They are Great in Movies, But Do Coach Pep Talks Really Work?
We have all seen them before, whether it’s been in a Disney sports movie or our own locker room where the coach gave the motivational speech of his life moments before game time. You know exactly what I am talking about — the coach opens his heart and soul and culls every ounce of emotion from within as he inspires his team to play the game of their life. These are climatic moments in movies, and the subsequent scene shows the team winning as a result of the inspirational speech. In real-life, do coach pep talks really work to this degree? If these talks can be effective, what are the best ideas to help achieve optimal results?
Unfortunately there is not a secret recipe for mastering pep talks, and even if there were such a resource our individual differences in communication and leadership styles would lead us to varying results. While it’s impossible to determine the degree in which coach pep talks help (or hurt) performances on the field, there are some general considerations to examine if you are a coach seeking to improve in your motivational methods.
Ideas to consider when talking to the team
- Length. Longer, drawn out talks are typically not the best idea before games as players can quickly lose their interest, resulting in poor focus for the game. Instead, shorter and more direct talks are generally more effective — they generate energy more quickly, and provide better focus clarity.
- Motivate with positive examples. While it is true both pleasure and fear can be motivating forces, coaches will get more mileage from messages that inspire for what can happen in the future rather than bad things (that can’t be changed) from the past.
- Find genuine motivational sources. If you are going to use a person, situation, or event as a means for motivation, be sure you are using genuine examples. For example, if you have an athlete on the team who won’t be able to compete in the playoffs you might use her as someone who motivates the team to play hard (a genuine example). Conversely, quick “gimmick” talks, like claiming your team has been bad mouthed and disparaged when there is no evidence for such a claim, may actually backfire due to a lack of sincerity in the message.
- Go off-script and speak from the heart. Perhaps the most important consideration when addressing the team is to simply be real. It’s OK if you don’t have all your words line up perfectly so long as you are speaking the truth and show you truly care about the players you coach. Remember, your players don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.
- Treat talks like they are 5 star dinners. If you have a 5 star dinner 7 nights a week, over time the allure of such fine dining runs a greater risk of become mundane. Similarly, coaches should look to vary the times and places they talk to their teams so that the message remains fresh and exciting, not predictable and boring.
What pep talks can potentially do
Coaches who plan out their talks to the team increase the chance for better focus, improved motivation, better attitude state, and even greater resiliency. In fact, when pep talks are done well they create a collective team unity, providing for better social support among teammates. This type of bonding has been found in other scientific lines of research to have a direct impact on optimal human functioning when people know that others are invested in their well-being and success.
If you are a coach, what are your thoughts on pep talks to the team? Are there specific considerations you take into account before stepping on center stage? If you are a player, do these types of talks motivate you to play your best, or get in the way of your individual pre-game preparations?