Firing Up Your Players
By Anthony Lanzillo on Oct 5, 2016


“Once you step on the field…the difference between playing well or poorly lies completely between your ears…playing to your potential is all about how well you can execute mentally.” Alan Goldberg – sports psychologist
“…football games are won through execution, not emotion.” Jared Wood – high school football coach

Growing up, I was always told that if you play with fire, you could get burnt and hurt yourself. Well, after watching some of the college and NFL games over the past several weeks, I’m wondering if a few of the coaches in those games are now second guessing their decisions to fire up their players at particular moments of the games.

There was one college coach who decided to fire up his players at the beginning of the game, and wanted his team to play with great emotion. While the team came out strong and was leading after two quarters, the players began making mental mistakes, appeared to be emotionally drained, saw their lead disappear in the second half and ended up losing the game. In another game, a NFL coach decided to fire up his players when his team was behind on the scoreboard by ten in the first half. When the ref blew the whistle to end the game, his team had lost by over twenty points.

Whether you are coaching a football team at the youth level, in high school or at the collegiate level, it may be wise to really think about why and when to fire up your players. If your primary mission is to prepare your players to mentally and physically execute designated plays to get your team down the field to score, then you need to train the players to use such mental skills as being focused, staying in the present moment and being clear about their different tasks to help the team succeed. Whenever you choose to pull the emotions card and fire up your players, you want to make sure that you are using or channeling those emotions to drive the players’ mental game, and not destroy their mental skills and possibly burn them out emotionally.

Here are several thoughts about when and where to fire up your players. First, it’s probably good to do this when the players can focus on the “message”, have the fewest distractions and also can process what the coaches are saying. Therefore, some of the best times to fire up the players are actually at practices or in the locker game on game day. Second, if you choose to fire up your players, make sure that you are using this emotional charge to fuel the players’ personal or team goals for the game. Just to start yelling or screaming at the players, without a message or focus, can actually burn the players out – emotionally and mentally. Third, remember that there are different approaches to firing up your players. You can use the scene from a movie, a quote from a book, a piece of music or even bring in a guest speaker. Firing up your players is not about the noise but more importantly to use a special moment to move and motivate your players, and to send a message.

Firing up your players is like lighting a match. When you light a match, you want to make sure that you know why you’re lighting it before you do or you will simply burn yourself. Likewise, you have to make sure that the coaches are clear about what they want to achieve or accomplish with the players before they start firing them up. If not, it could be a waste of time and energy, and it may simply blow up their mental game.

Anthony Lanzillo –