The pregame speech by the head coach: To call it a ritual is to cover up what it really is: a superstition.
From peewee to the pros, coaches believe they cannot send their players out on the field of battle without giving some kind of "motivational" speech.
The problem is, they so rarely have anything motivational to say. How could they? A dozen, two dozen, three dozen times a year, the coach is supposed to get up and say something to stir teamwork and togetherness in the hearts of the players?
Nope. In my experience, most motivational speeches are more like this pastiche of loudly mumbled clichés, to an audience of players who have heard it so many times they seem not to be hearing it at all.
The only coaches who don't give motivational speeches are baseball managers. (Even golf coaches give the goddamn things when they have the chance; witness all the bogus motivational hocus pocus surrounding the Ryder Cup and its honorary captain.)
Baseball managers ("manager" is such a cool, down-to-earth title in the first place) realize it's impossible to give 162 annual motivational speeches to the same audience in a year. Why can't football and basketball coaches realize they don't have two dozen in their bag, either?
For a long time, I allowed that maybe that the players needed these talks, however clumsy, and that there was some emotional need for this ritual that only a player can understand. So I once asked a player of a team I was covering: "Do you guys really like to listen to those speeches, or do you sometimes wish the fucker would just shut up so you could get out on the field and play."
That's what I thought.
But the speeches will go on, until one coach—and coaches being the most conservative creatures on the planet, it will likely be awhile—utterly eschews the pregame speech for a whole season, and wins a championship.
Now, I know what every coach who's reading this is saying right now: That's impossible.
No, Coach, it's not. You can do it! You've just got to dig down deep inside yourself …