In sports, it can sometimes be more gratifying to watch your rival lose than it is to see your team win. This is one of the many reasons that March Madness is so fun. There are so many games, and so many opportunities to win and lose. Rivalries are one of the foundations of sports. It’s ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

Rivalries with deep histories are among the best. For basketball it’s Duke and Carolina. For football it’s Alabama and Auburn (sorry for the east coast bias here). Each team has its up and down years so the schools get to take turns beating on each other. When the schools are on equal footing the rivalries get red hot. These schools have deep rivalries because just about every year they’re contenders. And they usually have to get through the other team to win a championship.

With the March Madness in full swing we fans get a lot of opportunities to watch our rivals lose. And it can get quite gratifying. We love to see our opponents lose. I enjoyed watching some of my hated schools this weekend. It was gratifying watching my friends go silent after all the trash talk.

When your rivals lose big games it feels good in the short run. But in the long run you should really be rooting for their success.

Over the long term you want them to be successful, as it gives the rivalry credibility. Beating a team that isn’t good doesn’t feel as sweet. But when both teams are good and your team wins, it’s validation of just how good your side is. And when your team might not be the best but still trumps the rival, even the air tastes sweeter. Mutual hatred between the teams requires each team to regularly win some games. Otherwise the tension and passion can get sucked out of the conflict.

So while it feels counterintuitive to root for your rivals, celebrating in their success is truly the only rational thing to do.

Okay I can’t do it either. Carry on.

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categories: psychology, sports