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Effective Motivation During Your Team Talk Requires Special Words

The best sports coaches (and managers) understand that words can mean a lot. But words only take on powerful meanings when they are mutually understood and emotive for the people who are communicating with each other. That’s a very subjective and subtle thing. It is unique from group to group and situation to situation.


Gregg Popovich: Wants some “nasty”

For example, to some people, hearing “I need you to give 110%” on this project can be crystal-clear and motivating. To others, they think it means their manager doesn’t have a grasp of basic mathematics.

It’s a standard piece of advice to leaders that they should “choose their words carefully.” But it’s not just care that is required. Don’t chose words that you like or are merely comfortable using. Choose you words *empathically* – use very specific, special words that resonate with your team, your clients, your business partners.

Here below is commentary of a short time-out break timeout break during a National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff game between San Antonio and Oklahoma a few years ago. San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich uses some unusual language, but probably language that works, because his team went on to win the game. Here’s a link to the video clip.

The account below is from ESPN.com writer Kevin Arnovitz:

Wired coaches are a nice little frill of the modern-day NBA telecast, but the segment often produces a flurry of well-worn clichés and platitudes. But every once in a while a huddle sound-byte will transmit the essence of a team, its coach and its guiding principles.

“Are we having fun yet?” Gregg Popovich asked the team as they trailed by nine. He raised his voice enough to be heard over “Sweet Caroline,” but no more loudly than he needed to. “I need a little bit more dose of nasty. I’m seeing a little bit of unconfident, a little hesitation. It’s not supposed to be easy. Every round gets tougher. … Penetrate hard, good passes, shoot with confidence. I want some nasty!”

Popovich expressed himself with pure calm. This was one adult speaking to other adults, and the tone was as moderate and measured as anything we’d hear at a random office meeting. Five minutes later, the Spurs took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Spurs didn’t win the game because their coach projected reassurance and confidence to them during a dead ball. They went out and made plays, protected the ball and attached themselves to Kevin Durant’s right shoulder. But the message sounded like an official declaration of the Spurs’ teamhood.

glenn.whitney@sportscoachradio.com