It’s a regular misconception that the strongest team wins a game of sport. Often, games are won in the dressing room. The importance of a pre-match team talk is undoubtedly critical to sporting success, but what should managers include within their idiom?
An obvious example to take inspiration from would be Sir Alex Ferguson. During his 26 year reign in charge of Manchester United, he lifted more than 30 trophies, making him the most successful manager in British football history.
There was no single key to success with Sir Alex. His ideology wasn’t an isolated phenomenon. His ethos allowed a culture to grow within Manchester United that spread to the players, youth and staff at the club.
He also showed loyalty to players which isn’t a common theme, particularly in the modern game. He combined this with belief in young talent. We all remember the class of 92 right?
He placed extreme trust and belief in a set of young players that allowed him to win the league that same year, putting critics like Alan Hansen in their place.
I thought you couldn’t win anything with kids, Alan?
His ability to craft and refresh teams over the years allowed Manchester United to dominate English football over two decades. They also lit up the world stage, winning Champions League titles against Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
It’s common knowledge that Sir Alex was a master of man management. The ability to drive and motivate players was a key tool he used within his pre-match preparations. He would treat each player individually, which would simultaneously motivate other players within the dressing room.
A key example was his treatment of Ryan Giggs. Ryan would regularly excel, both on and off the pitch. However, he would only need to make one mistake for Sir Alex to criticise him in front of the whole dressing room. Although this may seem unfair, it set an example to the younger players that nobody is spared of scrutiny and investigation. An absolute stroke of genius from the gaffer.
He also knew who would respond well to criticism and who needed to be nurtured to perform. Another prime example was Eric Cantona. It was a well-known fact that the French superstar never received any criticism from Sir Alex, even if he performed poorly. This also extended to the infamous incident of Eric’s flying kick on a spectator. Sir Alex stood by him, amongst strong influence to remove him from the club.
‘He needed someone in his corner,’ said Sir Alex.
‘I needed to look after him.’
His ability to understand his players on a personal level, both as a footballer and an individual, gave him a great platform to build on. He nurtured and developed players to the best they could possibly be, Cristiano Ronaldo being one of them.
‘He taught me everything. He was like a father figure to me.’
Keys to a successful team talk
There’s no perfect team talk and the topic of what to include is hotly debated. Here are some tips that we’ve taken from managers at the top of the game.
Sir Alex Ferguson – Showing energy in the dressing room was a key point for Sir Alex’s success. He maintained those levels of energy throughout his 40s, 50s and 60s because the players expected it of him. This often meant going to sleep earlier and monitoring his diet so his energy levels were high at crucial points in his career.
Stuart Pearce – Stuart’s perspective was slightly different. He speaks of how players are normally motivated enough in the lead up to games and taking the pressure off is often more important. He did this by relaxing players and reminding them of the talent they had within the dressing room.
Pep Guardiola – Players often play better when they’re angry at Pep – and he knows this. Therefore, he encourages his players to ‘hate him’ in order to drive them to improve and perform well on the pitch. Emotional tactics like these are essential within Pep’s team talks.
Jose Mourinho – In-depth analysis forms a huge part of Jose’s pre-match team talk. His preparations are so thorough, games are often won before the players leave the dressing room.
A coach’s perspective
Within this topic, we spoke to Andrew Rose, our Ski and Sports Tour Consultant. As we previously mentioned in our Rayburn Review blog, Andrew began his career within the youth set-up at Derby. With level 1 and 2 qualifications, in addition to his B license in coaching, Andrew provided us with great insight into the pre-match team talk.
During our conversation, he admitted that at a younger level, the way in which pre-match preparations take place may differ to the senior game. However, he drew many similarities to the professional game which were refreshing and surprising to hear.
The biggest takeaway from our chat was understanding your players as individuals within the dressing room. A pre-match team talk is the final piece of the puzzle before you enter the pitch. All the preparations and analysis have usually taken place during training that week and the critical thing to manage in the final moments is the players individually.
During his time at Derby, the coaching staff at youth level were encouraged to not only improve the ability of the players, but also to improve them on a personal level.
‘’Statistics showed that some of the players weren’t going to make it as footballers, so it was our job they left us as better people.’’
He somewhat disregarded the importance of the team talk, stating that the preparations during the week were more important. With that being said, summarising the week’s preparations in an effective and engaging way is critical.
‘’Players absorb and respond to instruction in different ways. Some learn by doing, some learn by listening, some prefer visual explanations where tactics boards are used. All players are different.’’
Therefore, a key point for success within the pre-match team talk is to account for the different personalities you have within the room. Language barriers (particularly within the professional game) may also be a barrier to success. This means the manager must be prepared beforehand and enter the room with a key plan to deliver his speech in the most effective way possible.
The strength of your coaching staff was another important element. A pre-match team talk is often given by a range of coaching staff, not just the manager. The assistant coach is regularly overlooked by fans of the game, but they provide critical support and assistance to the manager that gives substance to everything they do.
The pre-match team talk is not an exact science and the contextual nature of football cannot be ignored. Is there a right and wrong way of conducting the talk? Maybe. Is there an exact way of getting it right and wrong? Certainly not.
The responsibility ultimately lies with the manager to analyse the tools he has at his disposal. We can only look at the football greats in an attempt to find answers to what makes a great team talk.
Accounting for what’s been said, it’s also important to understand that nothing is ever guaranteed in football, including the outcome of what you deliver in the dressing room.
When deciding how to finish this blog, we thought some iconic quotes would be rather fitting.
‘’I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.’’
‘’I’m not a defender of old or new football managers. I believe in good ones and bad ones, those that achieve success and those that don’t.’’
‘’Before you can coach others, you must first learn to coach yourself.’’
‘’There are talks that just come to you and talks that begin from a few ideas based on what you have seen. What you can’t do is study the talks, learn them by heart. Two or three concepts are all you need, and then you have to put your heart into it.’’