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The Art of the Pre-Game Talk

The Art of the Pre-Game Talk

If you have already seen it, I apologize for making you relive it. If you haven’t, below is a video of Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston’s attempt to get his teammates ready to play.

That’s bad. All-time bad. But it got me thinking, what constitutes a good, even great, pre-game pump up talk? For athletes in leadership positions on their teams who truly want to crush their next pre-game talk, what do they need to do?

What’s the point?

We need to start with this question because it is useless to think through the steps if you have no idea where you want those steps to lead you. With that said, it is not terribly difficult to determine the ultimate purpose of a pre-game talk.

A pre-game talk’s primary goal is to get your teammate’s mentally ready for the start of the competition.

The only obstacle that exists for some of your teammates to perform to the level they are capable is themselves. So, what do you need to do to give the greatest pre-game speech of all time, a speech that will turn mental midgets into giants, a speech that will turn your tentative turtle teammates into fire breathing dragons?

Consider the following:

Remember what sport you play

This is important. Football players get hyped up much differently than golfers. Those two sports probably represent both ends of the pendulum of hype and focus. When preparing your speech, remember to make the tone and energy appropriate to the sport you play. Speaking of tone...

Determine your tone beforehand

There are many different emotions you can muster up. Don’t feel like you need to tap into all of them. Choose one that fits your personality and master it. If you try to be someone you’re not, your teammates will know and the effectiveness will be lost. Here are some “tone” options.

Psycho scream

Tebow bleeds energy and enthusiasm on the field. Away from the field he is calm, level headed. What makes this so effective is that he takes his energy from the field and carries it into the locker room.

Calm and confidence

The Herb Brooks locker room speech from Miracle is a classic. There is no panic in his voice—just a calm confidence. You can see in the player’s eyes that this is what they need in this moment. They’re worried and intimidated. Brooks does not counter that by yelling and getting them pumped. He meets them where they are at with his calm demeanor.

Slow build

This is my favorite motivation speech—maybe of all time. For one, this is not a scene from a movie. This is real life. And it is beautiful. Yes, the music in the background helps but what makes this great is Coach Stewart starts slow and gradually gets more and more intense. He is ready to take his team on a drive at 100 mph but he knows he needs to get them in the car and buckled up first. I dare you to watch this and not get goosebumps.

Sentimental

From the movie Rudy, the coach taps into the sentimental side of the athletes. Notre Dame is a historical football school, filled with pride. He doesn’t put the focus on hitting or bringing intensity to the other team, he places all the focus on his own squad, reminding them that the Seniors are playing their last game.

Know your teammates

How do you know which tone to take? This should largely depend on the personality of your team as a whole, as well as certain individuals. Are your teammates insecure? If so, you probably want to remind them of their training and instill a calm confidence in them, not freak them out by yelling. Are they timid? You don’t need to be a comedian but feel the freedom to make the laugh. Loosen them up a bit! Do your teammates play better when they are hyped up? Then...GET THEM HYPED UP! Is your team prone to large momentum shifts? Remind them that when hardships come, to pick one another up and press on.

Don’t slander your rival

Try to refrain from using this platform as an opportunity to point out all of the negative things about your opponent. If they have weaknesses that need to be exposed, great. But avoid broad, sweeping statements that focus on how much you don’t like them. Keep the focus on your team and what you do well. Confidence is a better predictor of success than hate or disdain. Jonathan Fader, a sport psychologist, says that “One of the biggest predictors of success in athletics, and life in general, is confidence—the expectation that you will succeed.” If you want to prep your team well, instill confidence in THEM. Let the other team worry about themselves.

Don’t go too long

Keep it simple. You’re job is to help free your teammates up mentally so that they perform at an optimal level. The longer you go and the more ideas you present, the more you will confuse your team. If you have a propensity to go a little long it is because you have not prepared well enough.

A simple way to force yourself into a shorter pre-game talk is to simply memorize your close out statement. A lot of times we error on the side of length because we want to land the plane well and we end up talking and talking until we feel like we nailed it. The longer you talk, the harder it is for the nail to be driven home. Athlete, know ahead of time how you want to close it out!

Being tasked with motivating your team before, or in the middle of a game is a privilege. Don’t wing it. As a staff friend of mine often says: “The separation is in the preparation.” Do yourself and your squad a favor by thinking it through ahead of time. Hopefully they respond with a performance worthy of the speech that led them into it!