I’m not a fan of “Go get ’em, you’ve got this, you can do it!” motivational speeches. No matter how powerful or stirring in the moment, rah-rah speeches may help me picture myself at the top of the mountain, arms raised in triumph.
But the effect is fleeting, especially if I’m struggling. Telling me I can do something doesn’t really help when recent evidence suggests otherwise.
Just as method needs motivation, motivation needs method.
Sure, I need to get fired up. But I also need to know how to use that energy. And, more important, I need to believe in, and trust, how I will use that energy.
If you’re not familiar — and I feel sure you’re not — Damien Hardwick is the coach of the Richmond Tigers of the Australian Football League, easily the coolest sport you’ve never heard of.
At halftime of the 2020 Grand Final (think Super Bowl), Geelong led Richmond by 15 points, a scoreline that flattered the Tigers. Geelong had largely dominated the game.
What did Hardwick say to his team?
Watch this two-minute clip:
Now let’s look at why it was so effective.
He Sets the Stage
“We’re in a street fight,” Hardwick says. “That’s the reality of an AFL Grand Final.”
The two best teams in the competition, playing for the championship. Tough. Physical. All-out. Hardwick doesn’t downplay the difficulty of the situation.
But not an unfamiliar one. Richmond has played in three of the past four Grand Finals.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” he says. “We know exactly what it’s like.”
Heads nod. The players do know exactly what it’s like.
Then he references Richmond’s process: their strategies, tactics, and overall system. (Richmond plays a running, swarming, physical brand of football that relies, much like the New England Patriots during their heyday, on players understanding their roles and, as Bill Belichick would say, their willingness to “Do your job.”)
“It is all about believing in our process,” Hardwick says. “Our process has kept us in good shape through the course of this game, and the course of the year thus far. We just have to continue to believe in it.”
Especially if they follow it.
He Explains How
Hardwick starts with a positive. “Defensively, our setup behind our attack, our pressure has been very good,” Hardwick says.
“Our system, though, has been average.” Small breakdowns have hurt the team offensively. Yet instead of going into detail, Hardwick keeps it simple and digestible by focusing on two key adjustments.
“First of all, our ability to set the ground up. Our forwards? We’re too far away. So we’re going to get up the ground (field),” he says.
“But we also have to realize: What is the strength of our mids (midfield players) and backs?” he asks. “Running, carry, work rate. We have to support the attack.”
Heads nod. That is their strength. On average, Richmond players run faster and longer than most teams. They stay structured defensively, yet they also push players forward to overload the other team’s defense. (It’s a hard system to play — but like most hard things, it works.)
“So we’ve got all the answers,” Hardwick says.
Having the answers creates confidence. Knowing what has gone wrong makes the score explainable; Geelong may be winning, but Richmond isn’t playing to its potential. Richmond doesn’t need to “play better.”
The team just needs to get back to what has made them so successful. “Are we asking you to do something we haven’t done for the vast majority of the year?” Hardwick asks. “No. All we have to do is reset, and believe that the more we get the ball into space, the more it favors us.”
Simple tweaks. Simple adjustments. A simple “how.” Most important, one the players believe in, because that system, that process, has consistently produced results.
Method in place, now it’s time for a little inspiration.
He Explains Why
Hardwick tells everyone to grab a jumper; that’s their signal to stand close together. (Holding another player’s jersey creates an even stronger physical — and therefore emotional — bond.)
We’ve been through a helluva journey. However we decide what our story wants to be is on the Richmond Football Club. It’s on every single individual in this huddle. Have we played the very best we (ever) have? No. We have a long way to improve.
But the reality is, it’s our story to write. What story you want it to be is determined by the man in that jumper. And the man in that jumper beside you. It all comes down to us.
We are playing a good side. There is no doubt about that. But you’re a great side. So you get to dictate what this story looks like this second half.
We understand who we are. But, more importantly, we understand what we can do: hard, tough, Richmond-style footy. Leave nothing in the tank. You’re playing the biggest game of the year. Let’s go!
Go back to the video and look at the players’ faces. They’re engaged. They’re focused.
They’re willing and open, because the focus wasn’t on what they might have done wrong; the focus was on he knows — and they believe, because of past results — they could do better.
They trust their coach. They trust one another. They trust the how.
And, possibly most important, they understand they embrace playing for one another … yet also for themselves.
“Writing your own story” is a consistent theme at Richmond. Your “story” is what you want to achieve. What you want to become, in service to a larger goal, yet also personal — because the best team goals are also personal goals.
Especially when one of your personal goals is to see the people around you succeed. (Which Richmond does, winning the Grand Final by 31 points.)
The next time you seek to motivate people, follow the same blueprint. Set the stage. Build confidence by describing a practical, effective “how.” Then layer in a little motivation and inspiration.
Because method without inspiration only gets you so far.
And inspiration without method gets you nowhere.