When March Madness is in full swing, I can only imagine all the college coaches passionately talking to their players in order to get them pumped up and ready to win the championship. As I quickly flash back to my days as an athlete, I can clearly remember some epic coaching moments. Some hammered me for playing poorly, while others roused the team to a higher level. Some used a subtle delivery, while others poured it on like we were preparing for war. No matter what sport you’re coaching—football, basketball, soccer, baseball—searching for the right words, the right examples, and the right stories to push your followers to perform to the best of their abilities is a difficult task. While the memories of such times fade as we grow older, the wisdom continues to echo.
I’ve compiled a list of some of the most inspiring pep talks from both film and real life. With a range of styles, these coaches have set the tone for the game, and etched their name in playing field of life.
1. Rudy is my favorite sports movie of all time, so it was difficult to pick just one scene. Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Austin) spent two years trying to get on the dress team of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. When it doesn’t happen, he decides to quit. Thankfully, he bumps into facilities manager Fortune (Charles S. Dutton) who had some advice. “You’re five-foot-nothin,’ a hundred-and-nothin,’ and you got hardly a speck of athletic ability, and you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years … In this lifetime, you got nothin’ to prove to nobody except yourself.”
2. In Rocky V, the great Rocky Balboa visits the memory of his dilapidated gym and his coach, Mickey, where he finds the strength and inspiration to go on. I signed up for a boxing class after I watched this.
3. The original “Invictus” poem was written by William Ernest Henley and performed by Morgan Freeman in the film Invictus. This is not your typical coaching moment, but the words are truly life changing. This poem provided strength to Nelson Mandela while in prison, and enabled the South African rugby team to inspire an entire nation. If you listen to every word, you will feel it too. This is the last verse.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
4. Jim Valvano, the longtime North Carolina State head coach, spoke at the inaugural ESPY Awards on March 3, 1993, to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. This speech means so much more to me now than it ever did before. Not a day has gone by since I got sick that Coach Valvano’s words have not been in my head. If you’ve never heard this speech I strongly encourage you to watch the whole thing. One of the great offerings Valvano left the world with that night was this: “[There are] three things we should do every day. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
He died that very next month, but left the world with this closing statement: “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you, and God bless you all.”
Also, check out the charity he announced on that night: The V Foundation For Cancer Research, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.
5. Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, makes his out of shape, segregated football team run to a place where father fought son and brother fought brother in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. At Gettysburg, “Hatred … destroyed … my family.” Coach explains to his team that they fought the fight that is still going on, and that if they don’t start to respect each other, they’ll end up with the same fate.
6. Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell, is the coach of Team USA as they battle the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. What I like most about this speech is that it is real. For those of you who don’t know about the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey team … shame. “This is your time” to rent the movie Miracle and witness one of the most important sports moments in the history of this country. Check out this Tonic article about this secret coaching weapon.
7. Life, like football, is a game of inches. Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) captures that analogy perfectly in this speech in Any Given Sunday: “In any fight, it’s the guy who is willing to die that’s gonna gain that inch.” Never take anything for granted. Always keep fighting, even when everything seems stacked against you. Wow. As corny as it may sound, I still get goose bumps every time I watch.
8. Who can ignore the miraculous speech that John Belushi gave to fire up his friends in the movie Animal House? “Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Bluto is my hero.
9. This is an actual clip from Knute Rockne’s famous “Inside ’em and Outside ’em” speech in the locker room of Notre Dame University. As a player, he revolutionized the game with the forward pass, and as a coach, he was unstoppable. In this pep talk, Knute wakes up his players with his rapid-fire delivery and big gestures. Apparently, the speech was so popular back then that young men bought recordings of it by the thousands and listened to it over and over, getting pumped to charge onto the playing field.
10. And, of course, Bill Murray in Stripes. An amazing motivational rant to rally his troops in this classic comedy.
John Winger: We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw Old Yeller? Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? [raises his hand]
John Winger: sarcastically Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure. [hands are reluctantly raised]
John Winger: I cried my eyes out. So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us. We’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1! Now we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Captain Stillman wants to have us hung. All we have to do is to be the great American fighting soldier that is inside each one of us. Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud.
Originally published on Tonic