Rivalries. They can add drama to life, and they can bring out the best in competitors. Furthermore, they have the potential to create animosity or respect between adversaries.
I remember when I was in high school our rival was the school on the west side of town. The football game was the last game of the season, and from 1974 until 1984 the game was played on Saturday afternoon due to a small riot after the game. In the 1990s the rivalry ended because the schools combined into one high school. After my graduation I went to The Ohio State University where I experienced one of sport’s greatest rivalries – Ohio State v. Michigan. The respect the coaches and players had for one another outshone the dullness of some fans and their blind hatred. This respect for the foe always impressed me.
Tonight our high school plays our cross town rival in a football game. As the school day progressed, the freshman were like a Mentos dropped in a two-liter of soda. And I was the lid. I could feel the energy building each minute of each hour. Soon they would explode in a spray of screams, cheers, and excitement. I am not sure how much they learned today because their thoughts were on who to hang out with at the game. I suspect one or two may have actually thought about the game and who would win.
In spite of the distractions, the freshman tried to write, read, and discuss a novel. Some students digressed into extraneous topics. Still, many of the students regained their focus and resumed working with either little or no prodding from me.
It is like a business. During the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament many media outlets report that productivity at work plummets. However, some folks disagree. I do not have statistics, real or imagined. I only have experience. I see that students and workers face moments when they need a break. As managers we can fight them or manage them to our advantage. We have the power to creatively use a rivalry or big sports event to promote fun and moments for mental breaks during the work day. I know one history teacher who has junior students draw the name of a university in the NCAA tournament. The kids then have to research the school, famous alumni, and historical events during the time the school was established. Then, they share their information with the class. The students are learning how to research, practicing speaking skills, gaining a historical perspective on a time period, learning about a famous person, and exploring colleges as a class. Creative managers can find ways to motivate or reward employees and continue to get the job done.