We’ve all seen the locker room speeches that capture a coach’s inspiring message to his team. What is it about these emotionally stirring words that have such a great impact on motivation, passion and, ultimately, success?
The following inspirational speeches display the 5 key elements that ensure players are mentally and physically ready to give it their all.
1) Honestly identify potential problems
First-year University of Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth entered into the 2011 New Orleans Bowl knowing one of his best players was injured in pre-game. At the beginning of the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns team was expected to finish last in the regional conference. To add to the pressure, the invite to the Sun Belt Conference was the first the university had received in over 40 years. There was a lot going against them, and Hudspeth knew it.
“First of all, we think [our linebacker] is gonna be fine,” said Hudspeth. “Second of all, let me tell you something. We’ve got 94 guys on the sideline, 94 of you that are going to make it up if he’s not.”
Blindly running onto the field without appreciation for the challenge ahead sets a team up for failure. Still, no inspirational speech is complete without the proven effects of positive thinking and belief in the team. In fact, these two elements are part of the nine necessary mental skills for successful athletes established by the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology.
“I promise you,” continued Hudpseth, “they can’t be 94 of us.”
Though all odds were against the team, they won the New Orleans Bowl 32-30 “one play at a time,” just as Hudspeth promised.
2) Keep your eye on the prize
Goals are incredibly important for both individual athletes and the team as a whole. In fact, according to Britton W. Brewer’s Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science, sports psychologists have determined that goal-setting is the most frequent psychological tool used by Olympic athletes. These experienced and highly successful athletes know what works.
Six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott nailed the purpose of personal goals when he said, “If you set a goal for yourself and are able to achieve it, you have won your race. Your goal can be to come in first, to improve your performance, or just finish the race. It’s up to you.”
When a team is working together, however, personal goals from individual training must merge into a unified team goal. Inspirational speeches are needed both on and off the field all season long to maintain an upbeat attitude and focused energy. Sometimes it doesn’t come down to one viral-video-worthy speech but rather a series of consistent morale boosts and reminders of the end game. This strategy is a proven Super Bowl winner.
After losing Super Bowl VI in 1971, Coach Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins had to reorient his team’s goal. The bar had been set too low and had given a sense of accomplishment too early, which drained the team’s energy when they needed it the most — at the Super Bowl.
“We lost the year before, so my message from the beginning of training camp was that our goal wasn’t to get to the Super Bowl,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “Our goal was to win it.”
The team went on to finish the NFL’s first perfect season, 17-0. Shula perfected his goal-oriented speeches and went on to coach four more Super Bowl games. He is now a successful motivational speaker who helps people learn how to set goals.
3) Delivery and Participation: In words and on the field
Passionate words require a passionate delivery, but passion isn’t always effective if the audience is passive. Any time players become involved in the process of inspiring, the energy in the room multiplies. Coach John Flowers used poetic call-and-response to engage his Junior Varsity team in the spirit of courage. According to a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University, self-affirmations like Flowers’ have been proven to boost GPA, reduce chronic stress, and increase problem-solving abilities even when under pressure. Here is an excerpt of the inspirational speech Flowers delivered:
Who am I? I AM A CHAMPION!
I will acknowledge the fact that my opponent does not expect me to win
But I will never surrender
Weakness will not be in my heart
I will look to my comrades and to those who are a part of me in this world and those who have trained me
And I will draw strength from them
Who am I? I AM A CHAMPION!
The Leland High School team delivered, too, crushing their opponent that night in their 2009 championship game.
4) Follow through (with gratitude)
Amidst all the hubbub and chaos of pumped up energy, the simple act of gratitude can have a surprisingly powerful effect. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that gratitude among athletes can increase team satisfaction, prevent burnout, and result in better overall well-being.
After breaking Miami Dolphin Dan Marino’s 1984 record for most passing yards in a single season, the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees gave his team an inspiring (and humble) speech.
“To think that we had this opportunity is pretty amazing,” said Brees. “You know, we came close to this a few years ago, and to be perfectly honest with you, I thought ‘Man, we’ll never get that close again.’ But I guess I underestimated the opportunity that we would have because of the guys in this room. And I say that with all sincerity and as genuine as I can, because I truly feel that way. There may be only one name that goes in the record book, but it’s all about you guys.”
Brees went on to thank his coaches, the staff, even the equipment managers and the physical trainers who stretched his shoulder.
“I want everyone to be proud about this,” he concluded. “It’s not about one person. That’s the journey we’re on. It’s going to be about ‘us’ as we continue on, as we win next week, as we continue on to win. It’s about the prize at the end.”
The Saints went on to beat other records that year. Running back Darren Sproles took home the prize for most all purpose yards. The team worked together to break the record for offensive yards from scrimmage. They were undefeated in home games and finished the season 13-3.
As for Brees’ promise to go on next week and win? They did. In their last regular season game, the Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 45-17. There’s no doubt the team was pumped up thanks to Drew Brees humble attitude and his gratefulness toward everyone who helped him along the way.
5) A legacy
“What if today was your last day?” Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis asked the Stanford basketball team. “What would you spend today thinking about? Yourself? Or the man that’s beside you?”
Some of the best inspirational speeches give a lesson that isn’t left behind on the court. Ray Lewis knew what the team needed before the semifinals game of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament. This was a unique opportunity for the players to hear from a professional athlete who had seen it all. The issue wasn’t, he noted, about wins and losses. It was about effort and legacy. One game can make a legendary tale, but it takes years to make a legacy.
“We get one opportunity in life, one chance at life to do whatever you’re going to do,” said Lewis. “Whatever legacy you’re going to leave, leave your legacy — and it’s found through effort.”
The team knew what was at stake. The pressure of the game before them was daunting. Lewis reminded them that there’s more to life than a win-loss record. Integrity, selflessness and effort matter just as much as previous performances and the hundreds of hours of training. Stanford went on to beat UMass 84-74 and won the championship game against Minnesota 75-51.
At the end of the day, the legacy of effort, hard work, and surmounting difficulties can outlive and even outshine the numbers in the record book.
Brewer, Britton W. Routledge International Handbooks: Routledge Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology: A Comprehensive Guide for Students and Practitioners. 2009.
Chertok, Greg. “The Power of Gratitude.” The American Colege of Sports and Medicine. n.d. http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/acsm’s-sports-performance-center/the-power-of-gratitude
Lesyk, Jack. J. “The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes.” Ohio Center for Sport Psychology. 1998. < https://www.sportpsych.org/nine-mental-skills-overview>
Murray, John. F. “Offsides Beyond the Game: The pregame speeches.”Clinical and Sports Psychology Services. 17 Feb. 2009. <http://www.johnfmurray.com/news-events/pre-game-speeches-football-nfl-coaches-speeches/>
Williams, Ray B. “Do self-affirmations work? A revisit.” Psychology Today.May 5 2013. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201305/do-self-affirmations-work-revisit>
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