Can motivational speakers really transform a professional sports team’s fortunes?

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

The England rugby union team was the latest professional sports organisation to summon the help of a motivational speaker in a bid to improve on-field performances after they brought in former UK Special Forces soldier and Royal Marine Commando Jason Fox to speak to their players.

On this occasion, the English rugby bosses are desperate for the team to finish their Six Nations campaign with added momentum which is why they called on the services of Fox.

The reasons behind the logic

Of course, in this case, you can understand why the English hierarchy would be keen on exploring every option when it comes to increasing the current level of performance given that if you bet on Six Nations outright markets, you will, tellingly, see England at long odds of 25/1 to win the European showpiece as of early March. In other words, this is a team that could benefit from a breath of fresh air after a stale start to a year where they will also be competing for World Cup glory.

Perhaps a new voice like that of Fox could also help remove the scar tissue that remains from the 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama when they lost to South Africa.

In essence, there are many reasons why England have decided to go down this route of motivational speaking at this specific time, but are professional sporting outfits any better off afterwards?

Are there any benefits?

The answer is that in most instances and when done tactfully, there are immeasurable benefits gained from bringing in an outside voice to reinvigorate a sporting institution.

To start with, when players hear astonishing stories of survival or listen to tales about record-breaking accomplishments, they usually gain a much clearer perspective of their own roles as professionals.

For instance, what once seemed like an unsurmountable problem on the field, no longer has the same draining effect after listening to accounts of spine-tingling survival on Mount Everest or rowing across the Atlantic in a small boat.

If the delivery is right and there is a genuine connection between the speaker and the players in attendance, then there is normally a positive reaction on the field. Specifically, teamwork, motivation levels, and clarity of thought under stressful circumstances all significantly improve thereafter.

Horn takes South Africa to the Alps to get to the summit of world cricket

Perhaps there hasn’t been a better example of the advantages of having a motivational speaker involved in helping a professional sports team find a stronger purpose than when the South African cricket side teamed up with Swiss explorer Mike Horn in 2012.

The South Africans enlisted Horn’s help a few weeks before they traveled to England to compete in a three-match Test series knowing that if they were successful in beating their hosts, they would become the number one Test side in the world. Unusually, Horn suggested that instead of playing a string of warm-up games against county teams, the South African side meet him in Switzerland for a week in the Alps.

It was a decision that drew the ire of the English tabloids who accused the South Africans of shortchanging the public by coming into a series undercooked and short of match practice. This strong local reaction didn’t stop the South Africans and instead, the Proteas spent their time participating in team-building exercises in the Alps on top of listening to Horn tell remarkable stories of his life as an explorer.

A month after their unorthodox expedition in the Alps, they would be crowned the world’s best side after beating England 2-0, despite not lifting a bat or ball during their preparations.

Undoubtedly, the wider point here is that with a well-directed message and a team willing to receive it, a motivational speaker can do more for a side’s fortunes than relentless practice.

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