What March Madness Taught Me About Myself

I’ve always loved basketball. The fast-paced, high-scoring adrenaline. The squeaking of sneakers on the shiny wood floor. The chanting and cheering in the bleachers. The arms on Dwight Howard. I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t a basketball fan.

The peak of my soccer career, circa 1998

The peak of my soccer career, circa 1998

If I think back reaaally far, I can remember when it all began. I was in third grade. Up until then, I’d been a soccer player. And a swimmer. And a dancer. And a gymnast. But I’d already moved on from swimming, and dance and gymnastics were week night activities, so soccer was the sport that dominated my weekends. But, you see, my teenaged sister also played soccer. High school varsity soccer, to be exact. And so it was in third grade that I decided to stop living in my older sister’s shadow. Soccer was her thing.

That’s when I decided that basketball would be my thing.

Now, if you don’t know me personally, I’ll go ahead and fill you in on something. As full grown 21-year-old woman, I’m 5’2” on a good day, and the only things keeping me above 100 pounds are my mandatory weightlifting sessions and (not mandatory) love for enchiladas. But in third grade, basketball was my calling. I signed up for co-ed YMCA basketball, and for a few years I was a pretty kick ass point guard (so I like to think). Insert ball handling joke here.

I stuck with it for a few years, but overall, my basketball career was short-lived. But true love never dies. During my stint as a baller (I even had a picture frame from Claire’s that said “Bball Chick”), my mom started a tradition of buying my dad and I multi-packs of tickets to Orlando Magic basketball games. That tradition continued throughout my high school years, and it established my loyalty as a life-long Magic fan.

Now THIS is what you call a fan...

Now THIS is what you call a fan…

It wasn’t until I became a college athlete myself, however, that I really began to appreciate college basketball. But once I got it, I got it. My enthusiasm for college basketball only sky-rocketed this past year as The George Washington Colonials kicked major ass all season and found themselves in the NCAA Tournament.

And this year, I filled out my first bracket. I’d always appreciated March Madness. I always tuned in for the championship, and maybe a few sweet 16 games, as well. But it wasn’t until I filled out my own bracket that I really understood the madness. I was addicted. I was watching every game; I even had my laptop open to the St. Louis/NC State game while I watched Scandal. I was obsessed with how my bracket was doing, and I didn’t even bet any money on it.

It was doing well – really well – for the first couple days of the tournament. And then, something happened.

I believe it began after the GW game. I had missed a few important upsets – Dayton over Ohio State, Mercer over Duke – but I had predicted a few more correctly, and I was fairing relatively well. But, in a fit of school spirit, I’d seeded GW to advance all the way to the Final Four. I mean, they are my team. I’m a Colonial. We fought a good fight, but that loss hit me hard. My bracket and I moved down a few spots.

Without my team in the running, things became a little less exciting. But the thought of being within reach of the number-one spot within my group kept me watching the games, checking back, even if I was now doing so half-heartedly. But each day, there were a few more losses, a few more wrong predictions, and I began checking back less and less. By the time Florida lost to Connecticut, I had no one left in my bracket to cheer for- no hopes at another victory. My once obsessive refreshing of pages turned into a complete afterthought. I lost my zeal.

I had never considered myself a competitive person. In fact, I always saw my lack of competitive nature as a flaw, especially as an athlete. March Madness taught me that I’ve been wrong this whole time. Maybe I am not addicted to competition, but I am addicted to winning. My flaw is not a lack of competitive flair – it is how easily I lost that flair. I didn’t avoid filling out a bracket for years because I didn’t care about the competition. I avoided filling out a bracket because I didn’t want to lose. But is there harm in choosing battles you can win?

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