How To Give Effective Pep Talks, According To Scientific Research

how to give effective pep talks

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Journal, there are three elements that coaches need to hit in order to give effective pep talks. We broke them down for you and explain them in detail.

Some of the greatest motivators are perceived by the people around them as having the “gift” to motivate their players. But, when it comes to motivational pep talks, there may be more science to it than you were aware of.

Why are some coaches terrible at giving effect pep talks and motivating pre-game speeches?

Well, coaches don’t receive any formal training when it comes to giving effective pep talks that motivate their players because there is none. When you get in the coaching, you really have limited resources out there for advice on how to deliver effective pep talks. It’s mostly a skill that coaches learn from experience and the opportunities that they had in playing and coaching alongside some really motivating coaches.

However, there’s a large majority of coaches out there that haven’t had the opportunity to play for or coach alongside motivating coaches. This forces you to try and go on YouTube to find a viral pre-game speech, pop in an inspirational sports movie and fast forward to the effective pep talks at the end before the team wins the big game, or you can try to read about effective pep talks and try to develop your own game plan on giving them.

Now more than ever in history, motivation is a large part of the occupation. It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching in the national championship or if you’re coaching your child’s youth sports team on the weekend. At every level, it appears that being a world-class motivational speaker is a job requirement just to coach your daughter’s soccer team. Blame it on the instant gratification society, smart phones, or whatever you want to – the difficulty of giving effective pep talks is here and it doesn’t look like its leaving anytime soon.

But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered due to some research done by Milton and Jacqueline Mayfield at Texas A&M International University. The Mayfields have spent more than 30 years studying motivating language theory and examining its application in the corporate world. Plus, their findings have been backed by studies conducted by some of the best sports psychologists in the world. 

The 30 year study – which was published in the Harvard Business Journal – found that in order to give effective pep talks to your players, you have to have three specific elements: 

The 3 Elements of Effective Pep Talks, According to Science:

how to give effective pep talks

Uncertainty-reducing language 

This is described as when coaches provide precisely “how” your team is going to go out and win. It’s when coaches provide clear, understandable instructions at how the team is going to execute the game plan to come out on top. 

For example, it can create a lot of confusion when a coach says “we’re going to go out and pin them in their zone so they can’t move the ball/puck”. The coach may think that they’re communicating their game plan to their players, but they’re really not because it’s vague. There’s no specific reason how to execute that game plan. 

Instead, an effective pep talk would have something like:

“I’ve studied the other team and they aren’t very mobile. So, what we’re going to do is pin them in their own zone with man on man coverage. Stay on the right side defensive side of your assignment and press hard. If you happen to get beat on your assignment, use your feet to get back into position because each and every one of you is faster than them.” 

In the latter, you’re giving specific details so that your players can visualize how they are going to go execute that plan. They can close their eyes and see themselves playing right up on their opponent, giving them no time or space to react. Plus, you’re empowering them a little bit by complimenting their quickness. It’s almost guaranteed that your players will go out and play with more energy and enthusiasm with that second example. 

Empathetic Language 

This is the actual human element when it comes to communication. Coaches who can motivate their players effectively are people who show honest empathy for their players. Coaches who understand what their asking their team to do are much more effective communicators than the coaches who adopt the my-way-or-the-Highway philosophy. 

What it means is using powerful phrases such as “I know I’m asking a lot of you, but I wouldn’t ask you if thought that you couldn’t achieve it” and “trust me – I’m going to be hard on you and push you to your limits, but know that it’s because I care about each and every one of you and want you to achieve something special”.

When you take an empathetic route, as in the examples above, you’ll start to build rapport with your team. They’ll start playing for you because they know that you’re there for them. 

Meaning-making Language 

The last, but certainly not the least, is the “why” aspect of the pep talk. This is where coaches can put their own personal experiences, stories and beliefs into “why” your players need to do something. It’s how your inspirational message and coaching philosophy line up to deliver what you want to say to your players. 

An example of an effective pep talk with meaning-making language would be:

“We’re going to push the pace of the game and break their will in the first 20 minutes of the game. They’re going to be asking to go back in the locker room. Why? Because nobody has worked as hard as you have all season. All of the workouts and the adversity you’ve faced all season is what has prepared you both mentally and physically for this moment. You’re all here for a reason, and that reason is to come together and achieve something so great that it will stay with you for the rest of your lives.”  

So, the next time you walk into the locker room before the big game, make sure to hit on the “how” and “why” of what you’re going to do that day. And, always remember that you know “who” is going into battle for you and always have their back. 

Follow these three tips the next time you give your pre game speech and you’ll have a motivated, focused and prepared team ready to explode out of the locker room. 

Which of these 3 tips on giving effective pep talks do you like the most? Let us know by sharing this article on your social media and tagging us in it!