Q2 · 2019The power of PEP TALK

For team sports, this is currently the period of major finals in many countries all over the world. Many people are looking forward to the UEFA Champions League final, and the decisive games in the NBA and the NHL, to name just a few. For these games, in particular, the stadiums will be packed, and there will be millions of people watching on TV, looking forward to an exciting spectacle featuring the best athletes in their field.

The media has covered almost every possible story related to the finals, highlighting interesting details to the public that most of the sports’ followers have never heard of before.

One of the most important scenes, however, takes place behind closed doors, beyond the media’s lenses and microphones, and is kept private. It is when the players are gathering as a team in the locker room to share a key moment together. It is when their coach is giving the final pep talk to fill them with courage, ambition, determination, and team spirit just before they go out to perform: to swear the team to succeed.

The power of the pep talk

The pep talk is a very powerful communication technique in sports and few experts doubt its value or significance. It is such a proven source of motivation, enthusiasm, inspiration and vigor. The best coaches in the world know that it is a vital moment for the players, and that these few minutes before the game must be well prepared and highly focused to achieve the desired impact. Failing to provide a powerful pep talk before a big match would be a huge missed opportunity, putting the team at a competitive disadvantage.

Where a sports team differs from a leadership team

There are, of course, some differences between a professional sports team and a leadership team in business. In particular, there is more obvious clarity over a sports team’s objectives – they know when they are just practicing, and they know exactly when they must ‘show up’ and perform in a key match. For corporate performers it is almost impossible to distinguish between “practicing” and “performing” – in fact, “practice” very rarely takes place at all during a normal day at work. In addition, for corporate performers there are constant ongoing demands and they can often be working on several future challenges, whereas a sports team must focus exclusively on the upcoming game (it would be absurd to focus on winning the game after next). In business, this means that, most of the time, you can be sure that the individual members of a leadership team have some of their own major challenges in mind when they gather for a team meeting. There is always unfinished business keeping them occupied.

What they have in common

But there is one factor that great sports teams and highly successful business teams invariably have in common: a leader who is able to channel and focus the individuals towards collective success. True leaders, therefore, should regularly address their team, creating inspirational, energizing moments, and aligning all team members with the same confidence and optimism around their common purpose. This is very important even at a high level, where capable executives continue to need (and deserve) inspirational moments created by their most senior leaders. (What they do not need are tedious, intellectual speeches that lose all impact because of their length and complexity.)

What you can do as a leader

As a leader, prepare authentic, clear, concise pep talks covering the current situation and future goals of your team. Recognize your team’s strengths and achievements, the organization’s culture and, most importantly, your team’s higher purpose and contribution within the big picture. Five-minute pep talks at the beginning and/or end of some of your team meetings will pull people together and swear your team to succeed.

And don’t worry if you have already communicated similar messages in previous speeches – people appreciate it when you repeat the relevant success factors, as this clarity reinforces them with emotional safety and confidence.

Be a continuous source of inspiration for your teams!

I wish you great success.