Reconsider the Infamous Pep Talk

“Winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit.” –Vince Lombardi

Legendary Coach Vince Lombardi spoke these words while coaching for the Green Bay Packers before winning the first two Super Bowls. Some would find this pre game speech, or pep talk motivational and inspiring, while others may actually be terrified to hear words like this before a competition. A traditional pregame pep talk reminds athletes of the significance of the game and the uncertainties associated with their ability to meet the demands; which can create performance anxiety. If a player is inefficiently motivated, a pep talk could increase their activation toward a peak level. For those players who are optimally motivated though, the added hype from the pep talk may push them outside their ideal functioning level, producing anxiety. When athletes who are already anxious about performance hear a pep talk, they can become truly panicked (Martens, 2012).

Performance anxiety is very common for numerous athletes, as they are often uncertain about whether or not they can meet the demands placed on them by others and themselves, when those stresses are important. When the outcome of a game is critical and there is uncertainty about their ability to execute, their anxiety increases. Winning is important to athletes and they may correlate their self-worth to wins and losses. To help reduce performance anxiety, find ways to lessen the uncertainty about how their performance will be evaluated and also the meaning they place on each game. Change the way they assess themselves from winning to achieving their realistic personal goals. Instead of them judging their performance on a win or loss, have them measure themselves on the success of their individual goals. By focusing on personal, performance goals over outcome goals, the threat that causes anxiety is removed. When athletes do not link their self-worth to winning and losing, they do not fear failure (Martens, 2012).

Pregame pep talks are seen as tradition in most sports. I know I was one of those athletes that thrived when hearing motivational words, but I had teammates who would literally say to the coach, “Please don’t say anything to me before the game.” Being aware of the uniqueness among athletes is one of a coach’s biggest tasks. Coaches must address the needs of individual athletes and understand that while one may need these strong motivational words before a game, another will likely need quiet inspiration. Pep talks, “powerful motivation” before a game could potentially do more harm than good; however, words of encouragement are always fitting. Still, ensure you address the individual needs of your athletes (Martens, 2012).

Martens, R. (2012). Successful coaching. (4th ed.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 978–1450400510.