Entrenamiento y salud Más Psicología Deportiva

The Pre-game Motivational Speech (I)

The Pre-game Motivational Speech:

A Coach’s Pep Talk

In the sports world, communication is considered crucial in a game, in the pre-game, inside or outside of the field, between the players, with the coach etc. It is well known that must be contemplated as part of the sport itself.

Reflecting on communication with the sports coaches, this may affect specific aspects of an event. However, when the coaches communicate, they are also giving away many other things; how they think, how they behave, transmitting values, concepts and thoughts, and everyone has different ways to do so.

This article examines the motivational speech of the sports coaches before a game, the pre-game speeches, “The pep talk “, its characteristics, structure and rhetoric devices that may be used, contrasts any views on the subject and evaluate the effectiveness founded in research and present a case study.

Before discussing the pep talk, an overview of motivation theories y needed in order to understand the process and why the pre-game speeches are widely used on numerous occasions, even outside of the sports environment.

Motivation Theories:

The pre-game speech is widely known by the popular informal term as “ the pep talk “, defined by Cambridge Dictionary (2018) as “a short speech intended to encourage someone to make more effort or to think more positively”.

As Sullivan and Strode (2010) stated in their article, despite the vast amount of researches, exist a lack of evidence providing positive results using a motivational speech for part of the coaches in a pre-game situation, and even with this statement, is broadly acknowledged that the use of the pep talk is an intention to improve the performance of the athletes, however, must be considered that motivation is a commonly misinterpreted idea (ibid).


Since the term motivation has been argued as overworked and unclear; in the entire field of psychology and others, the term has been defined so broadly and so barely that the term has been abandoned and new descriptions have appeared. However, the majority of the modern theorists coincide to consider motivation as a process instead of as an object (Roberts, Treasure and Conroy, 2007).

Sullivan and Strode (2010) cited Ryan and Deci (2002) article to specify that one of the modern motivational theories in sport, adopted as a result of its popular application across many backgrounds, has been the Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

The SDT is based on the person himself, in order to success, the person needs to be fully self-determinate, believing that the fate is on his hands, and nevertheless to succeed, this motivation also needs to be feed by external or internal factors, extrinsic or intrinsic motivation (Sullivan and Strode, 2010) see below Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Self-determination Continuum – Adapted from : Sullivan and Strode (2010)

Considering the pre-game coaches’ speech as per one of the referred external factors, part of an extrinsic motivation, supporting the process of motivation directing the sportspersons to improve their desire and determination to improve their performance.


In a recent article, McGinn (2017) discovered through his research that motivational speech consist of three crucial features: direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning-making. Furthermore, cited Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield as the experts with a vast number of investigations in the subject, called motivation language theory (MLT), see Figure 2, supported by conclusions from sports psychologists and military historians.

McGinn (2017) describes the three key elements of the MLT:

Direction giving”  as the usage of “uncertainty-reducing language”. The speaker concentrates to give the most accurate instructions on how to achieve the goals.

Empathetic language”, demonstrates concern for the players, where compliments, inspiration, thankfulness, and recognition of the efforts to complete the marks.

Meaning-making language” emphasises the importance of the mission, connecting the purpose of the group with the individual’s objectives.

Figure 2 : Representation of MLT (Mayfield and Mayfield, 2015)


McGinn (2017) also explains that to deliver a good pep talk, is necessary the mix and  balance of these three key elements, depending on the context and audience: “How” the task is going to accomplished “Why”  is the reason to do this, and taking care of the “Who” is the message for.

In McGinn’ document, the author also refers to Tiffanye Vargas, a sports psychology professor with several lab and field studying athlete’ speeches, to indicated that 90% to the players say like listening, and 65% say the speeches affect the way they play and going further specified that short and rich of information is preferred versus an unknown opponent and full emotions when they are not the favourites and/or facing a more well-known adversary.

The second part  will be published under The Pre-game Motivational Speech (II) title.

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Cambridge Dictionary (2018) Pep talk, dictionary.cambridge.org. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pep-talk (Accessed: 27 November 2018).

Roberts, G. C., Treasure, D. C. and Conroy, D. E. (2007) ‘Understanding the dynamics of motivation in sport and physical activity: An achievement goal interpretation.’, Handbook of sport psychology, 3rd ed. Hoboken,  NJ,  US: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp. 3–30.

Ryan, R. M. and Deci, E. L. (2002) ‘Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic-dialectical perspective.’, in Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester,  NY,  US: University of Rochester Press, pp. 3–33.

Sullivan, G. S. and Strode, J. P. (2010) ‘Motivation through Goal Setting: A Self-Determined Perspective’, Strategies. Routledge, 23(6), pp. 18–23. doi: 10.1080/08924562.2010.10590899.




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