6 Tips For Coaches On How To Write A Speech For The Team

a football coach talking to his team

One of the most important roles of a coach is to ensure that their team is motivated to give their best at all times.

There are several techniques like everyday team affirmations and regular positive feedback, that can help inspire your team.

But when it comes to certain occasions that are an important milestone for a team, nothing can pump up the team players like an encouraging speech given by the coach. An encouraging speech or a pep-talk before the game is a very powerful instrument having an immediate effect. 

A few tips for coaches to write a speech for the team include having a clear purpose, stepping in the team’s shoes, sharing stories and being vulnerable, writing how you talk, being persuasive, and concluding well.

Before we elaborate on these tips, let us see the instances wherein a coach is required to give a speech for the team.

When is it Time for a Speech by the Coach?

It doesn’t make sense to give a motivational speech to your team before every practice session. Here is how you can gauge if it is time to give an encouraging speech for your team:

Your Team is About to Play an Important Game

a woman holding a calendar with the month of January on the cover page.

We’ve seen numerous scenes of locker room talks by coaches in movies; and this is one thing they all have in common- persuasion and belief. As a coach, you need to persuade your team to give their best for this game while showcasing your immense belief in them. 

Your Team has Won a Game 

two young footballers running and celebrating victory.

This situation requires a speech that shows your appreciation towards your team as a coach. You can express gratitude and point out that your team’s efforts are valued. Also, make it a point to highlight the moments that made you admire individual team members’ abilities.

Your Team has Lost a Game

Football players wearing black jerseys sitting together on the field. One player covering his face with his hands indicating loss.

In this scenario, your words must be reassuring. Empathize with your team and exhibit your appreciation for the game they played. Draw in from your own experience by including personal narratives. 

Your Team is Training Hard for an Upcoming Game but is Stressed out and Tired.

a tired tennis player resting on the ground.

This is when your team is tired and doesn’t see the point in continuing their game anymore. Your speech as a coach at this time must show your team why their work is of value and what it does for others. Emphasize how the big goals they have for themselves can only be achieved by overcoming small, everyday training challenges.

How to Write an Encouraging Speech? 

a person seated at a desk, writing something in a notebook in a dark room.

In extensive research carried out by Tiffanye Vargas, professor of sports psychology at California State University, on the types of speeches that best motivate athletes,  it was observed that across many sports, the pre-game remarks or speeches/pep talks given by the coach, matter to a  remarkable extent. 

90% of players like listening to the pep talks given by their coaches and 65% believe these talks influence the way they play.

Hence, it becomes all the more important for a coach to have the right words that encourage their team members. 

To help you write an encouraging speech, we will use the findings of The Mayfields – namely, Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield, a husband-and-wife team at Texas A&M International University who have researched extensively on the Motivating Language Theory. In simpler terms, encouraging speech. 

These findings, backed by studies done by sports psychologists and military historians, suggest that most successful encouraging speeches include three fundamental elements: direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning-making.

Here are ways to employ these three elements to write an encouraging speech for your team:

1. Direction Giving 

a person drawing an outline on a blank page.

This refers to the use of “uncertainty-reducing language’’. For example, when you as a coach, inform your team precisely how to carry out the game strategy by providing them with clear-cut and comprehensible instructions.

This also includes giving your team an information-rich speech with tips like, “We’re going to defeat them with tough man-to-man coverage. Steve, your job is to…; Tylor, you are going to…”

2. Expressions of Empathy

a pair of glasses suggesting viewing the world through another person's perspective.

Show that you are concerned about a player for who they are as a human. In your talk, use “empathetic language” which includes praise, appreciation, encouragement, and acknowledges the difficulty of a particular task.

You can also utilize phrases like “I know this is a task, but I fully believe you can do it” or “How is everyone feeling?” and so on.

3. Meaning-making Language

This term explains why a task/game is important. Here, the coach is required to link the organization or team’s mission/ purpose to the goals of his listeners, i.e., the team.

This can be achieved by incorporating stories – about athletes who have found success, or how the particular sport has played a role in making a difference in the lives of the players, their families, or the community.

Revolve your speech around these three key elements and you will soon see how much of an impact your words can make. This is because these encouraging speeches are memorable, structured, straightforward, and real.

Ensure to also balance out these three elements according to the situation and needs of your listeners. For instance, if you are to give a motivational or encouraging speech after your team has lost a match, you may want to use more expressions of empathy than meaning-making language.

6 Tips For Coaches To Write A Speech For The Team 

Be it a persuasive speech you have to deliver to pump up your players before a game or be it a speech to celebrate your victory, these are tips that come to your rescue to make your speech truly inspiring. 

