Whether it’s before, during or immediately after a performance, do you ever get it right?

IS there a right or a wrong way to conduct team talks?

Let’s take a closer look?

Its match day, the preparations are complete and its time for your final words?


It’s an interval, the athletes walk over to the bench, and it’s your chance to make a difference?

It doesn’t matter either the level you’re working at; school, club, county, regional, national, or professional, as a sports coach you’re likely to give team talks, and you’ll be incredibly powerful and influencing or you’ll completely stuff it up!

As a National Coach, I used to consider the effectiveness of my team talks. You see, I wanted to find a way to take the emotion out of the situation. I knew that given particular circumstances, I didn’t always operate at my best – in fact I sucked!

What I noticed is, the harder I tried to remain calm, responsive and make appropriate decisions, the more anxious, judgmental and distracted I became!

There were times, however, when I’d be confident, relaxed and knew exactly how we stacked up against the opposition, and what to do about it.

I remember coaching the Glasgow Wildcats in the England Superleague. The game was, away against my old team the Brunel Hurricanes. Admittedly, I knew a lot about the players but nevertheless, what transpired was incredibly insightful to me.

Brunel usually finished in the top 4, whereas the Glasgow Wildcats were starting out on their elite performance pathway. A win over such a strong side, full of England National athletes, would’ve been a huge upset.

Going into the 4th quarter, the Wildcats were surprisingly dominant 37-31. With 8 minutes on the clock and the game now back level, 41-41, Brunel called an injury break.

Without hesitation, I made a player change, to shut down their Wing Attack, and force additional errors. Our shooters were on fire, so I seized the opportunity to give them more ball – they would convert and we’d take the game!

The changes were successful and the Wildcats took their first major win 48-42.

At the time, I couldn’t really account for the clarity of mind I felt throughout the game especially, 8 minutes out.  I did recognise, though, I’d experienced an optimal feeling state where my decisions were instinctive and intuitive.  I saw this as a mental edge which would be highly beneficial to my coaching going forward.

photo Thought bubble

My strategy/skills for coaching match play was to work through a few steps of observation and analysis:

Observe what is happening, match it to a mental image/model of what I thought it might look like, and then ask myself a couple of simple questions:

  • What do you notice about the performance that can be improved, (you know they’ve got the skills and game understanding,) they’re just not seeing it?
  • What do you notice about the performance that can’t be improved right now, and is best left to the next training session?
  • Decide on a solution to coach the players out there or make a player change?

In terms of style I wasn’t an aggressive, in your face type coach. I usually said what I had to say based on what I’d seen, in a way which connected with the athletes as best I knew how.


Commonwealth Games 2014 – Gold Medal Winners – Australia

This approach/strategy sounds solid enough, it seemed to work, (or at least, I attributed matches where I was clear, concise and in control, to my match day coaching techniques!).


It all got confusing!!!

I started to experience times when the plan didn’t work, and I wouldn’t be clear. In fact, my mind got extremely busy, full of frustration and consequence. The more I tried to settle and relax into the game, the more uptight and disillusioned I’d become.

DeniseYou see, the strategy and skills I’d adopted for coaching matches was simply not enough for consistent great performance.

There was another factor at play, which completely changed things and I wasn’t even aware of it?

The fundamental performance variable, which sits at our core, beneath skill, knowledge and physicality, is a persons ‘state of mind, their level of psychological functioning, their well-being, awareness, or mood.


Let me explain:

If you ‘show up’ with a lot on your mind (thinking):

  • Your capacity for resilience and instinct diminishes.
  • Your responses are sluggish and decisions unproductive.
  • You struggle in times of adversity, and fail to bounce back quickly.
  • You’re unable to handle conflicts, and cause damage in low moods.

Ever noticed, the range of Thoughts that pop into your head during a match?

I did and it cost us a championship:

I was the National Coach for Scotland at the 6 Nations Cup in Singapore in December 2010. We‘d beaten Wales in the rounds by 7 and were due to meet them again in the final.

Even before the match, I felt this game was different; a win would mean our first competition trophy, we’d receive a boost in funding, and a rise in world rankings.

My mind got cluttered and I was unable to sink into the performance Zone state, where everything seems effortless and automatic.

The entire team performed with tension, made uncharacteristic mistakes, and failed to play anywhere near our skill capacity. Wales took advantage and won the title by a huge 23 goals and Scotland were left ruing a missed opportunity.

Here’s the biggest anomaly – mental and emotional intelligence was a significant part of my professional development at the time:

I believed, the secret to high performance and coping with pressure situations was to master the appropriate, relevant mental skill to control and manage my thinking!

The problem was, it didn’t work – even with a lot of mental skills training; nothing kept my mind from racing!

I fell into the trap; the trick of the mind, about where my experience was coming from? It felt like the match, was causing me to feel distracted therefore I needed to apply a mental skill to be more focussed!

The more I tried, the worse it got, and my mind just got cramped.

The problem with this approach is, it doesn’t work that way. There is simple misunderstanding about how we operate as human beings which has profound implications for the way we lead our lives.

So how DO you cope in fiercely contested matches, if you don’t USE mental skills to prevent you running a Thought Storm?

It’s much simpler than you think – You dont need a tool if theres nothing to fix!

Here’s what I’ve discovered for your consideration:

Your entire felt experience of life comes from your thinking in the moment.  Thoughts are incredibly powerful, they’re behind our every experience in life, angry or happy, peaceful or agitated, content or anxious.

If you feel frustrated, disillusioned, or embarrassed during the performance, this is because you’re engaging in insecure or fearful thinking, you’re not feeling the match itself.

There is no mechanism for human beings to feel the circumstances or conditions on the outside of us. You only ever experience your Thought generated perceptual reality about the match. (This was mind blowing to me when I saw this!).

Understanding how you operate so that, you can perform is the missing link to consistent great performance.

When you have no attachment (thinking) to the performance:

You’ll be present and responsive to what’s in front of you.

Your perceptual field will expand and you’ll know exactly what’s going on.

Your optimal state of mind, enhances your ability to communicate & influence people.

Your productivity, effectiveness and enjoyment all rise!

Thought Storm

Do you ever notice how the next day, the feelings of a disastrous match or even a triumphant one, seem to fade? The event hasn’t changed, that’s still the same, but your experience of it has changed!

The reason is: You have a fresh new Thought about it, giving you a completely different perspective in that moment.

So, do you stuff your team talks?

For me, it’s all about – How you show up?

If you’d like to be ultra effective as a performance sports coach, get in touch, and together we’ll bring out the greatness in you, it’s just one Thought away.

Wishing you clarity to perform at your best.

Love Denise

PS. Please share this article I hate to see coaches, managers and athletes struggling and I know pointing in this direction will give them greater enjoyment and outstanding results.