How to motivate your team to win when the odds are not good

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Last year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament was excellent. There were a lot of exciting games. The championship game went down to the wire — a true thriller. I have already mentioned this in previous posts, and I will say it again. Leaders can learn a lot from sports. Many of these lessons are directly applicable to the real world.

Notre Dame won the women’s tournament last year. They were not supposed to win it all. Sure — Notre Dame was a #1 seed. They were expected to make the final four, but not win the tournament. The University of Connecticut women’s team was the odds-on favorite. All signs pointed to them winning it all. Just look at their performance going into the finals.

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UConn destroyed several opponents going into the final game.

Notre Dame lost several games during the year. Connecticut did not. They were 32–0 going into the tournament. They have a legendary program and coach. Notre Dame — not so much. How were they able to win when they were expected to lose? This post will explore how Notre Dame was able to beat UConn in the final four.

Notre Dame women win the tournament
Notre Dame women win the tournament
Notre Dame Fighting Irish hoists the NCAA championship trophy. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When it comes to women’s college basketball UConn is a winner. According to Wikipedia, the UConn Huskies are the most successful women’s basketball program in the nation, having won a record 11 NCAA Division I National Championships and a women’s record four in a row, from 2013 through 2016, plus over 40 conference regular season and tournament championships.

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The UConn basketball arena is covered in championship banners.

Coach Geno Auriemma has been there since 1985. His 1027–135 (.884) record as of March 2018 represents the highest winning percentage among NCAA basketball coaches (minimum 10 seasons), for any level, men’s or women’s. To put it mildly — they are the giant of women’s college basketball. The natural question that follows is how do you motivate your team to defeat the giant. Let’s admit it your team must stand tall when facing the giant. To do otherwise will likely result in a loss, perhaps even a devastating one.

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has won 11 national championships.
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has won 11 national championships.
UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has won 11 national championships.

First and foremost your team must be convinced that they can beat the giant. The idea of winning must exist in their minds. Otherwise, it is almost certain they will lose. A team that believes it is impossible to win will lose. It is rare for a team to accidentally win when facing a formidable opponent. It just does not happen. It is your role as a leader to set the example when it comes to proper mindset. If you do not believe your team can win it will show, and your team will notice. They will look to you for reassurance that winning is possible. Don’t disappoint them.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

The larger the giant you are facing the more your team will rely on you to motivate them. If you do not believe your team can win then why in the world should they. If you are afraid of the giant and show a lack of confidence, then don’t be surprised if your team responds the same way. The team feeds off the leader, not the other way around.

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Famous fearless girl statue in New York City.

If you are waiting for your team to motivate themselves you are probably the wrong leader. You must show confidence even if in your heart of hearts you know winning is a long shot. Notre Dame was well prepared to face its giant. You can tell that Notre Dame’s coach did a great job mentally preparing her team for battle. They believed they could win, and it showed.

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw, believes in being prepared.
Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw, believes in being prepared.
Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw, believes in being prepared.

The UConn Huskies are great champions. They did not roll over and lose easily. No. As you would expect, they put up quite a fight against Notre Dame. In fact, the game ended in a tie and went into triple overtime. It is not often that games take that long to determine the outcome. In order to win Notre Dame had to play an extended game. When facing a giant like UConn don’t be surprised if you have to take your team further than they are used to going. It is the price you must be willing to pay to win.

Bottom line, you are either a risk taker, or you are not. If you don’t take risks, you will never win big.

Coach Geno Auriemma

As a leader, you should prepare your team for overtime. Set the expectation beforehand that they may need to deliver above and beyond what it normally takes to win. That way they are not surprised when extra effort is required. They will be ready rather than deflated when it takes longer than normal to close.

Notre Dame beat UConn on a last second shot in triple overtime.
Notre Dame beat UConn on a last second shot in triple overtime.
Notre Dame beat UConn on a last second shot in triple overtime.

In business, there are many great companies. Several of them may be your competitors. I do not know of many industries that are not highly contested. Remember that great opponents will not go away quietly. They will want the win as much, if not more than your team.

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Tennessee is another legendary program that was led by Pat Summit for years.

It is a mistake that I have witnessed many times in my career. We thought too much of ourselves and too little of our competition. In the end, we paid the price. They won, and we lost. Avoid a losing scenario by expecting greatness from your competitors, especially the ones you know can deliver the goods. Use that narrative to help motivate your team. Tell them that they need to give their best to win. You better believe that the Notre Dame coach prepared her team by reminding them who they were up against. They did not underestimate their opponent. Instead, they faced the giant and won.

There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent

Lao Tzu

What about you? Are you ready to lead your team to victory against all odds? Is your team ready to face the giant and win? I hope so. Good leaders win when they are expected to win. Great leaders know how to win, even when the odds are not good. They somehow figure out a way to face down the giant and lead their team to victory. If you are that kind of leader — congratulations. They are rare in this world. If you do not know how to lead in that way don’t worry. All The Way Leadership! is here to help.

I hope you join me on this journey to raise up the next generation of leaders. The world is in desperate need of more great leaders. Women and men who lead with confidence, clarity, and creativity. It’s time to become the leader that your world needs. Let’s go All The Way!

All The Way Leadership!

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All The Way Leadership! will help you become a strong leader by teaching you the three core competencies of leadership: confidence, clarity, and creativity. Visit https://www.allthewayleadership.com/ to find out more

Leader and learner. Father of two young men. Novice blogger, www.lettertosons.com, Founder of All The Way Leadership! http://www.allthewayleadership.com/

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