The power of practical hope

For years, I’ve gotten caught up in the spirit of March Madness. And, it never fails that after the crowning of the National Champion I get a lump in my throat watching the “One Shining Moment” tournament highlights video sung by that legend Luther Vandross. It seems that whether or not people were basketball fans during the regular season, they became so during the “Big Dance.” What’s up with that?

For me, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments embody the spirit of hope. But actually, after decades of research, psychologists have learned that hope comes in two very different varieties. The first kind of hope is vague emotional hope. It’s fleeting – like the feeling we get when we filled out our brackets or watched that first game. This hope, quite frankly, is for an outcome that we have absolutely no personal control over. People with first-round busted brackets learned that feeling well!

The second kind of hope is practical hope. This is the hope we saw on those young athletes’ faces and it is something powerful. In fact, practical hope is an accurate predictor of academic performance and even predicts differences in athletic performance that cannot be explained by natural ability. Whether the players were competing because they had a high national seed or played as a 16th seed, they came out on the court with fervor. They hold practical hope, rooted in the combination of two mindsets: a belief a path exists to a goal and a belief they can do it.

It’s the same kind of hope our JA volunteers instill in JA students. We know from data that students who participate in high school JA programs reveal differences in their optimism about achieving future success. We know JA students feel more personally in control of their destiny. That’s the kind of hope that animates hearts and inspires action.

Luther sang those heart string pulling lyrics, “One shining moment, you reached for the sky. One shining moment, you reached deep inside. One shining moment, you were willing to try.” And, yep, I hummed along knowing that this next generation of students will have many shining moments as they reach for the sky, reach deep inside and are willing to try.