1. Have A Clear Purpose

a white paper with a pencil and an eraser kept on it and a question mark drawn, suggesting an idea.

You must’ve come across speakers who map out the whole world before listing out their central point. But it is rare to come across a coach in a locker room speech going on minutely describing his life experiences minutes before his team is out on the field. 

This is because, the coach has already jotted down the essential thing they are going to be talking about, way before they entered that room.

Having a clear purpose for your talk is essential for two reasons. One, to narrow down and emphasize that one thing you want your team to focus on. And two, to motivate your team in not more than the 2-10 minutes you get before your team is out on the field.

Be clear about the message you want to deliver. Keep in mind that clarity is key and less is more when it comes to giving a speech as a coach. To zero down on a central theme, you can take the example of the thesis statement of an essay. 

This is a single sentence that covers what the essay is going to cover. By doing this, you can point back to your central idea/ message every time to reinforce it in your team’s mind. 

2. Write How You Talk

a football coach giving a pep-talk to his team.

It’s true that written and spoken language are different. This is what you must keep in mind while writing your speech. Avoid using cliche statements like ‘nothing is impossible’ or impressing with complex words. When it comes to jargon, you as a coach, know the language your team uses, so fill words in accordingly. 

Try using short, clear sentences instead of crowding in too many ideas in a complex, long sentence. Understand that your team already has a lot going on in their head, and hence you must make your speech as easy to listen to and understand as possible.

Active voice should be your go-to if you want to sound persuasive and engage your team members to actively listen. It is always easier to make sense of sentences written in the active voice. 

An example of active voice would be “In these 70 minutes, you have to make an effort to play the best game of your life.” Versus an example of passive voice, “An effort has to be made by you to play the best game of your life in these 70 minutes.”

3. Step In Your Team’s Shoes

Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate and to connect with people.

Jayson M. Boyers (former chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore)
Prints of a pair of shoes on sand.

As a coach, you have to make empathy a part of your diet. Empathy refers to the ability to sense the emotions of others and to imagine what they might be feeling or thinking. It is especially important to sound empathetic while writing and delivering a speech for your team.

You must realize that while writing a speech for your team that is aimed at motivating or inspiring them, it should be anything but self-focused. As a coach, you are the driving force responsible for pushing your team to some action. 

While writing, keep your team at the center of your mind. Include your stories, your experiences, but only in a way that they benefit from it. Ask yourself questions like –

Will my team relate to my narrative?

Am I looking at things from their perspective and suggesting solutions that are fitting?

Is the tone of my writing supporting the meaning behind the words? 

4. Be Vulnerable – Share Stories

a coach tying his team member's shoelaces.

As a coach, you spend a lot of your time training with your team. Letting your guard down helps build a connection with your team, hence use this instrument while writing your speech. 

One of the best ways to do this is by storytelling. As humans, we are wired to learn through storytelling. Take a look at the types of stories you can use in your speech:

Historical Stories

Find a story from history that links to the theme of your speech. It can be from a religious book, a fable, a historical event, etc. You will almost always find a story that matches your topic.

However, one disadvantage is that it might not be as personal as your other options and while your audience may relate to the story, they may not necessarily relate to you.

Professional Stories

In your coaching career or as a sports enthusiast, you might’ve definitely come across inspiring stories about athletes. Use these when you are writing a speech for your team since they are especially effective when you aim at motivating your team members.

Draw parallels between the story and your team –  their situation, how they overcame hurdles, etc, and emphasize what lessons can be learned.

Personal Stories

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with the team will benefit you by earning the trust of the team members as well. Sharing stories from your personal life and experiences is one of the most powerful tools to connect with your team.

Keep in mind the context and make sure your story adds some meaning to your larger theme.

Boundary Crossing

In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argues that boundary crossing is one of the most essential skills that will be helpful for future leaders. A coach who is a “boundary crosser”, is a person who can “cross-apply what one learns in one field of study, to another apparently unrelated field.” (Pink 2005).  

Pink gives us an example of this:

“The same way personal trainers gradually increase the difficulty of each workout, to condition a clients muscles and tendons, we should do the same when preparing for our speeches. Starting out in front of smaller and friendlier audiences helps us prepare and improve our speaking skills to handle more difficult and larger groups.”  

5. Use Persuasion

woodblocks with the words "BE THE CHANGE" written on them.

A lot of coaches incorporate persuasion in their speeches which attempts to have an influence on the listener’s attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. 

