When I first found myself thrust into managing a football team I quickly discovered that carrying out a team talk in front of my players was probably the most daunting and nerve wracking part of the role. One day I was a player like the rest of the boys and the next I was standing front and centre giving those who had been my peers instruction and the occasional row. I used to get tied up in knots at times knowing exactly what I wanted to say but not quite putting it out as I had envisaged before I stood up. I lost my chain of thought easily and sometimes said things to players that were a bit insensitive or that should have been said in private. I lost a lot of sleep the nights before a match because I ran through the team talk constantly in my head and worried about saying ridiculous things or becoming a bit like David Brent from the tv show The Office.
Fast forward all these years and I still continue to lose sleep the night before a game. Regardless if it’s a cup final or a should win match against the bottom of the league team. For me, a pre match team talk is THE single most important part of the job. If I can execute it properly with the perfect amount of instruction that will be retained by each player without over complicating it, and add to that fluid and fast speech using motivational language, then I can often send my players out with the belief that nobody is going to stand between them and the victory.
The difficult part for us amateur Managers is that our players arrive in high spirits prior to the game with the dressing room banter flowing and high octane music pumping from the team sound system. They are happy to see each other and are enjoying the carry on before the game as they get stripped. With this in mind timing is crucial of when to enter into the dressing room to begin. If I walk in right in the middle of a joke then I can kill the mood or occasionally become the butt of one myself which can lose me my credibility before I have even started.
I always ensure the music is switched off and have everyone sitting down where I can make eye contact. Silence from the players is key so that I can allow strong statements to linger in the air for maximum effect. As I said earlier it’s important to make sure any team or positional instructions are kept brief and clear so as not to avoid confusion. Most of the time these instructions are the same as previous weeks and if I have had the luxury of a settled team then this area takes up little of the preparations. I spend most of my spare time all week prior to a game running over the motivational part of my team talk. In my opinion these words should be the last spoken by a Manager before the players leave the dressing room and nobody else should have a say after the manager is finished, other than to shout out and gee up their team mates. I make the final statement have the most impact as it should be the message in the players heads for the 90 minutes of the game.
I’ve been part of dressing rooms where my manager’s organisation or motivation has not excited me, I haven’t been “brick wall” ready for him, and I have relied on my own personal self motivation to get me prepared. When I became a Manager I had an appreciation that not all players had my own levels of self motivation and they needed that extra lift to get them up for the game to the standard I expected of them. Hence why I place so much importance on my talks and spend so much time planning them. I used all of my experience of having poor Managers as a player to ensure that I never said or did the things they did either before or during a game.
Halftime team talks can be slightly different. Obviously the result has a huge impact on your halftime words and I find it easier to talk when I’m behind at the break rather than ahead. For me it’s usually easier to point to where we can improve or be different and try to plan a comeback than it is to keep playing the same way or hold a lead. Being in front can be tricky, especially if it’s by a few goals as complacency has a tendency to creep in from the players and the Manager so I always try to keep the motivation high and set a challenge for the second half, be it a clean sheet or the next goal.
I think the only real way to qualify if your team talks have had an impact is to gauge the players reactions when they leave the dressing room and to see how they respond on the park in the first ten minutes. I know in myself if what I have said has got across to them or not when they walk out that door and cross the white line. In no way do I think I have cracked it yet and I have probably still got a lot to learn, and maybe one day I’ll have a full nights sleep the night before a game but I really enjoy this side of it as there is no better feeling as a Manager than seeing your words being put into practise by your players on the field.
Sit down and listen in.