until we break, relationships will be strained to the point of crumbling, and we will break down both physically and emotionally.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If we know our weaknesses (and we all should know where we are weakest) then we need to learn how to defend against it.  If you want to keep from losing in any area of your life, then learn to play defense in your life.  Learn to stop your opponents that are set to beat you.  Defense really does win.

  1. Sometimes, it is the role players in our lives that propel us to greatness – If you watched the NCAA National Championship Game, you saw two of Duke’s best players go to the bench in foul trouble with the Blue Devils trailing by nine points in the second half. Enter, little used reserve freshman wing player, Grayson Allen.  The same Grayson Allen who did not even get off the bench the first time Duke played Wisconsin.  However, in the championship game, Allen stood taller than he had all season, scoring 8 straight points (16 for the game) to bring his team back into the game.  It would not be a stretch at all to say that without Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils would not have won Coach K’s fifth national championship.

Just as Grayson Allen’s play propelled Duke to the championship, we all have those people in our lives who may not be the front and center of what we do or are all about.  But for any of us who ever has or ever will accomplish anything great in our lives, we have to know that without the help of others, we would never win that championship.  So whatever it is that you accomplish in life, make sure that you find your Grayson Allen’s that are part of your life and acknowledge them for their part in the accomplishments achieved.

  1. Each day look for that one shining moment – One of the last scenes each year of the NCAA tournament is the video montage that CBS puts together celebrating the shining moments of the nearly month long magical spectacle we call March Madness. This video captures the highs and lows of all ends of the emotional spectrum that runs through the tournament as the words, “One Shining Moment” are repeated throughout the montage.  We see the buzzer beating shots and the great plays of the tournament.  We feel with its participants both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  But in the end, we are left saluting not just the National Champion team, but every team that played in this magical tournament – every team that had their shining moments.

I want to challenge you to find that shining moment in every day of your life.  Don’t just acknowledge and find joy in your championships, but find happiness and contentment in each day of your journey.  Just as the CBS video crew captures those magic moments from each game in the tournament, each day of our lives has those shining moments for us to capture.  We just have to look for them, find them, acknowledge them, and celebrate them.  Every day will have at least one shining moment.  Celebrate it.  It will make you a happier and more content person.

May the NCAA tournament and March Madness always remind you of the good things in life.


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