Coaches share locker room motivation methods
When former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr got ready to address his team one final time, the one thing he avoided was saying anything about himself: “I think the real challenge is that we’ve got to keep all the nostalgia and those type of things until after the game. I don’t think it helps you going into the game.” He told his team before the game simply: “Remember who you are and remember who you represent.” His team gave an inspired effort and upset heavily favored Florida that day.Coaches like Carr, prefer to keep the “pep” out of the pep talks. They spend the moments before a game or at half-time calmly reminding players what they must do to win that day’s game.
For a coach giving a pregame or half-time talk, knowing what to say and how to say it is an art form as delicate as drawing up the perfect play or structuring a game plan. Depending on the team and situation, sometimes less is more. Sometimes it isn’t.
“I think it depends on what kind of team you have,” said coach Urban Meyer. In the 2006 season with Florida, Meyer gave few, if any fiery speeches. Before the national title game against Ohio State, he spent a few minutes just trying to get the guys energy focused. However, in his first season, there was game with Kentucky where the team seemed utterly flat. He called his assistants together and told them: “Get in this locker room and act like a bunch of cheerleaders. Start breaking chalk boards if you have to do to get them going.”
Former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson was famous for getting his players angry in the locker room before games. Using reverse psychology, he would often tell his players: “You guys don’t seem ready to play. The other team is going to beat the hell out of you.”
The tactic often worked, as players would take their aggression out on the other team.
It’s easier task to get high school and college kids fired up, but what kind of approach works best with professional athletes? Sometimes, even the most low key coaches could use the old fire and brimstone approach. Former Washington Redskin coach Joe Gibbs team was trailing and half-time and giving a lack-luster effort. When he came into the locker room, Gibbs kicked over a table loaded with Gatorade and Oranges.
“It was such a shock to see Coach Gibbs completely out of character. Everyone stood around and said, ‘Is that coach? He must really be ticked off.’ We came back and won the game,” said former quarterback Doug Williams.
Another example of using one’s personality to great effect occurred during a Green Bay Packers game against the Lions in the 1960s. Head Coach Vince Lombardi was known for his tough guy persona and fiery speeches. One time, his team was trailing 21-3 at half-time. Bill Curry remembered sitting in the locker room frightened of what wrath the team was about to incur. Time passed and Lombardi was nowhere to be found. The team was getting restless waiting on pins and needles. They were shifting in their seats and getting uncomfortable. Finally, a completely calm Lombardi walked into the locker room and didn’t seem the least bit angry. “Men, we’re the Green Bay Packers.” Then he walked out.
To this day, Curry said it as the best use of coaching psychology he had ever seen during the half-time of a game. Coaches like Curry feel that the value of a pre-game or half-time speech is highly over-rated. But there are certainly exceptions. Advisory Board member Lou Holtz would be counted as one of the biggest. Holtz became so famous for his speeches that he became sought after on the corporate speaking circuit.
But the truth is, Holtz would begin his pre-game speeches the entire week from Monday practice right up until kick-off. He would focus on three things: why his team wanted to win the game, how they were going to win the game, and why they should believe they were going to win the game.
“They can name you the head coach of the university, said Holtz. Titles come from above. They can’t name you ‘the leader’. If you’re going to be a leader, you have to have a vision of where you want to take the program. You have to have a plan of how you’re going to get there. Everybody wants to win. The important things is to believe you’re going to win.”
One of his best motivational moments came before the 1988 game against Miami. Early in the week, he made the Hurricanes sound like the greatest team ever assembled. By mid-week, he started building his team’s confidence. At a Friday night pep rally, he predicted victory. He called a team meeting after that comment. “Men, why do you think I just said that? (made the prediction). Because I believe it.” His team won 31-30 the next day in a huge upset.
Former Raider Howie Long says that coaches who seem inauthentic will quickly lose players respect: “I call it the ‘Saran Wrap Factor’. Players can see right through some fake, hokey speech. It’s like a sermon at church. You can tell very quickly whether a guy’s for real.
According to analyst Chris Collinsworth, the greatest half-time speech he ever heard was also one of the shortest. His Bengal team trailed San Francisco 20-0.
“Forrest Gregg comes into the locker room and tell us, ‘well guys – you can’t screw it up any worse than you already have. Just go out there and give it your best shot.’ It was the greatest thing I ever heard. We were all laughing. We went out and came back and almost won that game.”
Gregg’s half-time speech worked partly because he remained true to himself. Sometimes that’s all that is needed.
This is an excerpt from the book “The Football Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership,” published by Championship Performance. To learn more about the book or purchase a copy, visit www.championshipperform.com or click here.