In the modern age of analytics in sports, where decisions are based more on the application of cold numbers than raw emotion, it’s easy to dismiss the motivational speech as a hokey relic.
That would be a mistake. Sports are still played by humans, and the key to victory is often the ability to tap into the mental and physical reserves of athletes. The pre-game speech, and its appeals to pride, fear, anger, camaraderie, or patriotism may be the difference between winning and losing. NBA coach Pat Riley famously kicked down doors and hurled chairs in the locker room, and his fiery speeches helped push the LA Lakers to four championships. The Chicago Cubs attributed their 2016 Word Series victory—their first in more than a century—to outfielder Jason Heyward’s speech during a game 7 rain delay.
Most speeches are behind closed doors, with only the results of the game to speak to their eloquence. Luckily, video has surfaced of Paul Pogba, a midfielder for France, addressing his team before the World Cup final July 15. In less than a minute, the 25-year old Pogba masterfully summoned the magnitude of the moment, recalling the French team’s disappointing past (a runner-up finish at the 2016 Euro cup) and envisioning its potentially glorious future:
I want this evening to be in the memory of all the French people who are watching us. Their children, their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children. Today, there are 90 minutes to get back into history for life.
He concluded by asking for their tears: “I want to see tears—not tears of sadness, tears of joy—kissing the ground.”
Ninety minutes later, he got his wish. France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the final.