Just Ask the Michigan Wolverines Basketball Team
As an Ohio State Buckeyes fan, nothing in sports nauseates me more than having to say something good about Michigan. Usually, of course, I don’t have to. Ohio State gives me plenty to write about on SportsEpreneur. I’ve used stories about the Buckeyes to write about perception, forming alliances with the competition, getting over a tough loss, how a bad loss may be a big win, and how a key employee can make a difference. You can expect more Buckeye articles in the future. But for now, I want to talk about perspective, and the best example of that I can think of is the Michigan basketball team led by John Beilein.
In March, Michigan’s basketball team was on their way to play in the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C. when something went wrong and their plane slid off the runway. Suddenly, the basketball tournament was the last thing on anybody’s mind—everyone was just glad nobody got hurt. Tragedy can strike at any time, and the Michigan team got a dramatic reminder that it could have struck them.
How did the players react? Did they get scared and distracted and play badly? Did they decide basketball isn’t important anyway and run off to work on their bucket lists, or something?
They played better than ever. They won that first-round game in the Big 10 Tournament, a big deal emotionally, right after the accident, but it wasn’t a huge surprise. But then Michigan played Purdue, a higher ranked team, and won. Then Minnesota—another win. Then, they matched up against Wisconsin in the championship game of the tournament. Wisconsin had just given Northwestern one of their worst losses of the season, but it was Michigan who beat Wisconsin, 71-56. Michigan, the eight seed in the Big 10 Tournament had just won the conference championship.
You could tell me they just got hot, or that other teams didn’t play well, but I would say emphatically that more was going on. Something about that near-miss on the airplane carried them through to this championship.
And even then, the winning streak wasn’t over. Michigan found themselves as a seventh seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they got to play against the number one offensive team in the country, Oklahoma State University. Michigan won in a closely fought one-point game. Next, they went up against one of the better teams in the country, the Louisville Cardinals. Very tough matchup for anyone, but Michigan won, 73-69. Louisville was the second seed, and considered by many a Final Four team. Michigan had another plan.
Oregon finally beat Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen when a game winning three-point shot just missed, but it was a great run, especially when you consider that Michigan’s season was kind of mediocre, otherwise. I mean, Ohio State beat them on their own home court, and honestly, Ohio State was dreadful this year. Obviously, something happened to make that hope a reality.
Maybe it’s that the team became a family in the moment of possible tragedy, and that sense of closeness helped them rally together. But I think it’s also that they realized basketball is only a game—a game that they love and are lucky to get to play.
It’s easy, in basketball or in any other pursuit, to get hung up on details, difficulties, and thoughts about what happens if you make a mistake. That stress is distracting, and it takes up a lot of energy. Sometimes the stakes are indeed high, but usually they’re not. Compared to surviving a plane wreck, basketball is a piece of cake. Sure, it’s better to win, but a loss is not the end of the world. I believe that Michigan realized that, and the new perspective allowed them to relax and to focus. All that freed-up energy is what gave them their winning streak.
The reality is that most of us probably take our work way too seriously, and we’d be a lot better at it if we realized we are incredibly lucky, privileged individuals and the sky is not going to fall if the next deal falls through.
You don’t necessarily have to be scared within an inch of your life to learn this particular lesson. Maybe you were, and maybe you can get some needed perspective from thinking about the event, or maybe you can learn from others’ experience. On the other hand, maybe your source of perspective is something good, like spending time with your kids, or going for a walk in the woods with your dog. Whatever it is, let it help you take a step back and get a good look at what’s really important.
That’s what Michigan did, and it’s called getting some perspective.