rugby365.com columnist Tom Dawson-Squibb takes a look at what makes a good team-talk and whether a motivational speech really does have an impact on how players perform on the pitch.
In the light of me standing in the huddle of one of the more fiery team-talks I have ever heard on Saturday in a Cape Town club match, I thought it pertinent to pen a little piece about what use team-talks actually have and what are some of the best to have ever been uttered.
Al Pacino's inches speech, Coach Gaines' being perfect speech from Friday Night Lights, and Coach Boon's speech at the Gettysburg Memorial in Remember the Titans have all accumulated enormous amounts of hits on Youtube and no doubt manage to stir up the emotions of all viewers. But the question is: how much impact does the team-talk actually have?
When I recently posted on twitter that I was going to write this article it certainly got people going reminiscing about what constituted a good talk or which talk for them was best. I remember Shane Warne saying that he thought on-field huddles were the most over-rated thing in cricket, whilst I've also heard many a team raving about how some inspirational words got them fired up to go and defeat the odds.
My theory is that team-talks are like icing on a cake. Without the cake it is just very sweet, un-filling and may well make you fat. However with the cake it just rounds it off, makes the cake much better and probably makes you want to eat that little bit more. The two layers of the cake therefore are what give substance to the team-talk – and these layers are firstly the goals and direction that a team has and how powerful they are, and the second layer is the environment that is created for all players which should be performance friendly and happy.
Once those factors are in place the team-talks are a welcome addition and can be exceptionally powerful, however without the layers they are often just words with a whole bunch of clichés that means something to the talker but little to the listeners.
So what constitutes the best ones? Word is that John Smit gave a superb speech before a Test where he spoke individually to each player in the group and explained why they were so good in his eyes. Schalk Burger gave a ferocious speech at half-time in the Stormers v Blues match this year where they pulled off the miraculous comeback. He was said to have shown complete disregard for all half-time protocol, tasked his team with shutting up and listening and then laid down a huge challenge (ultimatum) for his team, to which they responded admirably. And from my own experiences Kevin Foote from UCT gave a half-time talk in the Varsity Cup Final when UCT were down that was by no means for children's ears but was exceptionally effective.
With the World Cup coming up, there will be team-talks delivered left right and centre by coaches, captains and leaders, all with the goal of helping their side win. Some experienced players have probably heard over a thousand different talks, so it is hard to say which ones will have meaning for them or have any impact on their psyche.
Does Peter de Villiers possess the silver tongue in the pre match huddles? Will Martin Johnson be able to lift his boys at half-time? Or does Richie Mcaw possess the ability to read the situation and bring out the ripper speech? How much bearing do these speeches in fact have? These are all questions that would be great to have answered.
In my opinion there are a few ingredients to any team-talk that make it effective. Firstly, it has to be relevant to the situation and the way the team is feeling – reciting other's talks is boring and awkward (I have heard a story of a mind coach who tried to recite a Rocky speech to the team beforehand, and it went horribly pear-shaped).
Secondly, the best ones will have purpose and action – this means that the players will know exactly what they need to do to respond to the speech. Coaches who only focus on effort or emotion and give no clear direction will probably not get the best results.
Thirdly, there needs to be challenge – some of the best speeches I have heard are where people have been directly challenged and they feel that they need to respond to this to protect their pride.
Fourth, there often is a sense of inspiration and positivity, where people who have listened to the speech feel empowered and uplifted (coaches who boost their players often get this result).
Lastly, their needs to be meaning – if a coach or captain can talk about something that has a powerful meaning to the players the speech will more than likely be effective.
I'd love to hear about when a speech had a profound impact on your performance, or what you believe constitutes a good teamtalk?
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