Life Lessons from the Maryland Terrapins

March Madness came to a frenzied end this week as the Maryland Terrapins came back from a 13 point deficit to beat the Duke Blue Devils in overtime. As the youngest team and coach to win a National Championship, they weren’t supposed to win it all. This was supposed to be the year of a more established powerhouse like North Carolina, Duke, LSU, or Tennessee. Freshmen and sophomores aren’t supposed to make clutch shots and they most certainly aren’t supposed to have the poise to beat teams that no one else could beat all season. So what happened? Maryland never got that memo and defied all the odds because they believed they could.

While watching all the games along the way and reading news on the internet, I discovered a number of interesting tidbits that in my opinion set this team apart and enabled them to win it all.

Here are the key life lessons that can be drawn from the brilliant coaching strategy of Brenda Frese and the outstanding performances of her players.


Repeatedly Coach Frese is quoted as saying “They believed in themselves, they believed in each other”. An unshakable belief that they could beat even the toughest opponents and ultimately win the national title formed the foundation for their success.


As individuals and as a team they displayed an undeniable confidence in their skills, their passion, and the power of possibility.

Age is just a number

Over and over the media and other disbelievers pronounced the disadvantages of youth — not enough poise — not enough experience in big games — they won’t be able to step up under pressure. Not only did the team bust all these myths but showed up big on all accounts and displayed maturity beyond their years both on and off the court.

Focus and step into your destiny

One of the key success factors in any endeavor is to have a compelling vision to pull you forward and to act as-if even when you have not yet arrived at your goal. In January Coach Frese took her team to the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston to see where the Final Four would be played. She empowered her team to BE in the goal and act as-if knowing that they would be able to see and feel their goal each and every day along the road to the championship.

Chunk it down

What I consider one of the most brilliant coaching approaches I’ve heard in a long team was Coach Frese’s strategy to keep her young squad focused and out of the perils of overwhelm. Rather than approach a tough opponent with the thought that they needed to go out there for 40 minutes and beat the #1 team in the nation, she chunked it down. She coached her team in 4-5 minute increments encouraging them to play full out and simply win the next 4 minutes till the next TV time out. A perfect way to avoid overwhelm this laser-like focus can make the seemingly insurmountable possible.

Don’t panic and Don’t get down on yourself

In the championship game, Maryland was down by as many as 13 points and rallied to take the game into overtime. Despite an ugly first half of basketball the players never panicked and the coach never gave up. Whereas some coaches start screaming like banshees and tear into their players, Frese stayed positive. She was animated alright and certainly was direct and in the face of at least one player who wasn’t stepping up to the plate. But, she could be seen pacing the sidelines and yelling encouragement to her players who never lost faith in themselves and their ability to make the tough clutch bucket even those players who were experiencing a shooting slump most of the night. At no point while they were behind did the players give up or back down. This relentless confidence and positive attitude coupled with heart and poise made even my doubting girlfriend (who always thinks there’s not enough time for a team to make a comeback once they get down by a lot) believe they could come back and win.

Have fun

Even in the big games the coach stressed getting out there, playing ball and having fun. After all, what good is striving and reaching a goal if you’re not having any fun along the way? This attitude of fun kept them loose and allowed them to adjust when things were not working.

3 thoughts on “Life Lessons from the Maryland Terrapins”

  1. great observations, paula! as a proud terrapin alumna myself, it was 'one shining moment' to see them prevail. Beware the turtle…

    seems to me this applies in business too – just because a business moves slow in it's youth doesn't mean it can't come on strong and survive…

    as you observed – the keys are there for all to see – perseverance, getting focused on doing one thing right vs. trying too many/multi-tasking, keeping the faith, experimenting, etc.

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