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There’s rhyme and reason for using poetry in your coaching

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Should coaches make time for rhyme? If you are dubious about the inspirational power of a poetic pep talk, see if I can change your mind. 

A well-delivered sound bite or saying, a clever turn of phrase committed to memory or a famous quote torn from a newspaper can act as an invaluable motivational tool that, used at the right moment, in the right manner, can trigger a release of adrenaline that helps spark a rapid resurgence. 

The spoken word has real power. Power to reduce people to tears, to elicit laughter, to make your valentine swoon with fuzzy feelings of romance or help revolutionaries recruit citizens to their cause and rise up against oppression.

A bit overdramatic perhaps, but if words can do these things, then they certainly have the power to instil a newfound zest in athletes whose effort may have, for whatever reason, temporarily stalled or be noticeably waning. 

You don’t need to be an orator of Winston Churchill’s standing, a natural-born leader in the mould of Nelson Mandela or an ace man-manager like Sir Alex Ferguson to be able to effect a significant improvement in performance with a few wisely worded sentences. 

And so to my suggestion, which most of you may find a little bit left field. Have you ever thought of giving poetry a try? 

What have you got to lose? ‘My marbles’, I here you reply. 

Bear with me. Poetic pep talks can be a highly effective tool with which to inspire your charges. 

I’m talking a few simple lines of rhyme, not a Shakespearean sonnet or some grandiose verse penned by a poet laureate. 

If you don’t feel in an imaginative mood, take the easy option and resort to the old faithful, Google. You’ll be surprised by how many people have written poems especially for sports coaches for use in a variety of different situations. 

Quote one at training as a persuasive ploy to get players to buy into your game plan; for a bit of fun to encourage player involvement and feedback; trot them out before big derby battles Braveheart style, or during half-time team talks to snap performers out of their lethargy and nudge them back on the right track. 

Now, I’m no William Wordsworth, but I am a Blake – albeit not a William Blake! – and felt compelled to attempt a few rudimentary rhyming couplets of my own that young performers might find amusing. Here goes nothing: 

A Coach’s Rallying Cry 

The opposition are strutting; I’m frustrated and tutting

This game isn’t being played on an equal footing

It’s like we are running through mud, lungs out of puff,

We are in serious danger of getting stuffed.

Half time comes and not a moment too soon

At this rate, we’ll be playing for the wooden spoon

Heads slouched as off they trudge; time to provide a timely nudge

The ‘Fergie hairdryer’ stays in its box. That won’t inspire a comeback shock.

Eyeball to eyeball, shoulder to shoulder

A huddle is formed, words carefully chosen

Now I have their attention, undivided

Time to reawaken their hunger, get them excited. 

‘Do you want to quit and throw in the towel?

Screw your faces into a scowl

Moan at the ref, “That’s a definite foul!” 

‘Or will you counter with spirit and tenacity

Show your true mettle for your parents to see

Rediscover your mojo and energy?’. 

Second-half onslaught from first whistle to last

A game of two halves, now it’s their turn to lapse

A triumph of willpower, hard work and belief

A lesson learned, we don’t quit, we don’t bleat

But far better than my questionable, jocular, attempt, how about this more emotional poem I came across online from an anonymous author that hammers home the message that rhyme has the power to inspire?

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit. 

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won had he stuck it out. 

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,

How close he was to the golden crown. 

Success is failure turned inside out

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It might be near when it seems afar;

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit. 

So, what do you think? Is there a place for poetry in sports coaching? Or have I indeed lost my marbles? 

Feel free to have a bash yourself or share any inspirational poetic lines you have used in your sessions. What are your thoughts on the use of poetry in coaching? Please leave a comment below.

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Comments (2)


Not lost your marbles, it's a viable option. If it works for your players, it's the right tactic. You never know until you try. My present players wouldn't respond well to poetry, but I do throw in linguistic tools to help reinforce or to make a point stick in their minds. My chosen weapon is the lexical ambiguity (or the pun).
An example was when a team I was coaching was drawn against a team from a long way away and a much higher league. We were playing at a local venue that we knew as a very bouncy astroturf (I'm talking hockey). Stopping the ball cleanly was particularly difficult.
The oppo weren't familiar with the pitch. I wanted my team to use this to their advantage and to mark a metre off their player, allowing space to poach a mis-stopped ball.

"On paper we are much weaker than them, but we're not playing them on paper, we're playing on astro and, in particular, THIS astro!... "

It worked a treat. They stole a lot of possession this way and still remember the pep talk... however, we still lost the match :(

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Brlliant,Brilliant ,Brilliant !!!!

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