The Final Four is an amazing experience. Whether you are a basketball fan or not, I highly recommend going at least once (I went two years ago when Trey Burke carried Michigan to the championship game #goblue). It is a weekend when an entire city transforms into an optimism filled carnival for hundreds of thousands of crazed fans who are passionately hoping their team can hang on for two more wins to cut down the nets. People journey from all over the country to enjoy the local festivities, party with other loyal fans, enjoy the free concerts, and root for their alma mater. Two years ago, I specifically remember friends flying in from Chicago, NYC, LA, and Detroit, all landing in Atlanta at about the same time, wearing our Maize and Blue, and immediately feeling the camaraderie that engulfs the city. It is surreal.
Part of the mystique of the Final Four weekend, however, is that it seems like a 3 day party for everyone, but in reality, after the parties end on Saturday night, the atmosphere shifts. Half the people want to go home because their team lost; they have work on Monday and don’t want to waste PTO to watch two teams they don’t care about. The other half realize that the dream can actually become a reality and now they must wait two very long days until game time finally gets there. So just like that, the environment takes a turn to a heightened sense of anxiety in anticipation of the championship game on Monday night. It changes for the teams as well, because they now have less than 48 hours to prepare for the national championship game.
In my opinion, that is the most intriguing element to the final four. These two lucky teams that have the opportunity to play for the title are given a challenge at 10:30pm on Saturday night: “You have less than 48 hours until the big game. In that time you need study the opponent, prepare a game plan, practice the execution…and do it better than your competition.”
Think about your job…sound familiar? What teams and coaches go through from Saturday night to Monday night is the same process you go through to hit your goals, beat a deadline, close a deal, roll a feature, etc. That is why I am so fascinated by this element of the final four. Incredible leaders and world class teams have less than two days, countless moving pieces, limited resources, and a binary outcome on the line. When you put it into perspective, the players actually seem human and the experience feels tangible (although we don’t all have millions of people watch us play). I absolutely love that!
At the end of the day, winning the national championship is the task at hand. Just like you in your job, there are three critical pieces that teams need to do to get ready:
Research & Prepare: By the time teams reach the championship game, their opponent is so talented and so well coached that creating the right game plan is critical. The entire coaching staff takes watching film to another level. They need to understand the opponent, create in-depth scouting reports for every player, know the patterns they fall into, their offensive sets, and defensive strategy. All of this information enables coaches to anticipate what the competition is going to do and proactively make decisions to stay one step ahead.
Identify and Learn from Top Performers: How have other teams succeeded in the past? How have others broken down their defense and stopped their offensive rhythm? How did the last team get their big guy in early foul trouble? These are some of the best practices that need to be learned and incorporated into the game plan.
Practice, Practice, Practice: The research has been done, game plan built, and best practices identified. Great work! But that game plan needs to be learned and applied so the team can execute during the game. So in the limited time that remains, teams need to study game tape, practice their execution tirelessly, and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Then, for 40 minutes, two teams try to seamlessly execute on two very quick days of preparation and practice. Whichever team does it better will be crowned champion.
So when you watch the game tonight, think about what these players and coaches did over the last two days just to have a chance to win. Pretty amazing. Would love to hear how you have prepared for a big win as a leader or player.