Any film in the sports genre is incomplete, or simply not as inspiring, without a rousing third-act speech to rally the team into champions. These monologues, usually delivered by a coach or adult figurehead, can be an actor or screenwriter’s dream. The objective is clear and the emotions are high, as our players get ready for a showdown that will be impossible to forget. With the characters’ heads hug low and the tension high, they need one last push to ensure their game performance is all it can be. Now that the locker room speech is now a staple of the sports film, it is important that it is well-written and delivered with unforgettable power. Any great sports movie monologue is just not complete without some of the following components:
A push to achieve the victory within
Since the first day of practice, the coach or coaches have pushed the players to perform to the best of their ability. However, while the players have done all they could to appease the coach, the top judge of their performance — the game — is not about proving something to the coach. It is about what the player can see in themselves. There is a reason why so many pep talks from this genre come in front of mirrors, as players try to convince themselves that they have what it takes. In Cool Runnings, Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba) tells Junior (Rawle D. Lewis), “I see pride. I see power. I see a badass mother that don’t take no crap off of nobody.” He tells him to repeat this as he looks into a mirror, knowing that it is most important for Junior to believe in his abilities.
A reminder that you only live once
A great motivational tool to get players to deliver their best performance is to remind them about how infrequent the opportunity to play in a big game are. Many of these players practice for years to have their athletic testament decided in a couple of hours, among a few quarters, periods or innings. It is the coach’s job to bring that to the fore, making the players instill their best effort and attitude into making these fleeting moments their finest hour. In Rudy, Fortune (Charles S. Dutton) tells Rudy that he has defied the odds by practicing with the best college football team, despite a meager height, weight and athletic ability. Rudy’s decision to quit the team will be one he later regrets, Fortune says, bringing up the janitor’s experience as a player who was benched for years and quit in disgust. This is the player’s time to clench that moment of victory, to make all he has worked toward matter.
An appeal for nostalgia
Almost any athlete you can name grew up with an intense love of the game they play. So, what finer way to make them want to prove their best than to confront them with the historical examples they have looked up to their whole careers? Similarly, coaches from sport movies have used noteworthy events in American history to bring their players together with a common goal. In true story films like Remember the Titans and We Are Marshall, the coaches (played by Denzel Washington and Matthew McConaughey, respectively) bring their teams to two historical sites. Washington’s Coach Boone brings his team to Gettysburg, to unite his racially divided team and teach them that they can right the wrongs of history. “If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were,” he tells them. Meanwhile, McConaughey’s Jack Lengyel brings the players to the final resting place of six of the Marshall team who died in a tragic plane crash, as a symbolic way to inspire his team to rise up and continue their legacy.
A reminder to embrace one’s underdog status
Facing a big opponent in a pivotal game can be a nerve-wracking experience for any athlete. But, even though their team is the underdog, this should not be a burden against them. In the funniest scene from Ivan Reitman’s Meatballs, the goofy counsellor Tripper (Bill Murray) inspires the dead-beat camp that they are still able to beat their rival, the rich kids of Camp Mohawk, in a sporting competition. He leads the camp in a hilarious speech, punctuated by the chant of “It just doesn’t matter!” Tripper mocks the other camp’s bourgeois status, bringing his Camp North Star brethren the attitude that they should embrace being the little guy.
US coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) takes a similar stance in the Olympic hockey film Miracle. He knows that his team is a heavy underdog against the mighty Russian players, but that is not something to worry about. “If we played them ten times, they might win nine,” he explains. “But not this game… This is your time. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great team the Soviets have.”
A look around the room, ensuring each player has the other’s back
A variation of one line is repeated throughout several climactic sports movie speeches. It is Gene Hackman’s inspiring line from the Oscar-winning Hoosiers: “I don’t care what the scoreboard says. We’re going to be winners.” In many of these films, when the coaches explain how little the score or the next-day headlines actually matter, the factor they come back to is how the victory should be achieved. Real winners achieve the incredible by trusting their team-mates and solidifying their role as a brother (or sister) that will do anything to help out their family on the field.
The goal is not to think about winning and losing, but working together to achieve the former instead of the latter. “Look into the eyes of the guy next to you… you’re going to see a guy who’s going to sacrifice himself to this team, because he knows you’re going to do the same for him,” Al Pacino’s fiery Tony D’Amato tells his players in Any Given Sunday. Coach Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) in Friday Night Lights explains the same, with a bit less cursing. “Being perfect is being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth,” he says. “The truth is you did everything that you could.” In both of the scenes, the coaches tell the athletes to look around the room and lock eyes with their team-mates. They are a family and should never forget who they are really playing for.