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The Value of Being a Little Behind

In his New York Times bestselling book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink explains the value of being a little behind. In the world of sports, a team that's ahead at halftime—in any sport—is more likely than its opponent to win the game. This has little to do with the limits of personal motivation and everything to do with the heartlessness of probability. But researchers have noted one peculiar exception.

Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania and Devin Pope of the University of Chicago analyzed more than 18,000 National Basketball Association games over fifteen years, paying special attention to the games' scores at halftime. It's not surprising that teams ahead at halftime won more games than teams that were behind … However, Berger and Pope detected an exception to the rule: Teams that were behind by just one point were more likely to win. Indeed, being down by one at halftime was more advantageous than being up by one. Home teams with a one-point deficit at halftime won more than 58 percent of the time. Indeed, trailing by one point at halftime, weirdly, was equivalent to being ahead by two points.

Berger and Pope then looked at ten years' worth of NCAA college basketball games, nearly 46,000 games in all, and found the same effect. "Being slightly behind [at halftime] significantly increases a team's chance of winning," they write. And when they examined the scoring patterns in greater detail, they found that the trailing teams scored a disproportionate number of their points immediately after the halftime break. They came out strong at the start of the second half.

Possible Preaching Angles: Discipline; Endurance; Focus; Perseverance —Sometimes, the pressure of being a little behind is exactly what we need to propel us to greater discipline and higher devotion.

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