I was watching Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, and it got me pondering the concept of the “The “Motivational Team Talk”. I was sitting there pumped with adrenaline hanging off every word Mr Pacino was passionately expressing. I was ready to take the world by storm inch by inch, I was ready to claw for that inch, to live or die for that inch before going to my fridge and spreading 2 inches of Lurpak on a slice of bread. In my experience in the dressing room, there have definitely been several motivational sound bites and moments; yet I’m afraid to say, this heavily glamourised speech does not occur regularly if at all in lower league dressing room reality. It takes more than a few words from Big Al to get you up for an encounter at Central Park.
That’s not to say I haven’t been on the end of some motivational speeches, they are just few and far between and are usually centred on “getting right into those cunts”. On a typical match day, the management team will have 3 main opportunities to speak to his players. Pre game, half time and post match – 3 main opportunities to give his own version of Al Pacino. On these occasions, the manager and their staff mainly see it as their purpose to motivate their group and I have witnessed various methods, there have been several successful ones but it is always the unsuccessful ones that stick in the memory (guess I’m a half glass empty kind of guy).
As a player for Forfar, we were competing for the league 2 title with Arbroath. We had let an 11 point lead slip to just 3 or 4 points with only 4 games of the season remaining and panic was setting in. In our next home game, I’ve walked into the dressing room to see the wall covered in motivational quotes. Quotes such as, “Where there’s a will there’s a way”, “Everything happens for a reason” and utter tripe like “Nothing is impossible”; quotes I still see regularly on a Fiat500 twitter feed rapidly fetching more favourites and retweets than my blog collection (honestly, I’m not bitter). I respect that the management team were just trying to get the best from their players, and who knows it might have worked for some, but I found it cringeworthy and it just brought out my negative cynical side. Needless to say, we ending up throwing away the league and it is still one of the biggest disappointments that football has chucked my way.
It could have been worse, I could have been in the English Non-league’s Billericay Town dressing room last season. During my down time, I saw a clip online of The Billericay Owner/chairman/manager/2 sleeved, steroid taking, sun bed abusing, attention seeking prat (all rolled into one) forcing the players into a huddle and singing the sweet tunes of “The World’s Greatest” by R&B crooner R Kelly. While at the same time shouting “WHAT ARE WE, YEAH THAT’S RIGHT WE’RE THE GREATEST!!”. Although probably a publicity stunt, I really felt for the players who despite being extremely uncomfortable, had to go along with it or risk not picking up their weekly wage. Luckily, Dick Campbell hasn’t taken this idea into his pre match briefing – Although I suppose we would be more likely to be singing Frank Sinatra or Billy Fury than R Kelly.
I have seen managers use aggression, humour and honesty to try and ramp up their players’ pre game and these can work well depending on the mood of the players, however the content of what a manager says is probably more important.
What I genuinely hate is when a manager overcomplicates the issue in his pre match talk. Which brings me to Dick Campbell’s favourite acronym, K.I.S.S… Keep. It. Simple… Stupid. Although he is usually referring to us players, this adage is equally transferable to team talks. We want 3 or 4 simple concise instructions, apply them and see where it takes us. If we start to over think we will become indecisive, and although I can’t speak for everyone, I believe this is how most players feel. I have previously been in dressing rooms where the manager puts up a team on a flip chart and by the end of his team talk he has scribbled all over the chart with the runs he wants players making. This ultimately leads to indecision and confusion.
Half time brings a different type of team talk and is very much dependent on how the game is going. As the players are walking down the tunnel and into the changing room there will always be that player shouting the usual unhelpful clichés, “Fucking hell, this isn’t good enough”, “We need to be harder in the tackle” and “come on we need to get to the second balls”. Not only are these useless pieces of advice, the individual shouting this nonsense is probably having the biggest beast of a game in the entire team. Concentrate on your own game son. The talk from the manager then usually follows 3 strands:
1. If you are doing well – let’s not get complacent.
2. If you are drawing – keep it up, the next goal is huge.
3. If you are losing – You bunch of ____________________ (insert any collection of swear words you like) , you’ve got 5 minutes or I’m whipping on all 3 subs.
As a player, I savour the 15 minutes to get my breath back rather than the words of wisdom from others. Much like the pre game talk, the KISS theory is applied here for optimum results.
Similar to half time, post match team talks are again result dependent. If it’s a win, everyone is delighted no matter how scrappy it is. On the other hand, if it’s a defeat, the management team will have their say and storm out the dressing room with a few choice words on the way. This is always followed by a 20 second pause where nobody budges an inch. Then one player will slowly start to remove his sock tape, and ever so slowly the other players start to get changed. It is a strange process to be a part of and witness and I feel this routine would make a good segment in a David Attenborough documentary.
These team talks on a match day can have an effect, but I don’t believe they have a big one. Most of the work is done on the training pitch where a team can gel, bond and work on strategies in preparation for the game. All should be known before the day of the game, and I feel the team talk only serves a slight motivational and focus based purpose with a few last minute simple instructions thrown in. That being said, I’ve rarely seen a player who needs the words of his manager to get up for the game. Although some will play it cool, the majority of players love game day and just want to get out there and kick a ball about. As the gaffer would say “Saturday is fitbaw day” and if you can’t find motivation in that then you’d be better of spending your afternoon at Dobbies.