What’s the recipe for a good pep talk?

To me, it’s Anger plus Encouragement plus a Little Bit of Crazy.

A widely acknowledged classic was given by coach Herb Brooks to the US hockey team before their upset victory against the Soviets in 1980.

Who knows what Brooks actually said, but for our purposes, we’ll go with Kurt Russell’s version, from the movie Miracle.  Here’s the clip:

The speech is delivered in a crisp, sing-song staccato made even crisper by the coach’s clipped Minnesota accent. When he says the Soviets are “done,” it sounds like “dun,” and it’s not up for discussion.  It’s just a plain fact.

The Brooks speech is so good, it holds up when delivered by a 4-year-old boy with a pronounced lisp.  Check it out:

In a motivational speech, it does not matter if you get all the facts right.

I am thinking here of John Belushi’s memorable turn in Animal House, in which he asked his compatriots, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

One of his listeners correctly murmured, “Germans?”

But another said, “Forget it, he’s rolling.”

Belushi’s address was equally notable for its opening salvo:  “Hey!  What’s this lying around SHIT!”

That is the fundamental problem which a pep talk should aim to counteract – the lying-around shit.

Another good example was the recent televised rant of former linebacker Bill Romanowski.

He was asked to evaluate the lackluster performance of his old football team, the Oakland Raiders.  He briskly moved from evaluating players to free-associating about bacon to asking for his own arm to be cut off.

Here’s the clip:

For those of you unable to view the video, here’s the Romanowski transcript:

He’s got a bunch of guys that like bacon.  And you know what they do?  They go to the grocery store, and they buy their bacon.  Well, guess what?  I need some damn boar hunters!  I need ‘em to hunt ‘em down with knives!  … They already go to Safeway.  They’re already safe, okay?  But I need wild boar hunters!  I need ‘em to go out there and hunt their pig with a knife!  Hey, rip their throat open, and dig down in, and get some bacon and eat it!  I mean, come on, playing football, defense, it’s about hittin’ people.  It’s about blockin’, and tacklin’.  This game is not that hard.  These are the luckiest guys on Planet Earth.  They are.  They get to play football in the National Football League.  They’re getting paid millions of dollars.  Pay me a stick of bubblegum!  Cut off my arm right now!  I’m in!  Go!  I’m in!  Count me in.  I’m going.  I’ll run down on kickoff right now.

Even though Mr. Romanowski seems to have an imperfect grasp of how bacon is actually extracted and prepared for consumption, he still shows laudable passion in conjuring the spirit of great boar hunters of the past.

Yes, his abrupt transition from “pay me a stick of bubblegum” to “cut off my arm right now” demonstrates that he is possibly a psychopath.  But the severed arm, it turns out, is a recurring motif in the pep-talk genre.

I noticed recently in my child’s lockerroom that hockey mom Sarah Sventek tried to motivate her son Lucas by giving a detailed account of Aron Ralston, the Utah hiker who had to cut off his own arm with a pocketknife after getting pinned between a boulder and a canyon wall.

Lucas went on to score three goals in two games, so it may have worked.

No word yet whether Lucas is able to sleep through the night.

The severed-arm scenario came up again when I was reading a book to my son Jesse called, What It’s Like To Climb Mt. Everest, Blast Off Into Space, Survive a Tornado, and Other Extraordinary Stories.

One chapter told the story of Bethany Hamilton, the teenaged surfer whose arm was bitten off by a 14-foot-long tiger shark.  Undaunted, Hamilton was back in the ocean less than a month laterCatching waves, no less.

A pep talk doesn’t need to be long.

When I myself was learning to surf 15 years ago in Florida, my friend Terry Tomalin watched me miss a couple waves, and then told me I needed to make one final paddle, one last hard dig with both arms, to catch the wave.

I tried again.  No luck.

Terry turned to a 10-year-old kid sitting on a surfboard nearby.  Terry invited his input.

The kid turned out to be a miniature Clint Eastwood.  He sized me up and then dropped a one-line bomb on me.

“Well, you gotta want it.”


That right there was enough to get me off my bacon-buying butt and back into the proper wave-catching, boar-hunting spirit.

I was able to grab the next wave even though I still had both arms attached, and even though no one offered me a stick of bubblegum.

The lying-around shit had been solved.

About Kit Troyer

Kit Troyer lives in Los Angeles. He worked previously as a newspaper reporter and a criminal defense attorney. For the last 15 years, he has been a stay-at-home dad. But that gig is running out. Kids will soon be moving out and moving on.
This entry was posted in COURAGE, ICE HOCKEY, SAYINGS. Bookmark the permalink.

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