Super Bowl XLV: Motivation in the Locker Room

What do the coaches say to the team before kickoff? How is the message different than the ones leading up to the big game? These messages, if delivered with authenticity and enthusiasm have the power to drive us to much higher levels of achievement.

Motivation is extremely important in sports and in life. Without motivation I think we would all be couch potatoes. Television, video games, and the power of media greatly influence young adults. They have the power to sedate our senses and put many of us in suspended animation. The distractions of life get us so sidetracked with alternate realities we stagger at times to get much done.

Sports leaders that exemplify a passion for performance excellence and true motivation include; Pat Summit – University of Tennessee, Tara Vandeever – Stanford University, Mike Krzyzewski – Duke University, Pat Riley, and Phil Jackson to name a few. Great motivating coaches of the past that come to mind are Bill Walsh – San Francisco 49ers, John Wooden – UCLA, Vince Lombardi, Dick Vermeil and Jimmy Valvano. The message Lou Gehrig gave us during his farewell speech to the fans at Yankee Stadium, “I’m the luckiest man..” rings in my mind as one of the most powerful and courageous speeches of all time.

Some coaches and leaders motivate by intimidation, by inspiration, through emotion, through preparation, by ignition, and some the old school way using a unique set of values and principles. The common themes among them are; take action, respect one another, honor the game, encouragement, inspiration, and commitment. The messages these coaches send include; dreams do come true, believe in yourself, you belong here, this is your time, “win one for the Gipper”, and “never give up.” Mike Tomlin – coach of the Pittsburg Steelers made this statement to the graduating class of St. Vincent’s College, “I’m a dreamer. Make the daily commitment to take action. Dream big! Play the game to win. You must continue to dream the wild dream that you dreamed when you were young.”

Motivational speeches aim to build confidence through vision and optimism. At the beginning of the season some coaches make bold statements about goals and where they intend to go. The message is deliberate and it’s believable. Others stick to the X’s and O’s and getting to the end goal one day at a time. Take Rex Ryan for example, he is believable because his message is consistent with his personality. “His character is what pulls us towards him,” says defensive lineman Trevor Pryce.

At times the best speakers say nothing and then they can say everything. There is generally a theme, and purpose to inspire. It’s about revealing emotion with intention and the inspiration to go for it without fear. The most important quality is “authenticity.” Mike Robbins in his book, Be Yourself Everyone Else is Already Taken, makes it clear that authenticity means “realness”, and “genuineness.”

The pre-game is about motivation, a higher purpose. It’s deliberate, brash, intentional, brutal, emotionally sensitive, real and genuine at times. There are no guarantees, but there are game plans and intentions. Sometimes the plan balances on guarantees and for some guarantees motivate and inspire.

Some may differ with me on this point, but it not about the outcome so much as it is about the process of striving toward that goal of winning and achieving success. Life is about teaching purpose, perseverance, tough mindedness, vision and authenticity. When the message is authentic and from the heart it will be believable, and respected.

Lou Holtz taught his players to live life by a set of values and principles. On separate occasions he inspired and motivated five college football programs to rise above losing records to become winners. He taught his teams three fundamental principles; 1) do what is right, 2) do the best you can, 3) and treat others like you would like to be treated. I love this quote from Lou, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Jim Valvano’s quote sums it all up, “How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it.” This is inspiration!

Whether in the locker room, the boardroom or the grand stage of life motivation starts with intention and a desire to achieve. It then requires great attitude, an action plan, and the discipline to stay on the path no matter what. Finally, it takes that locker room speech from that special coach to inspire to keep on the right path, to work hard, and to dream to be the best we can be.

Written by John R. EllsworthMental Game Coach

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