I thought I’d share a very recent story of a meeting I had with a new PhD candidate and her primary-supervisor. While discussing and formulating a plan for the PhD on the effectiveness of coach pre-game speech, we noticed that although there was lots of anecdotal evidence, there was very little empirical evidence that pre-game speeches are prevalent across multiple domains. This is problematic, as although there is literature discussing the process and outcomes associated with delivering a pre-game speech, it is unclear where, how, and when the process may be applicable and effective.

Based on my experiences of elite sport, I was not convinced that coaches/managers really still use a pre-game speech. Further, I do not believe that top-level coaches regularly provide a pre-game speech in the way one might expect (i.e., Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday).

In an interview I conducted with a former Premier League and International football manager, he mentioned the following when asked how he motivates his players:

I’d like to say… I’d like to think that I’m [a good motivator]… I’d like…I always used to think it’s a bit like a priest on a Saturday sermon. You know, you’d sit and you’d talk before a game, it’s like a sermon. You’ve got to get into the players, you’ve got to get them on board. You know you obviously have your tactical chat about the other team, but then you’ve got to try and get the players off their seat.

I remember the end of my days at [x] club. A player came to me and said, “you know, you’re not giving the same speeches as you used to before games”. I replied to him and said “after the [x] years I’ve been at the club and you’ve been there with me, to be fair, I’ve run out of new things to say to you lot. I mean there’s too many of you that have been here all the time with me and there’s nothing new I can say and, and it’s hard work thinking every week of something to try and inspire you”. You know, and I used to work on the basis you had to inspire the team to go out and play.

At international level it is better because you only play 10 games a year. You had a theme for that game and you went with that theme, so your team talk would be really referenced. At the end of it you could say yeah, you could feel the team thinking, yeah let’s get out, let’s get out and really… and those 10 times a year was do-able. Every week twice a week, 50 times, 60 times a year is nigh on impossible.

I like to think obviously you can do the tactics, but I could motivate parts of people’s brains so that they saw there was something in it for them. I remember somebody said to me afterward I left [x] club, that the manager who replaced me in his first session said “look I’m not a motivator I don’t give motivational speeches, that’s not my way” and I assumed it meant because previous of him. I had been the manager and that had been my method prior to games. So perhaps he had heard or that was a thing that he had seen that he was more a technical coach and just put the technical things on and said look go out and do it.

With this limited information and our discussions in hand, I posed the following four questions in the form of Twitter polls.

This approach allowed me to generate 547-votes in 48-hours from these four polls alone (see here for the final polls). Although not a hugely rigorous process, it allows us to tap into the hive mind that is Twitter and receive instant feedback as to whether our assumptions are accurate and our research questions of interest. In this case, it appears that brief (< 10-minute) pre-game speeches are still prevalent, that they primarily focus on motivation or motivation and instruction, but rarely just instruction. Further, coaches believe that the pre-game speech has some influence over the team’s performance. Whether these perceptions are accurate aside, coaches appear to be delivering such speeches and believe that they have an effect. Therefore, these results partially reinforce the idea that this area may be worthy of further examination.

Following from these initial polls, I ran an additional three polls to try to tease out a little more information behind the context in which pre-game speeches are being applied.

Again, the approach is questionable and more time could have been taken in generating these questions. However, this has demonstrated that there is interest in the topic and helped refine further questions, which can be delivered in a more robust manner. More specifically, my initial thought that pre-game speeches are less prevalent in elite sport appear to be supported. Further, my previous interviewees comments around the frequency of games leading to the reduced application of pre-game speeches at national-level also appears to be supported. Instead, it appears that pre-game speeches may be most applicable when there is less contact with athletes (i.e., international or amateur). That said, without demographic information of the respondents, it is hard to decipher whether these results simply reflect the increased number of coaches working in amateur level competition. Still, for a Twitter poll that took minutes to setup and has generated interesting feedback, it has undoubtedly been a worthwhile and enlightening endeavour.

Given the quantity of feedback received in such a short time frame, I would strongly recommend using Twitter and the approach adopted here when narrowing and focusing future research questions. Particularly, if the research is in an area, such as this, that taps into an area of popular interest. But let’s not stop there, this blog post offers further potential for good feedback, so keep it coming in the comments. Can a speech lasting just a few minutes really influence performance, how much variance in performance can it account for, and is a process that is potentially only relevant a few times a year worthy of further investigation?