Sports from the Inside Out

March Madness: My Experiences with Win or Go Home in Basketball Often overlooked are the heightened emotions of the people actually involved in the games

March Madness: My Experiences with Win or Go Home in Basketball

**Note** This is Example 4/5 of our “coiski 101: 4 Steps on Writing an Effective Personal Narrative” lesson.

There is no better weekend in sports than the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The excitement of office pools, and the inevitable upset is enough to make the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament the least productive days on the work calendar. People root furiously for colleges they have never seen, never heard of and aren’t sure where they are located.
Often overlooked, however, are the heightened emotions of the people actually involved in the games. The agony of losing your championship pick in a first round upset pales in comparison to the agony that coach and the players on the upset teams experience. After 6-8 months of grueling work, long practices, sleepless nights, and being berated by fans and coaches, it’s over in the blink of an eye. The buzzer sounds, and it’s over. Just like that. The players and coaches are left to lick their wounds and struggle with the “what ifs.” Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING will hurt more than a perceived missed opportunity in sports. I know first hand.


You see, I happen to be a coach. As a coach, you work tirelessly to put your team in a position to be successful. Every once in a while, you are lucky enough to have a roster with just the right mix of talents and chemistry that allows for a special season. By every once in a while, I mean like once or twice in your career.

We had that this year. After winning the first game, the coaching staff figured we would be ok, but there was still so much work to do. How deep will we be? Where would our points come from if the star had an off game? Can we be a pressing team or will we have to play zone? Numerous questions floated through our collective minds and conversations. As the season went on, one win led to another. Then, another win turned into a tournament title. Another win, and another title; improving with every game. Before we realized what was going on, we were ranked #1 in the state after starting the season unranked. Not only that, we had an average winning margin of around 30 points per game. It was difficult to appreciate while in it because, again, as a coach you only see things that you need to improve on.
News cameras came. Accolades came. Predictions came. Above all that, the playoffs came. We sported three district titles in a row, a historically winning head coach and not a single loss throughout the regular season; a perfect 30-0. None of it mattered. It was now one and done. One bad game, quarter, or possession could be the end of the season. From this point forward, it was truly win or go home. It’s hard for fans to fathom the pressure of the finality of this reality. As a coach, you know it. Some coaches even subscribe to the thought process of losing one to “get it out of your system.” I am not one of them. My motto is “if you’re going to play, you might as well win.” Why lose when you can just win? I know it’s wordy but you get it. Either way, it was too late to lose now.


Well, we didn’t. We won the first four rounds with relative ease. Then came game number five. It was a game unlike any we played the entire season. It was a close game, but not particularly a good game. Long story short, the game was tied with 18 seconds left when a player on the opposing team broke free for a layup. Just like that; it was over. 34 wins. One, single loss. Season over. One game away from the state’s final four tournament, and 18 seconds away from accomplishing our goal for the season. The buzzer sounded, and it was over. They celebrated. We watched. They cheered. We cried. They cut down the net. We held the runner-up trophy.

This is the reality of sports. In no other walk of life will you experience such invaluable highs matched by such vicious and abrupt lows. These young men will go on to live fruitful lives and be successful in many ways, but they – and I – will always have those last 18 seconds plastered on the billboards of our respective memory lanes.

My fiancée, who provided me with Final Four tickets last year where I watched my beloved North Carolina Tarheels lose in similar fashion in last year’s Championship game, felt my misery. She did last year when “my team” lost, and this year when MY team lost. Being a part of it makes it different. Being in that locker room without answers or a good reason, trying to salvage a silver lining in the midst of a black cloud is a task I wouldn’t place on anyone. Your bracket may be busted, but be glad you don’t have to wipe those tears, or deal with the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve scenarios that haunt the days and nights after.

My Experience of Winning and Losing in Basketball

I am over it now. I have run the full gamut of grief and accepted what cannot be changed. I have moved on to another school, where I will now be the head coach, and start the process all over again. It will be both enjoyable and stressful, but it will be a constant process. While you watch the tournament games and experience the highs of picking an upset or the lows of your team losing, understand the process to get to this point. Know that your disappointment often doesn’t compare to the pain that 67 of the 68 teams will feel. After countless hours of film, practice, and workouts, with one buzzer…it’s over.

**Note** Read the five steps we implemented in creating this article here.

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