You hear do much about teams getting “fired up”, many parents seem to like coaches who appear on the surface to get kids “psyched up” before games. While I feel it is important that the kids are physically and mentally ready to play, I find there is very limited value in getting kids fired up or to “hate” their opponent in order to be ready to play. I’ve written on this subject in a variety of ways in the past, but want to go off on a bit of another tangent with this post.
I’ve seen and heard so many silly pre-game speeches, it makes me nauseous just recalling them. I even know of a very well respected coach who riles his kids into a fury and has them chant loudly “hit with hate, hit with hate” before their games. Back in the day I used to think if I just said the right thing, got the kids really fired up and angry, that they would play inspired football. It never worked out that way. I’ve even heard a few descent speeches but I’ve never seen any of them have the desired effect.
In fact most of these speeches have the exact opposite effect, the kids play out of position or forget their responsibilities trying to make a big hit early. When that doesn’t work out, they ride that emotional roller coaster right into the pits of despair. Often when that happens the kids get more and more desperate to make a play and when they don’t you often see that frustration leading to blown assignments and even unsportsmanlike penalties.
It reminds me of those great Nebraska Cornhusker teams of the 90s, in one 5 year stretch they went 60-3, won 3 National Titles and played for another, just losing on a last second field goal. I went to every one of those home games and many of the away games. In those days I remember the Husker players coming down from their dressing room and out to the field. There was no screaming, yelling or jumping all over each other, there was just quiet resolve, focus and confidence. You could see it in the kids eyes and in their body language, they knew what they had to do and everyone in that stadium knew someone was going to get the snot kicked out of them that day and it wasn;t going to be the quiet kids dressed in red. Coach Osborne never demonized any opponent or made any fire and brimstone pre-game speeches. Compare that with the bravado, screaming, yelling, posturing, head bobbing and jumping around that went on during the Bill Callahan era here. Those teams went 27-22 and broke every negative record in the history of the program.
Did the pre-game attitude of the Callahan teams determine the outcome of the games? Probably not, so many of the losses were by blowouts, but their false bravado made them into a laughable paper tiger that crumbled in almost any tight game. When coaching youth football, don’t fall into the trap of getting your kids “fired up”. Come into the game well prepared with a sound game plan. Talk to the kids about specific coaching points and specific goals prior to the game. Expect to play well but don’t try and come up with some silly motivational scheme or talk and expect that to turn your season around. Youth Football is about execution, not about getting a very short term and possibly counterproductive spike in emotion from your kids.
Remember you really aren’t playing against the other team anyway, you are playing against your teams true potential. The game of football is in actuality almost like playing golf with another person. If he shoots a 138 and you shoot a 136, you win, but so what? How about the golf game where you shoot a 68, the best round of your life by 10 strokes and your opponent shoots a 67, did you play poorly? The game is measured by how well you play to your true potential and how exactly does getting your team spiked emotionally or getting your kids to hate their opponent help your team execute better?