Three Types of Persuasion to Use in your Team Speech:

A compelling speech should strike a balance between analytical/information-rich content and emotional content. Persuasive speech helps take care of the latter.

According to Aristotle, the famed Greek philosopher, a speaker must use three types of arguments- ethical appeal(Ethos), logical appeal(Logos), and emotional appeal(Pathos).

Learn how you can use these elements to make your speech persuasive:

Ethical Persuasion

You can share the values you hold as a coach, your goals, and your experiences to help increase credibility with your team. Shed light on the common values and beliefs you and your team share to make them feel connected to you.

Logical Persuasion

This requires you to share the central purpose or theme of your speech in a compelling way and support it with a structure that logically supports your message. Basically, giving evidence to prove the ‘’thesis statement’’ of your speech.

Emotional Appeal

This is where you can appeal to your team members’ emotions by sharing stories that evoke pain or pleasure. The emotional connection gained from this is important to persuade.

If you’re looking for a more holistic understanding of this topic, check out this article we wrote on the secret to writing a persuasive speech.

6. End on a High Note

a girl holding a clapperboard signifying action.

Being a coach, your words have an immense impact on your team. All the points in your speech should lead to a point of climax where your team has imbibed whatever you have been speaking about and is pumped up to face the next thing at hand – be it a game, another round of training, or going back home.

A pep talk for an upcoming game will require you to have a strong call-to-action, to sum up the essence of your speech, and tell your team what their next step ought to be. 

Give them room to ponder over what you just said by ending with an intriguing question, a positive affirmation, or a rhetorical question

To know more about ending with a bang, we have written an article that gives you 5 ways to end your speech with maximum impact.

How do you Start and End a Coach Speech?

Top 3 Ways to Open a Coach Speech

participants lined on their mark on a racetrack before starting the race.

There’s no one way to start a speech. And when it comes to a speech given by a coach, the way you start depends on many things. Like the situation, the atmosphere in your locker room, the event your team is at, and so on.

But there are some sure-shot ways that will help you start well and ensure that your speech leaves an impression on your team. Here they are:

1. Share an Unpopular Opinion

Being a coach, you definitely know your team. Time spent training with your team may have exposed you to their beliefs, opinions, preconceived notions on certain things, etc. Hence, you will have a fair idea of what they are expecting to hear from you before you give your speech. Your job as a coach is to strip their expectations by challenging this expectation in your opening statement.

After you’ve shared your unpopular opinion, the next step is to follow it with the reasoning behind your opinion which leads to the central idea of your speech.

For instance, ‘I am beyond relieved that you all did not do well in the first half of the game. Because..

2. Prop it Up

Walking in the locker room with a prop will automatically direct your team’s attention towards you. Why? Because for us humans, we first see and then hear! Remember your eyes being reflexively directed to the most random movement happening in a room while listening to a speech?

When you bring in a prop, you create curiosity and intrigue the team. Here, it is important to choose a prop that best suits an idea or the theme of your speech. Give a remark that connects this prop to the message you are trying to convey.

For example, you could bring in a trophy of a previous game that your team won and connect it to your speech’s idea of playing your best game.

3. Factually Speaking

Start with a fact that is not generic. It could be a bit surprising and shocking to catch the attention of your team. Avoid using technical language, make it as simple as possible. After presenting the fact, pause and then lead your team to the reasons why the fact is relevant to them.

One example of using a fact to start your speech would be this:

Fact: Football players run an average of 9.65 kilometers during a game.

Before going to sleep tonight, each one of you would have run about 9.65 kilometers today. I am here to tell you to make each foot, each meter, each kilometer of those 9.65 kilometers count.

Top 3 Ways to Close a Coach Speech

a person waving a finish flag marking the end of a race.

1. Pose a Question

The benefit of concluding your speech with a question is that your message will remain in your team’s mind for a good amount of time. This gives them an opportunity to contemplate the actions that they need to undertake. It will also make them think over the things you said in your speech and prompt discussion among your team players.

The way to do this is by asking a rhetorical question, that gives your team something to think about. The question should also relate to the theme of your speech and not an extra topping.

Here’s how Al Pacino did it when he played coach Tony D’Amato in the movie Any Given Sunday :

“Now I think you going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You are gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That’s a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys, that’s all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?

2. Reflective Remark

Like a question, a contemplative remark also aims at encouraging your listener to ponder upon the central message of your speech. It is that one thing that stays in their mind throughout the game. To do this, you need to arrange the remark around the main idea of your speech. Don’t focus on making it sound good, rather focus on the matter it holds.

