I was recently re-reading Terry Orlick’s In Pursuit of Excellence, and in the chapter on Coaching Relationships, Orlick was discussing coaching communication and wrote that coaches’ pregame pep talks don’t motivate the athletes, but instead serve as “a method of tension release for the head coach”(p.276).  While Orlick wrote this to make athletes aware of why their coaches might be saying what they are saying, I took this as something that coaches need to work on.

So, for all you coaches out there, I want you to think about your own pregame speeches.  In my experience, they are often repetitive, with coaches saying things like “we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do”, “stick to the plan”, “treat this like it’s life or death”, and so on.  There are probably thirty standard cliché versions that coaches often use.  However, my goal for you is to think about your own pregame speech and how you can make it most effective for its intended purpose.  My guess is the intended purpose is two-fold: 1) Summarize important strategic points, and 2) help your athletes to perform well.  However, is this actually your goal?  No, seriously, is this the reason why you usually give a speech?  Do you even know why you give a pregame speech?  Some coaches do it just because they feel that they “have” to, because it is what is done before a game.

Recognize that many coaches give a fired-up motivational speech before a game because they are nervous or because they are excited for the game. However, some of your players might not need to get fired up and would prefer to just relax or spend time alone.  As a coach, part of your responsibility is understanding the needs of your players. Try to understand what their desired physical and mental states are prior to the game. Your goal should be to help them get into those states.

So, as you think about your own next pregame speech, whether it is tomorrow or in six months, think about what your players actually need to hear.  Don’t throw just more information at them that they can’t handle at that time.

Here are a few tips to help you when you make your next speech:

  •  Keep it short and simple.  If your goal is to help your athletes perform well, give them a few points to remember and that’s it. At that point, right before a game, many of your athletes want to be doing their own thing and may not even be listening to you.  Don’t take that time away from them.  Also, it is very unlikely that you are going to be able to motivate your athletes any more than they already are.  Trust that your days and weeks of practice have prepared them; don’t try to do it in 5 minutes before the game.  Give them one to two final pieces of information – strategic, instructional information.
  • Don’t introduce any new information. This is a time when you want to be able to reinforce prior messages, not introduce new ones.  You want your athletes to be getting more focused on what they need to do to perform their best, so you don’t want to add more information to that, potentially causing information overload or overthinking their performance.
  • Make it about the athletes and/or or about your opponent. Don’t make it about yourself.
  • Leave some time after your speech.  This will allow the athletes and yourself to get into the proper mindset.  Your athletes could use this time to listen to music, pump themselves up, do some stretching and moving about, or to sit quietly and relax to get themselves focused. You can also use this time to focus on your own needs, your own anxieties, and your own strategy. Here’s a time when you can get yourself mentally ready, by focusing on your needs and those of your assistant coaches. You focus on what you need to focus on (strategy, anxiety, etc.) and let the athletes focus on what they need to have focus on.

Try some of these out, and see how your athletes respond. They just might like it more than your previous rah-rah rants. Good luck!