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Hollywood loves to dramatize the pre game speech and make is so much of the stereotype of who we are as coaches. While, the movies overvalue the pre game speech, it is a great opportunity to send your team out of the locker room with a positive mentality and focus.
There are many games where grabbing an early lead and building momentum are necessary for a positive result. If your team needs a pre game speech to leave the locker room excited, then you should review how you are building up your week. As one of my former assistants explained to our players, “Game day is like a crescendo. The week starts out low key and we build to the crescendo on game day. Emotional, focus and intensity needs to build along the way.” If you wait for the emotion, focus, and intensity to happen three minutes before kick off, it will dissipate very quickly.
The thought process on what the team needs to be working towards during the week as far as a specific focus needs to be communicated when the game plan is delivered. Some coaches like to have a theme or focus for the week. That should be something that is worked into the pre game speech.
You don’t need to have some big, dramatic speech. In fact, if you do it right, even a short message delivered with some emotion will be reflected with emotion by your team. The point is you have worked them to that crescendo.
A positive message is always important. I used the following guidelines in constructing pre game speeches:
1. Always be clear and concise. If you have to explain some reference or story, use a meeting during the week to preface what you may refer to later. They don’t need to be using their brain power to figure out what historical reference or story you are speaking about. The story told earlier in the week and referred to throughout helps you to be concise and more effective when it’s time to speak to the players before kickoff. In my very first game as a head coach I used this approach. The previous coach left unexpectedly and the players loved him. He used to like to show them parts of the movie “Braveheart” and refer to William Wallace often. In our time after the pre game meal and before we had meetings, we showed our players a movie and let them relax. I put on the ending of “Braveheart.” At this particular away game, there was a long walk to the field. We reviewed last minute instructions inside the locker room, and made the walk to the end zone. Borrowing a line from the movie, I looked at the group silently, trying to catch each of their eyes as they waited for me to say something. Then I said, “You have bled with Coach Frank, now bleed with me.” Their was an eruption of emotion, teary eyes, and they charged the field and played with such a passion winning 53-0 over an opponent who was about equal to them. The momentum we started the game with stayed at a high level for 48 minutes.
2. Separate the emotional part of the message from any reminders or instructions. Any reminders belong up front. Finish with the emotional part.
3. Consider having some routine to finish with. In my second head coaching job, we developed this routine. When I addressed the team they would have there helmets off and eyes up. After I finished, our routine was to put the helmets on, snap them up, and wish their teammates well. I’d simple say, “Now let’s get those helmets on and go get ’em.” Though we didn’t say “strength and honor,” this idea was developed from a scene in “Gladiator.”
Even with a big emotional end to my talk, we would finish the same way, putting our helmets on shaking hands, and wishing other good luck. Then the captains would lead them out. Having a routine like this will signal the end of your talk and not make it feel like you always need some ending that will make them want to charge out the door.
4. Rehearse what you want to say. Often I would write notes throughout the week, construct a few paragraphs to speak to the team about, and find a place on my own a few hours before the game to put my thoughts together and go over it in my head. I even had one coach who was assigned to listen and give me feedback.
5. If you have props, make sure they are set up and they will work how you want. I had one talk where (back in the day of VHS) I wanted to throw a VHS tape against the wall and have it break into pieces. My assistant removed every screw that held the cassette together and taped it lightly so that the effect would be pieces of the cassette everywhere. It worked well. On the flip side, there was a local coach who had a helmet painted like the opponent’s. His plan was to hit it with a sledge hammer and have it break. He didn’t test his plan. The sledge hammer bounced back at him, hit him in the head, and knocked him out. He didn’t coach the first half.
6. ALWAYS BE POSITIVE! This was my cardinal rule in my pre game speech. Reference to a previous loss or even revenge for a previous season loss would never be a part of the speech. We wanted positive emotion. Anything that might put their minds on something negative or something that could cause doubt was eliminated. Everything was positive.
Have fun with the pre game speech. It pales in comparison to the work and preparation that you put in during the week, but a positive message never hurts your team.
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