News and Tribune


March 20, 2014

MAY: We should all expect more

— With the NCAA tournament starting, many fans have incredible expectations for their favorite team.

Las Vegas odds-makers began running the chances of winning the championship this week for all of the teams involved. According to, Florida is the favorite to win it all with 5 to 1 odds. Louisville comes in at 8 to 1, while Kentucky is a 50 to 1 choice.

The biggest longshots? 12th seeded North Dakota State who will play Oklahoma and 12th seeded Harvard who will play Cincinnati are both given a 1,000 to 1 shot.

We are thinking right now about some classic match-ups in sports, and it made me wonder. Do the expectations placed upon a team help or hinder their chances for success? For example, do the unreal expectations of the fan base for the University of Kentucky give the team an edge or does it actual deter their success?

Perhaps you have heard of a Harvard study that I read about in a book by Leo Buscaglia, “Living, Loving, Learning.” The researchers from Harvard went to an elementary school teacher at the beginning of the school year and told her they had designed a test which could accurately predict which students were going to grow intellectually during the coming year. They called the test “The Harvard Test of Intellectual Spurts,” because it told which students were going to “spurt” that year.

The researchers promised it would pick the right students and that it was incredibly accurate.

The researchers gained permission to give the test, but unknown to the teachers, they administered an old, obsolete IQ test. When the students finished the test, the papers were collected and the researchers threw them away without looking at the results. Then they picked five names at random from the class roster.

They sat down with the teacher and said here are the students in your class who are going to have an exceptional year. One of the kids was Rachel Smith and the teacher was incredulous. “She would not spurt if you shot her out of a cannon. I have had her two brothers and each of the Smiths is dumber than the last.”

The researchers maintained that the test hardly ever was wrong in its predictions. They encouraged the teacher to set aside her feelings about the family and that Rachel’s progress would be easily observed.

You can imagine what happened. Rachel never had a chance to be her same old self.

“Rachel, would you write on the board this morning?” “Rachel will lead the line to the lunch room today.” “Is that a new dress Rachel? It surely is pretty.” “Thank you Rachel, that was very good.”

Rachel spurted — beyond what even the teacher imagined. So did the other names on the list.

Expectations help set the standard. They provide motivation, vision and direction. Sam Walton, American businessman, entrepreneur and founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club, said “high expectations are the key to everything.” Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” commented, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

Unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment, so it is important to set realistic ones that stretch but do not predetermine failure. James Pennington, columnist for, said that the disappointment among many UK fans this season is based more upon unrealistic preseason expectations of 40 and 0 rather than upon performance. Indiana fans are disappointed that the team isn’t even in the tournament because last year’s success set the standard too high for a program that really is still recovering from past mistakes.

When I set the bar high, and follow it up with encouragement, support and praise, the results seem to be more positive. I have seen it happen on the gym floor, in the classroom, in the workplace and with my children at home.

In the battles of basketball or life, expect more; encourage often.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at

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