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Why Do Upsets Happen?

It is NCAA tournament time and everyone in college basketball is excited to see who will be the champion. Will it be one of the top seeds or will it be a team that few people give a
chance to win a game, or make it to the national championship game? Everyone in sports is always wondering what team or individual is capable of pulling the upset. Why do upsets happen and how do teams react when they fall behind?

No greater example of this happens than in the NCAA tournament. Teams are seeded and evaluated based on their records, strength of schedule and ability of players and coaches. Many teams are favored because of the reputations of their head coaches and their ability to play well in big tournament games. But, no matter what the record, what the reputation or history of the team, upsets occur all the time. So why do they happen? In my opinion, there are several reasons why upsets happen. First and most importantly, I think player’s egos play a huge role. Sometimes teams get way too caught up in their reputation, their statistics and the name on their jersey. They just assume that they will win because of who they are and what they have accomplished. Often, when this happens, they take their opponents lightly and don’t get properly prepared mentally for their game. This can also happen because the athletes spend too much time reading the press clippings about how great they are. Second, some teams start games off way too uptight and tense. Consequently, they may fall behind early and not be prepared for this. This can result in thinking too much about what is wrong and this eventually leads to too much muscle tension and tightness. Then, shots don’t fall and you can find yourself way behind. Third, some teams are just overlooked and not expected to win because they play in a smaller conference and aren’t expected to do well because they don’t have the reputation of their opponent. As a sport psychologist, I believe that the two keys to preventing upsets happen relate to preparation and leadership. If a team is properly prepared, they will have a game plan to handle situations when they are ahead or fall behind. Successful coaches have game plans to deal with these situations and will have prepared their teams on what to do when either of these situations occur. I also believe that the teams that usually succeed have players who aren’t afraid to be team leaders. They can lead either by example or by vocally speaking up. They will be the type of player who will not be afraid to take charge when the pressure is on, take the shot, or speak their mind to their teammates. As long as sports competitions occur, upsets will happen. As I always say, “You can have two athletes of equal physical ability, but the one with the stronger mind will usually be the one who will come out on top.”

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