Earlier this week, the collegiate sports world learned which of its member institutions were officially selected to play in the NCAA Men’s and Women’s College Basketball Championship Tournaments (respectively). And every sports enthusiast that exists inside the universe that is modern day college sports, soon found that anything outside of the realm of college basketball was about to be overshadowed by the annual three-week eclipse that is better known as March Madness.

March is the time of year when sports pundits launch their on-air courses in “Bracketology” on the networks, radio stations and online outlets, providing them with the platform to pontificate on their predictions. It is also the time of year when office productivity slows to halt with the onset of this unofficial sports holiday. This week, fans toiled over their brackets, entered office pools, and engaged in consistent trash talking (at least until the bracket busting began courtesy of the Harvard Crimson knocking off a highly-touted New Mexico team and Florida Gulf Coast becoming only the seventh #15 seed ever to beat a #2 seed by knocking out Georgetown).
Following the completion of the “First Four” games, 128 teams combined in the Men’s and Women’s Tournaments began their quest to secure college basketball’s most coveted crown. As they embark upon their once-in-a-lifetime journey, perhaps the most valuable learning experience all high school and college student-athletes should take away from watching (or participating in) this process, are the many things March Madness brings to the table that can be applied to their lives both inside and outside the field of competition.
For the teams selected, the next three weeks symbolize the culmination of years of hard work and preparation. Yet there are no guarantees. In life, being fully prepared increases your chances of being successful. But no matter how much you prepare, you will not always emerge victorious. You will be snubbed. You will find yourself on the wrong end of heartbreaking losses, unexpected upsets and buzzer-beating victories. And you will watch as unsuspecting individuals with the chance to shine in the spotlight, step up and do just that and capitalize on their moment.
The things you gain in the pursuit of excellence are extremely valuable. So as you watch the Madness unfold on the court this month, recognize what it took for the teams participating to get there. Understand the level of commitment that is required to create that kind of opportunity and advance to the next round.
In life, you may not get the scholarship you dreamed of, or be selected for the job you prepared and worked so hard to attain. But always be prepared to step into the greatness you were designed for when the opportunity presents itself.
And most of all, enjoy (and learn from) the process of getting there.