This is how Matthew McConaughey’s character, Jack Lengyel inspired his team with this contemplative speech ending,

“How you play today, from this moment on, is how you will be remembered. This is your opportunity to rise from these ashes and grab glory. We are…Marshall!”

3. Call-to-Action

If you want your speech as a coach to alter your team’s beliefs in a way that motivates them to take action in a particular way, then resort to the very well-known tool: call-to-action.

A call-to-action gives your listeners a detailed set of directions to follow after you are done giving your pep talk. A good call-to-action is simple, specific, and has a sense of urgency. It provides your team with a roadmap of the steps they are to follow in the future.

This is an example of one,

Here’s what we are going to do. We are going to..” or “So don’t you forget to…”

Examples of Great Coach Speeches to take Inspiration from

1.Central Connecticut Blue Devils Football Team

The coach of this football team starts his pep-talk before the match with an analogy. He asks a team member to break a pencil and then, a bunch of pencils. Suggesting the value of teamwork. 

The coach also incorporates humor by pointing out the skills of individual team members by saying:

Look at Freddy, he’s the Ferrari of our team. Hosey is our pickup truck, he’s going to pick up every ball tonight)

He further also points to previous winners of championships and urges his current team to visualize them in that position.

2. Leland Challengers 

Coach Johnathan Flowers starts by comparing the football field to a battlefield and teaches his team members the refrain – I Am A Champion by asking them the question – Who am I? several times in his speech. The aggression with which the coach and the team members proclaim these affirmations helps create a great sense of confidence. 

The coach gives his speech as a sort of a vow, pledging what a team member should be like on the field. For instance, he says,

Coach: No matter how bad things go, my heart and my mind will carry my body when my limbs are too weak. Who am I?

Team: I am a champion!

This speech highlights the power of repetition; by repeating the affirmation “I am a champion.” the coach reinforces this belief, this statement in the mind of his team. Here’s a complete guide to use repetition in speeches.

3. Sachem East Football Team

In this locker room talk, Coach Jimmy Dee delivers another great motivational speech to his team before their revenge playoff game against an opponent they previously lost to.

Coach Jimmy uses a lot of persuasive language, coupled with a dramatic tone of voice. Emphasizing the “48 minutes” that his team has and urging them to make the best of that time. He asks questions like “Who are we?” to which the team responds ‘Sachem’ to invigorate their team spirit.

He also reminds his team of a similar situation they encountered in the past and emerged victorious from. This helps greatly to strengthen the belief of the team.

4. Indian Hill Braves High School Football Team

This pre-game speech given by Coach Tony Arcuri in 2007, used a story from the Bible, namely, the story of David, who was chosen among his 8 brothers by God for his heart.

He drew parallels from a biblical story (crossing boundaries,  as we learned above) teaching his team, to “be the intangible’’ like David. 

They also ended with a prayer that has been going on in their football club which goes like this:

Lord, I am only one, but I am one, I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and that, which I’m about to do tonight, with your help, I will do, THANK GOD I PLAY FOR INDIAN HILL!

Sample Speech

One year of training. Three months of rigorous exercise. One month of being away from your families. All for the next 90 minutes. How are you going to make it worth the while?

I’ll tell you how. In those 90 minutes on the field, you are going to play the best game of football you have ever played in your life. Think about the first time you discovered your love for this sport. Think about the time you scored for your team. Do this for the love you have for this game, for your team right here. This is why you are here. To give your best. To be your best.

Being perfect doesn’t matter here. Don’t aim to be the perfect footballer, aim to be the best footballer out there. 

We have come a long way. I know you have doubts about this game like you have before every other game. But remember this, if you’ve made it this far, you are not going home, unless and until you have given your best performance out there. Until you are empty until you have nothing else left to offer.

I have always been, and always will be proud of each one of you. We all know if I had enough money, I would bring all eleven of you home. Because I have seen the men in this team for who they really are.

I have seen you working long hours to get techniques right. I have seen you put time with your family on hold to not miss a single day of training. I have seen you support each other as a family when Todd lost his brother. As your coach, I see you, I see the value you bring to this team. 

You’ve played one of the best games this field ever witnessed last fall. You’ve come cheering in this locker room after the match. You have made your families, yourselves and so many others proud by doing what you love. And so, I am not going to say anything else to you all.

You have done this before, and you are going to do it again. And while you’re at it, make every second of those 90 minutes count.

In Conclusion 

To be able to inspire someone to achieve something is rightly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a coach.

A coach always strives to improve and inspire their team. The tips we’ve elaborated on in the sections above can be used to improve your speaking skills as a coach so that you find the right words for your team, at the right time. 

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