The Art Of The Coach’s Pregame Speech

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We’ve all seen it in the movies and on TV.

The football coach gives an impassioned pregame speech, the team runs out of the locker room and then goes and wins the big game.

And of course, it’s all because that pregame speech was so darn good, right?

With the high school football state championship games coming up this weekend it’s worth wondering, just what place does the pregame speech have in real life?

“It’s part of the high school experience. It’s part of the experience of playing football,” Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen said. “It’s part of the atmosphere to feel like you’re unstoppable. It does get you excited.”

“As the head coach your responsibility is to step forward and deliver some type of message that the rest of the team can rally around,” Wayzata coach Brad Anderson said. “I’m trying to gauge what I feel they need to hear.”

“I kind a get a feel of the team pregame, if they need a little bit more or a little bit less,” East Ridge coach Dan Fritze said.

“I’m just trying to bring us all together,” Woodbury coach Andrew Hill said. “Make us feel like we’re on the same page. It’s off-the-cuff. It’s not planned.”

The pregame speech has long been part of high school football. But the role it plays in a team’s preparation is largely dependent on the coach giving it, with styles and approaches as different as the coaches themselves.

“I think when I was young I thought that the pregame speech was gonna make or break the game,” Vossen said. “And we laugh now as coaches [because] there’s been some great speeches that led to just horrible games.”

Some like to talk tactics and strategy; one last chance to go over the game plan.

“Here’s our three goals for this game,” Osseo’s Derrin Lamker said.

Others said it’s an important part of motivating their team and putting their players in the right mindset, getting them focused or fired up.

“Every coach has done it, where you maybe twist something the media has given,” Vossen said. “Our kids fuel off that underdog thing.”

Some speak with passion.

“The game of football is an emotional game,” Anderson said. “And so you have to allow those emotions to come out.”

Others speak with all the intensity of a librarian.

“That’s not really my personality, to stand up and yell all of sudden when I’m not really much of a yeller,” Hill said. “‘We’re gonna go out and rip their throats out and kick ’em in the face!’ Like, that’s not what we’re gonna do. And that’s not really my personality. So I think it would ring hollow and that would be dangerous.”

Some believe it’s just as important what they don’t say.

“We don’t ever talk about our opponent,” Fritze said. “We only focus on us. We never mention winning or losing. We don’t say the words. Once you get caught up in, ‘Are we gonna win? Are we gonna lose?’ you start to hope.”

And sometimes, they defer to others. Woodbury has an assistant prepare a motivational video to watch. Lakeville North has one of its players lead the team in the ‘Husker Prayer.’

“Just set a tone,” Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson said. “A couple of reminders.”

With all the different styles and approaches, there are also different opinions about how much of what they say actually matters.

Do they believe what they say, or how they say it, can impact what happens on the field?

“I believe all those things can come into play in what happens on the field,” Anderson said. “Your beliefs affect your actions. Your actions then lead to results. And so it is very important what you say.”

“I think what I say and how I say it really affects the game,” Hill said. “But it’s what I say and how I say it in January and February and March. It’s those relationships you build more so than anything you say before kickoff. I don’t want them feeling like in order for us to be successful I’ve got to have some magical words before the game starts.”

“If it makes a difference to a couple of them and gets them hyped for the game, then maybe it does,” Vossen said. “I’ve had lots of players that have come back and said, ‘I remember when you said this or that,’ and I honestly don’t remember because they’re off the cuff. And I kind of laugh like, ‘I said that?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, you said that!’ I’m like, ‘Oh. Did we win?’ ‘Yeah we won.’ ‘Oh great, then that was probably the reason,’ you know?”

“The number of minutes and hours and days that have gone into preparing for that one game that week, what I say when they’re on a knee in front of me before we take the field? Inconsequential,” Ferguson said.

But what does the science say? Do pregame speeches work? Do they make a difference?

“The research would say that pregame speeches are inconclusive on whether or not they work or don’t work,” Dr. Justin Anderson, a sports psychologist at Premier Sport Psychology in Edina, said. “It depends on the relationship between the coaches and the athletes. It depends on how that message is presented.”

In other words, how they say it is almost more important than what they say.

“The inflection, the tone, the way I deliver it, the mannerisms that I’m using to deliver it, will all impact on how you receive it,” Anderson said. “What we do know is that emotion can have a significant impact on performance. So those coaches that can spark an emotion in a positive way will have an impact.”

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