What do Sir Richard Branson, Phil Knight, Sir Alex Ferguson, Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos and Glen Mills all have in common? This pantheon of names are among some of the most successful leaders that have a vision. Some of them are business leaders, others are industry pioneers, some are politicians, others are sports coaches. The difference is negotiable.
Because, whether in business or sport, the same management techniques apply.
In order to inspire and motivate, a good leader needs to articulate a strong vision; and when it comes to sport, there’s no better way than pre-competition talk.
The Pep Talk
The role of a sports coach is to get the best out of your athlete or team. This extends way beyond the locker room and into the days, weeks and months of training for a competition.
But right before that player takes centre stage, right before they face a competition of a lifetime – a few chosen words can deliver a powerful punch.
We’ve seen it time and again, documented in films like Miracle, where hockey coach Herb Brooks offers a rousing pre-game speech to his squad, and in the legendary Any Given Sunday speech by Al Pacino.
So, what does it take to deliver a punchy pre-game talk? It comes down to these five key points:
Don’t be fooled by Hollywood, great speeches are rarely delivered on the hoof. Much like any part of being a sports coach, it takes great consideration and planning to distil months of training for a competition into a few nuggets.
This means thinking about what you want to say in advance. Think about who will be in the room, how you will deliver the lines and what the key information you want to get across?
It’s no different to the preparation that goes into any other speech; weddings, presentations, awards. Give yourself plenty of time to mull over the words, for a much-needed pre-competition boost.
Executive coaching doesn’t always prepare you for the different characters you may have to deal with at any given time. If you manage a team or club, you will of course have contrasting personalities within it.
When it comes to coaching talk, it’s important to appreciate differences.
Each athlete is unique and will respond in their own way to your words. Getting to know them individually will help you learn how to get the best from them. Use this to your advantage in your pre-game pep talk.
Keep it upbeat
We all know the power of a positive mental attitude. At times of pressure, it’s important to keep spirits up, no matter what challenges may lay ahead.
This is why it’s vital to keep your speech positive and upbeat. This is the time to focus on their attributes – individually and as a team. Remind them how they can use their strengths to succeed, and empower them to give it their all.
In sports psychology, we learn about imagery – going through the motions of what we need to do to achieve success. This is just another way of bringing the dream to life. Remind your team about their previous performances and successes, to give them a much-needed boost.
Keep it brief
The art of brevity is much overlooked these days. Sometimes less is more. So, in the run up to a competition keep your coaching talk poignant and on-point.
With so much going on in their own heads, it’s not the time for information overload. It’s about reminding them of their strengths and giving them a few key pointers to take-away.
Usually two or three key messages is more than enough to bring up in your speech.
This could be strategical or instructional information, and it should reinforce your training strategy to date. It’s certainly not the right time to introduce anything new.
As many sports coaches and managers will admit, it’s about routine and putting into practice what they been preparing for over the months. This was seen with great success last summer with the England football squad, under the helm of manager Gareth Southgate. The much-praised football manager encouraged the team to keep calm and put into practice what they had been training for. Their composure and ability to follow their training didn’t go unnoticed.
Enthusiasm goes beyond being positive or upbeat. It’s the physical cues we give – and it’s contagious.
An enthusiastic sports coach instils a sense of excitement and a rush of adrenalin in his or her athletes. Once again, this comes down to thinking about your words carefully and planning what you want to say. Using positive body language is key too, as your team will pick up on this.
A final word
It falls to the sports coach to inspire and enthuse an athlete or team. This takes consideration and time, with a good measure of enthusiasm and positivity thrown in. Just a few key messages are needed and they should remain brief and consistent to their training schedule to date.
As a final thought – don’t be afraid to put your personal stamp or allow some emotion in your pre-competition talk either. In a study by the Journal of Applied Psychology, a number of different approaches to speeches were tested with a group of footballers. The most effective were athletes “exposed to persuasive pregame speech.”
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