Sometimes, the secret to winning lies in what is said, not what is done.
Many coaches have their own ways of telling their kids to seize the moment. Motivation is a delineating line between triumph and defeat. These trainers may make speeches, or utter one simple—yet utterly meaningful—sentence that the players hold firm. From the great Sir Alex Ferguson all the way to the miracle worker Herb Brooks, they utilize pre-game talk to make their messages clear: we want to win.I encountered the exact same situation, this time only a few hours prior to the kids’ performance at the choral festival. To say it was easy would have been a gross overstatement, for the challenges they faced were the extra real. They were not messing around: the category was “mixed teenager-youth choir” by name, but in reality, more university students were participants compared to my boys and girls—yet to reach 18 years of age—a daunting prospect.
I can see from some faces that they were not that prepared to face the competition, especially considering the crazy shifting schedule that caught us off-guard many times. I did not know if a full pep talk was needed, but I gave one anyway, starting with the boys, and then the girls, separately.
What did I tell the guys, you may ask? I am not a preacher, nor am I a football or sporting coach. Even so, I remembered two things: the Bible, and examples from other coaches. Only from those things then I could utter things to the kids akin to their conditions.
Firstly, I remembered that guy, Herb Brooks. How on earth could this guy took a humble team of amateurs to beat the world’s goliath in ice hockey? Apart from the fact that the competition was held on home turf (Lake Placid), the circumstance was so great that the nickname “miracle on ice” seemed apt. Just prior to that defining game against their biggest rivals—Soviet Union—Coach Brooks delivered what would became one of the greatest speeches in the history of sport:
Great moments are born from great opportunity.
And that’s what you have here tonight, boys.
That’s what you’ve earned here, tonight.
If we played ’em 10 times, they might win nine.
But not this game. Not tonight.
Tonight, we skate with ’em.
Tonight, we stay with ’em, and we shut them down because we can!
Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.
You were born to be hockey players—every one of ya.
And you were meant to be here tonight.
This is your time.
Their time—is done. It’s over.
I’m sick and tired of hearin’ about what a great hockey team the Soviets have.
This is your time!!
That one speech reinvigorated the Americans, and they did win the game against the Soviets, and went on to be the gold medalists of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
I did remember telling the kids something in the spirit of Coach Brooks, starting by telling his story, and uttering his first sentence, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.” How not? Consider this: In eleven times the festival has ever been held, and in more than three decades, this was the only time this choir has ever gained the chance of participating in the national stage. After waiting for more than 30 years, the same opportunity might not come again for the next thirty. The fifteen minutes in which they would perform, without a doubt, was a great opportunity not to be missed. It might come that time, but it might not come again in the future. Thus, through this great opportunity, something historic must be made.
One of the most compelling messages, though, was that sentence from Coach Brooks, “If we played ’em 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight.” Trust me when I am saying to you, I felt this tremendously. Again, consider this: There were four strong contenders for the gold medal, and we were not one of them. It was true, nine out of ten meetings, we would have been beaten handsomely. But I had this strange conviction, not this time, not today. It was not about winning (i.e. becoming champions). I have to admit, and I still admit, becoming champions (getting the highest score) will be difficult, and I am being realistic. However, getting a gold medal (scoring 80 or up) is not impossible, and is a triumph in itself. My point when I said that was, getting a gold medal was winning in itself, and while 9 out of 10 times they might well fail, I believed not that time, just not that time. This would be different.
There was one particular sentence that I highlighted also, “Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.” This was highly serious. I told the kids, “When you step on the stage tomorrow, believe that you are the best choir in the world. And remember also, the best choir in the world demands the best performance.” Little did I know then, this particular sentence rang true to many ears. Some of them remembered by word what I said, especially this very part.
Now, it is not solely about winning. During this kind of competition, it is important to remember that the glory is not ours. We may pursue triumph, gold medal, championship, award, title, or whatever. Nevertheless, it is not for our sake. It is for His sake, His glory, His joy, that we try our best to get it. I remember a verse from the Bible, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23 ESV). The message is simple, do your best, as for the Lord. We do work for the Lord, and not merely as for, despite the fact that there are earthly awards to pursue.
It is a good reminder also that it is bad, and practically impossible to rely only ourselves and not God. Ultimately, I told the kids also, that we have done whatever we could, to the best of our ability, and it was time to surrender everything to our Helper. I remembered this verse, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV) The message that I understood was, if the Lord has been willing to help us until that point, He would certainly accompany us from that point forward. We would not be disappointed when we fought with our Savior.
What is the point of this post? I am telling you that sometimes pep talk does have its own influence to the team you are leading. As human beings, we often lose motivation, strength, drive, spirit, or even willingness to step onto the game and do at least what we are supposed to do. Many coaches realize that words can be very powerful, especially when their teams are in dire need of strengthening words. True, we are searching for earthly possession, after all, the gold medal is a normal goal that we need to achieve, and it is our duty to achieve in competitively (cleanly, of course). Yet our moral compass remains the Lord, that has helped us thus far, through the grueling months of practices, through all joy and sadness, He has been very kind to this team. And it is not only fair, but it is a duty for us to ultimately return everything to Him, the source of all our talents. Who are we without Him, anyway.
We can later see with satisfaction that our words can change things up, whether people realize it or not. Spirits rejuvenated, motivation restrengthened, willingness reappear. It may be direct, it may be indirect, but I think pep talks are important. More than merely a briefing, more than merely a set of instructions. It is how we make sure that the team know their job, and to do so with proper thought, proper spirit, and proper drive. That is what pep talk is all about.