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Say the wrong thing at the wrong time and your well-intentioned team talk could do more harm than good. Sports psychologist Bill Beswick reveals the secrets behind delivering the perfect team talk.
Some years ago Derby County had gone on a 20 game unbeaten run and then crashed 0-3 away from home to title-rivals Sunderland. The effect in the locker room was more like a disaster than a defeat. The players sat silently waiting for the wrath of their fierce manager, Jim Smith.
Jim walked in, sat down and said: “Thank God for that! I don’t know about you lot but I haven’t been able to sleep at night with the pressure of this unbeaten run. Tell you what, let’s all have a good two days off and we’ll start to build a new run on Tuesday.”
The Derby players picked themselves up and held their form to the end of the season, earning promotion to the Premier League.
A quick but perfect team meeting from Jim Smith had all the qualities that coaches should consider in their efforts to make perfect team meetings with their players.
1. It was needed – only get the team together when there is something to say
2. It was appropriate – the team needed to know how to feel
3. It was relevant – Jim didn’t talk about the past but focused on the future
4. It was concise – it’s not what you know but what the players can take
5. It was effective – Jim made sure a defeat did not turn into a slump
6. It was clear – simple, understandable and emphatic language
7. It had personality – Jim at his best, character in action
8. It motivated – in this case re-motivated a team that could have collapsed
9. It bonded – the message brought the team back together. Nobody was blamed and Jim took the responsibility
10. It was the right location – the message was best delivered in the locker room
11. It was immediate – a coach has to be proactive when a problem is emerging
12. It changed the story – great team meetings take players from negative thinking back to positive thinking
13. It succeeded – Jim was not worried about losing (it was bound to happen) but about the possible impact of the loss
14. It cleared the mess – the team talk left all the players on the same (positive) page
I am a great believer in team talks because they are a fast and effective way of shaping team mindset – and mindset is vital to performance. Preparing and giving team talks is an essential skill of the modern coach.
• Stand where everybody can see you
• Make eye contact
• Speak to the back of the room
• Be animated, give energy
• Add some humour to relieve tension
• Ask questions to engage players
• Use stories/models to illustrate
• Don’t speak for more than 15 minutes
• Keep an upbeat tempo
• Speak in bullet point form, not lengthy narratives
• Use visual aides where necessary (flipchart, whiteboard, powerpoint)
• Finish with a clear ‘take-home’ message
When asked the best team talk ever, I have to refer back to that great coach and psychologist Brian Clough. His team Nottingham Forest were playing badly and losing 2-0 at home. At half time the players waited in the locker room for their manager. They waited and waited and just before they had to go on for the second half Brian Clough appeared and said: “Sorry boys, my fault, picked the wrong team”.
Forest went on to win the game 3-2.