One of the hardest things about sports is accepting failure and facing the odds. Whether in the form of individual chokes or team downfalls, every athlete has been there.
That’s just the nature of competition. No matter what, there is always a loser. When trailing by more than five runs, or when down by a couple of goals, it’s easy to accept your reality and throw in the towel.
But what defines a team is how it chooses to respond to adversity and how the athletes go about clearing their heads in order to keep fighting.
Many people believe sports are all about preparation and fundamentals.
Sure, that accounts for a good deal of performance. The fundamentals can never hurt. However, the team that is more prepared doesn’t necessarily walk away with the “W.”
Preparation is key but it’s the desire to win that can be a game changer. Execution and heart prevails in the nail-biters.
An overwhelming desire to win is contagious. If one player brings that desire, the teams’ entire mindset changes in an instant, forging a sense of resilience and indestructibility.
Look back to the championship game of the 2009 NCAA hockey tournament.
There are two sides to this story that are relevant.
First off, Miami University (23-13-4) snuck into the tournament with an at-large bid as the 16 seed. Meanwhile, Boston University (35-6-4) entered the tournament as the favorite after being ranked No. 1 and dominating the Hockey East during regular season play.
Prior to 2009, BU made 10 appearances in the NCAA championship game, whereas Miami never even extended play past the eighth round.
Based on these statistics, BU was expected to dominate Miami and take the championship.
But the thing that makes sports so compelling is that you’re given a clean slate every time you take the field or, in this case, the ice. There is always the possibility of an upset.
As highlighted by nearly every inspirational sports movie ever made, everyone knows the same team that gets dismantled in regular season play, can go on to win the college world series or the NCAA tournament the very same year.
Preparation is only half of it. The team has to learn to feed off a source of emotion and channel it towards a collective goal — in this case, a championship — ignoring all the odds stacked against it.
Throughout the ‘09 tournament, Miami didn’t let expectations and predictions constrain it. The RedHawks played their asses off, motored through team after team and secured a spot in the championship game, setting themselves up for a classic underdog story of their own.
But the game itself proved to be far different than anyone could have predicted.
Miami was just moments away from completing its underdog story. It led BU 3-1 with only a minute left in the final period.
Any natural — excuse me — any pessimistic thought at the time would be, “There’s only a minute left, it would take a miracle to tie things up. This game’s over.” But the Terriers refused to give in to their assumed fate and demonstrated absolute determination to win. BU took the ice, forgot about the logistics of the game, and played with soul.
Resisting defeat, BU locked into rally mode and mustered up two goals to tie the game, dragging Miami into overtime.
It didn’t stop there. After erupting into celebration after the tying goal, BU fed off the exhilaration and snatched its fifth national championship right out from under Miami.
When questioned about the remarkable comeback after the game, sophomore forward Nick Bonino said, “We knew what we had to do. The national championship was up for grabs, and we weren’t going to stop until the buzzer sounded. We proved that we’re a resilient bunch.”
Playing in the heat of the moment with an overwhelming determination to win changes the nature of the game. Comebacks and upsets aren’t accomplished by worrying about the little things. They’re fueled by emotion and a competitive mindset to trust your instincts and do whatever it takes to win.
Nothing you do in training will prepare you for failure, and unfortunately failure will always happen. But you can learn to channel your failures into an even greater desire to win.