By Tony Earp
Like any coach before a game, I carefully think about what I am going to say to the players to help them play to the best of their ability. I talk about what our goals are for the game as a team and individually. It is important to make sure all the players are on the same page in that respect. Then I try to motivate the players and have an impact on their mindsets before stepping on to the field. My goal is to get the kids motivated to play and excited about the game. In the past, I have talked about working hard, giving it your best, you are the better team, you have to earn it today, and other things my coaches use to say to me. I now realize that my approach may not have been the best thing for the players before the start of a game.
Reviewing the team’s goals for the game is always important and should be part of every pregame talk with the players. This is a critical part of getting players ready to play and connecting the week’s practice sessions to what you want to see the players attempt during the game. This will always be part of what I talk about before a game with any team.
It is the next part that I have fallen short over the years with my players. I was just doing what my coaches used to do and what I see in the movies. For example, “Miracle” is one of my favorite movies of all time and the pregame speech before the game against the Soviets is my favorite scene of any movie. There was an important element to that speech that I have missed before and I now include in every pregame speech. Coach Brooks says, “It is your time.”
Although he may have meant it in a different way, it highlights something missing in my instructions to my players in the past. Simply, it is about them. It is their time. The game is their time. It is their time to be kids, be players, compete, have fun, succeed, or fail. In the end, it is just about them. This seems obvious, as “it is about the kids” is about as cliché as it gets, but how often do coaches actually remind the kids of that before they step on the field?
My goal was always to motivate, so I would put on my coach’s hat and say things to try to get the kids excited about playing. I might say something like, “Remember the last time you played them?” Did I really think the kids were going to go out and play better because of they wanted revenge? Is that really the best motivator to compete? If they win, then what is their motivation the next time they play the same team?
With this in mind, did I really even need to get the kids excited to play? I was always excited to play. My coach never got me more excited about it. I loved to play and I wanted to play more than anything else. Nothing that was said right before the game made me want to compete more than I already did. And if I needed that motivation, that would be a problem that a few words would not solve.
I have started to rethink what I say to players before a game. After the instructions are given and the game is about to start, I thought about what the player really need to hear. This is along the lines of what I came up with:
You had a great week of training and you are prepared for today. Today is about you. It is not about me or your parents. It is not about anything that happened before this game or will happen after this game. It is about you, right now, and your opportunity to play the game. Play today the way you want to play, in a way that would make you proud, and in a way that would make your teammates proud. I want you to enjoy every second you have on the field and make the most out of it. I look forward to watching you play and compete today.
This is a little different than what is normally heard before a player takes the field. As a player would you be ready to play after hearing this? Again, I think players for the most part are already excited about playing. In terms of helping their mentality and their approach to the game, this should help the players put the game in perspective and focus on what is most important when the game begins.
The best teams and players play with this type of mentality all the time. You hear it during interviews pretty frequently. Watch Sportscenter the next chance you get and see what the winning and losing players/teams talk about in the locker room. The players on the winning team will talk a lot about wanting to make sure they played well for their teammates (and the fans) and could be proud of the effort they gave at the end of the game. The players on the losing team will refer to the fact it was not their best effort and they are not proud of their performance. Often, they will go as far as, “my teammates deserve more from me.”
Even at the professional level, the game is about the player, and those athletes view it that way. When the whistle blows and the game starts, it is about them in that moment and in that game. It is about them enjoying it and giving their best effort at all times. As a coach, before a game begins, take the opportunity to remind youth athletes of that fact. Ironically, even though the kids are not the ones being paid to play, they often approach the game as if it is a job.
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Filed under: Working with Players