March Madness Psychology – 3 Things to Know


It is the time of year that basketball fans wait for all-year-long.  The excitement and drama of the NCAA basketball tournament for men and women will play out over the next month ending in a winner-take-all one-game finale.  In this post we will look at March Madness psychology to understand what makes this tournament so exhilarating.

To understand the mayhem, you have to understand the March Madness psychology.

  1. First, on a cognitive level, the athletes are in a tumultuous state of development. Emotions are being fueled by powerful neurochemicals and the decision center of the prefrontal cortex is still being formed.  This combination alone leads to erratic behavior and performance, mostly due to the wide emotional spectrum experienced by the athletes during the tournament and the physical toll this roller-coaster exacts.
  2. March Madness psychology is an endurance event with moments of frantic physical and mental effort. March Madness lasts nearly a month, more if you count the divisional tournaments.  This means players have to stay engaged through constant travel, adapting to new environments, missing loved ones, media interviews, and a grueling game schedule.  Most of us have a problem staying focused and engaged in our vocation for more than a week; these elite athletes have to do it for a month at the end of an already long regular season. In addition to this endurance, these athletes are expected to ramp-up their effort and focus during critical parts of the game.  Why do some 15th ranked teams beat #2s?  Odds are, the #2 team came out flat or shoots 20% from the field…sure signs of mental fatigue and a lack of engagement.
  3. March Madness psychology is also about understanding how chance and statistics impact the psychology of the players. A significant portion of sport outcomes involve chance.  We have all heard the statement, “the good make their own luck,” and this is true to some degree.  However, when a lesser team blows out a national power by shooting 70% from the 3-point line, it is the forces of statistics, not the magic of a hot hand at work.  And it is chance that this statistical shooting anomaly happened during the NCAA tournament and not in the opening round of a pre-season tournament.  How players respond to the fickle whim of chance is determined by resilience.  Resilience is a critical part of March Madness psychology and is impacted by emotional intelligence, confidence, leadership, and team cohesion.

Now, while you are watching your bracket getting demolished by upsets, you will have a greater understanding of the hidden forces of March Madness psychology.  These uncertain and dynamic psychological forces will play a significant role in determining the next NCAA national champion.  Did you consider the March Madness psychology factor when you completed your bracket?


There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, mental toughness and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and team-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.