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How to Craft Killer Motivational Speeches for Athletes

Image Credit: popofatticus
Image Credit: popofatticus

Want to design and print custom uniforms for your team? Check out our design studio.

What makes a speech great? What goes into crafting a perfect inspirational gem? How can you weave your team a yarn that gets their blood flowing and their minds pumped?

Let’s find out.

Craft The Speech To The Situation

No one wants to hear a speech about success against impossible odds when they’re simply worn down from practice. It’s integral that you make sure whatever speech you give fits the situation. You need to tailor your speeches to your audience.

“Speakers communicate differently to different audiences,” reads a public speaking piece from the University of Pittsburgh. “To take a simple example, people tell their grandmothers about their new ‘significant other’ in a different way than they tell their best friend. Two main questions guide audience adaptation in a speaking situation: Who are they? What qualities about them are relevant?”

“Unlike much written communication,” the piece continues, “ a public speaking situation occurs at a specific time and place. With regard to time, the speech can be affected by events that have very recently occurred, by the time of day, and by the fact that it comes before or after other speeches. Place matters, too — different-sized rooms make for different visual aides and intimacy.”

Talking to a team that’s on a losing streak? Emphasize the importance of getting back on your feet and taking adversity as it comes. Trying to pump your team up before a big win? Talk about opportunity.

Get Them Working Together

Unless you’re coaching a single athlete, you need to talk to teams, not stars. If your players can’t work well with one another, they’re pretty much sunk – no matter how skilled each person is individually. You need to drive home the importance of teamwork, and encourage everyone to set aside any differences they might have in the pursuit of their goal.

Of course, this is easier said than done – but I expect that the Harvard Business Review might have a bit of insight to offer in this regard.

“Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity.” writes Diane Coutu. “Deviants are the ones who stand back and say ‘well, wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all? Deviants are the individuals that are willing to say what no one else is willing to articulate.”

Although that advice has a lot more to do with business than with athletics, there’s value here. As a coach, you have to be willing to challenge your players as well as motivate them. Say things that no one else is willing to say, and get your team working together through it.

Oh, and one more thing – keep an eye out for prima donnas.

“New research suggests that there is such a thing as having ‘too much talent’ on a sports team. The research indicates that, after a certain point, the addition of more superstar talent can actually be detrimental, resulting in poorer team performance,” reads a study in Pyschological Science.

Like sports teams, teams in organizations vary in their levels of interdependence. When team success merely depends on the accumulation of individual performance (e.g. sales teams), hiring and staffing could simply focus on getting the most talented individuals on board. However, these same strategies can hurt a willingness to coordinate effectively when team success depends on high levels of interdependence (e.g. strategy teams). When interdependence between team members is high, organizations could either hire a better mix of top talent and non-top talent and/or invest more in training to formalize roles, ranks, and responsibilities.

Ask Them To Strive For Small Perfections

Nobody’s perfect all the time – that’s pretty much a rule of life. Striving for perfection all the time is a pursuit that’s bound to fail. Motivate your team to strive for excellence instead – have them try for small perfections instead of being at 100% through every waking minute, and focus on that progress.

Make that perfect pass. Score that perfect goal. Set up that perfect defense. Even if they make a few mistakes here and there, focusing on doing a few little things to absolute perfection can definitely add up over the course of the game.

“When you strive for excellence, there is no finish line because excellence is in the eye of the beholder,” says a piece on ACM Consulting. “Each organization and each individual has their own definition of what excellence would mean for them so you never actually “achieve” it.”

“The success is in the journey,” the piece continues.  “Striving for excellence and pursuing it allows for incremental improvements. This ability does not exist when you focus on perfection. Even though when you try to achieve perfection you will inevitably make incremental improvements, you will never take advantage of them because of your pursuit of the perfect solution. Until you find that solution, you will consider the endeavour a failure.”

Encourage Them To Look For The Competitor’s Small Mistakes

Luck doesn’t play as much of a role in victory on the field as some might have you believe. Victory is all about capitalizing on the opportunities you’re given – about taking the mistakes of your opponents and turning those mistakes against them. That’s the only secret, and you need to make sure your team knows it.

“In sports, business, and in almost everything in life, a competitor doesn’t win because he’s stronger; he wins because of some mistake his opponent makes,” explains motivational speaker Renato Cardoso. “An example of this is the recent fight between Anderson Silva and the American Chris Weidman. Whether you understand the rules of the UFC or not, whether you like the sport or not there’s a simple lesson to be learned.”

“Eight seconds into the video, you can notice Silva provoking his opponent — something he does from the beginning of the fight,” continues Cardoso. “In a matter of seconds, Weidman finds an opportunity and knocks out the Brazilian. The knock-out was not only the first in Silva’s career of 38 fights, but it also cost him the world title which he held for a record breaking time, since 2006.”

Make Them Want Success Above All Else

Sacrifice is necessary for success. So long as the players on your team are willing to make sacrifices – so long as they’re willing to look towards what they want and strive for it above all else – then you’ve done your job. It’s worth mentioning here, though, that success and victory may not necessarily be the same thing.

It’s more about realizing one’s potential – about doing the best you can possibly do, and working oneself to the point of exhaustion in the pursuit of one’s goals.

The best way to do this, according to Time, is to make them feel something.

“We rarely do anything we don’t feel, and it’s very hard to resist the things we do feel. It’s how your brain is structured,” says Eric Barker. “You must change individual behavior by addressing feelings.” In other words….

Get your team feeling whatever you think will most effectively motivate them. If you’re working with a bunch of people who do best when they’re angry, then get them riled up. If you have a group of athletes who can only function when they’re happy and pumped up, then do what you can to improve their collective mood.

Again, it’s all about knowing who you’re talking to.

Closing Thoughts

As a coach, it’s your job to make sure the people under your wing stay motivated and passionate about what they do. In order to do that, there’s a certain amount of understanding required on your part – and a whole lot of skill with spoken words. By putting together the right speech – and letting it out at the right time – you can keep everyone at their very best, and eliminate whatever doubts they might have about their situation.

Want to design and print custom uniforms for your team? Check out our design studio.

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