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In the wake of his underdog Auburn Tigers basketball team losing a shot at the title game in 2019, Head Coach Bruce Pearl did an interview about his team’s tournament run on ESPN. In the waning moments of the national semifinal game, there was a missed double dribble call that would have given the ball to Auburn. Instead, the missed call led to an out of bounds play where Virginia Coach Tony Bennett drew up a play that yielded an open three point shot, that missed, but his shooter was fouled giving him three shots to win the game. Down by two, the Virginia player made all three free throws to win the game, and put Auburn’s incredible NCAA tournament run to an end in the national semifinal game. It left fans to wonder, would Auburn be playing in the national championship game if the double dribble had been called?

Bruce Pearl had this to say about his team’s unique situation:

“Do we only give God the Glory when we win?”
“People make mistakes…things happen…it’s part of the game…get over it.”

What’s interesting is that the team who beat them, Virginia went through a similar tough situation last year when they were the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in NCAA basketball tournament history. Coach Bennett could have blamed the fact they had an injured player or a variety of other things, but instead, he handled it this way:

There is no surprise that with leadership like this, Virginia was back as a #1 seed and had that final four clash with the other leader in this post, Bruce Pearl, only one year later.

When leaders like Coach Pearl and Coach Bennett respond in humility and professionally owning the situation instead of blaming others, they are actually increasing their ability to be effective leaders. All of the athletes on those teams who experienced this leadership will always remember how to deal with difficult and disappointing situations going forward. The fan bases will never forget it either.

Both coaches both helped sports be the educational environment it was meant to be by teaching those they lead how to handle disappointment and challenge with grace, humility, and a determination to move forward with lessons learned and to grow.

Thanks Coach Pearl and Coach Bennett for being leaders who develop grit in those they lead through educational athletics.

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