- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Well, what did you think of the act today?" asked one.
"Not so good. I thought he was better last week," said the other.
"The players on the field were kind of laughing and joshing to themselves and [Michigan State] beat us 17-0," wrote Rockne. "No modern coach tries this kind of thing. To every mental action there is bound to be an equal and opposite reaction. Playing with boys' emotions is a dangerous thing, and the coach who does so must pay for it. Of course, there are times when the whole season may depend on winning a game, and in that case many oldtime coaches have resorted to psychological tricks."
The Gipper speech aside, Rockne came up with his most famous ploy in 1922. Before Notre Dame was to face Georgia Tech, he read a telegram to his players that was supposedly from his wife. It stated that their son Billy had been taken very ill and that the only thing troubling him was whether Daddy's team would win. The Irish were "keyed to a razor's edge" and won 13-3, but players kidded Rockne about that speech for years. Some years later, Slip Madigan of St. Mary's of California was doing the son-in-the-hospital routine when his son, in the bloom of health, slipped into the locker room to listen to Dad's speech.
•No. 2: Keep 'Em Loose
Despite notions to the contrary, players generally need to be relaxed rather than psyched up before big games. "I've found that a team that plays with extreme emotion early in the game is not a great fourth-quarter team," says Georgia Tech coach Bill Curry.
"One bad break, the bubble bursts and the team plunges to the depths," says Iowa coach Hayden Fry, who tells the Hawkeyes before every game, "This is not all there is to life. Win or lose, there will be more important things you will do in your college career."
Diane Gill, an Iowa professor of sports psychology, has studied self-confidence and anxiety in relation to competition. "There are genuine physiological consequences of being too excited at game time," says Gill. "Muscle tension, for one. Normal movement requires that one muscle relax when another contracts. If you have any residual tension, it interferes with smooth, coordinated movement, so you get that paralysis feeling that a lot of athletes can get."
The coaches of yore probably understood the problems of pregame over-stimulation more than we realize. Bob Zuppke of Illinois once strode into the dressing room moments before the kickoff of an expected loss to Minnesota, stood glowering until he had his players' attention and said, "I'm Louis XIV and you are my court. After us, the deluge." The players probably thought he was crazy, and the Illini upset the Gophers 14-9.
Speaking of crazy, how about when Teaff munched on a worm? The Sunday after his Baylor team had suffered a 24-10 loss to lowly Rice, Teaff set out to rebuild his players' confidence for the final game, against Texas. He threw out the playbook, put a running back behind center and installed a handful of plays he thought the Bears could run.