Lessons in Inspirational, Confident Language from the Final Four Head Coaches

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March Madness finals are upon us. The NCAA college basketball tournament, which started with 68 teams, has come down to the final four. This weekend, the Kentucky Wildcats will face off against the Wisconsin Badgers, while the Michigan State Spartans take on the Duke Blue Devils.

This year, the head coaches of the teams are four of the most legendary and reputable coaches in college basketball. Combined, these coaches have been to the Final Four 23 times (numbers do not reflect vacated games). The following bios from each coach’s school demonstrate just how impressive they are.

Coach Calipari

  1. John Calipari – University of KentuckyA “players-first” coach with a penchant for helping people reach their dreams, John Calipari has guided five teams to the Final Four, led one to a national championship and helped 31 players make it to the NBA during his 22-year college coaching career. – UK athleticsCoach Ryan
  2. Bo Ryan – University of Wisconsin–MadisonWith over 700 wins, 17 championships and countless conference and national coach of the year accolades, there is little doubt that Ryan is among the great coaches in college basketball history. – UW BadgersCoach Izzo
  3. Tom Izzo – Michigan State UniversityHaving recently completed his 19th year directing the Spartan program, head coach Tom Izzo has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments, including the 2000 NCAA National Championship, seven regular-season Big Ten Championships, four Big Ten Tournament titles, six Final Four appearances, eight National Coach of the Year awards and a Big Ten-best 17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. – MSU SpartansCoach K
  4. Mike Krzyzewski – Duke UniversityIn 34 seasons at Duke, Krzyzewski, a Hall of Fame coach and 12-time National Coach of the Year, has built a dynasty that few programs in the history of the game can match. – Duke Athletics

These coaches are world-class leaders. They inspire their players, push them to reach their full potential, and lead them to victory. How do these exceptional leaders communicate? Is there anything we can learn from their styles of speaking?

Communication Analysis:

Using our natural language processing and linguistic mapping technology, we measured the language of each coach’s March 30th press conference. During this press conference, each coach answered questions about the previous games in the tournament as well as the upcoming Final Four games. We looked for linguistic cues that separated these coaches from the average communicator, with a focus on inspirational and confident language.

In a past analysis of Super Bowl locker room speeches, we found the most inspirational speeches to be highly engaging, authentic, and persuasive. When we analyzed the language of the 2014 NBA finals, we found the confidence displayed in the language of press conferences to be directly connected to sports performance.


The communication analytics demonstrate that all four coaches use highly inspirational language, but that the level of confidence each of them displays varies greatly.

Inspirational Language

The press conference from Coach Izzo, head coach of the Michigan State Spartans, contained the highest levels of inspirational language of any of the final 4 coaches.

Mr. Izzo’s language is inspirational because he is highly authentic and highly persuasive. The following quote provides an example of Mr. Izzo’s authentic language. He clearly states his personal opinions and expands on his thoughts to provide context.

Q. It seemed more like a personal accomplishment for you and your team really that you were able to get to this Final Four after so many people were not picking you to get there. What was it about this year that made it so different?

COACH IZZO: “…I am proud of this team. I’m extremely proud. I think we got three exception players in Valentine, Trice and Dawson. The other guys have started to fit in. It really has been a year that I appreciated just because we weren’t [picked]. But then again, last year we were picked by the President and everyone else, and we didn’t get out of the Elite 8. It doesn’t matter who picks us and who doesn’t, I just appreciate the respect our program has gotten. Being where we are this year, I think we’re still respected, and that’s all that matters to me.

Confident Language

Linguistic research suggests that concrete words and phrases convey confidence while tentative words demonstrate uncertainty and insecurity. The following statements from Coach Calipari demonstrate concrete phrases. He states his opinions unapologetically and does not use tentative language.

Q. It sort of said that no matter what you said, there are some people out there that are going to believe what they believe. Do you think that’s a function of being undefeated, having this team, just Kentucky?

COACH CALIPARI: “I think the emotion after the game, people were mad that they lost. Then, you know, whatever I said, they were going to look at it and be mad. That’s okay. I understand this. But I speak the truth. I’m not going to sit there and lie and say we played one of the best games of the year. They asked me a question, I told the truth, at least how I saw it.”

So will inspiration or confidence win the day? Or will the winning formula for the Final Four combine persuasive authenticity with assured, confident language?

And will these same linguistic cues be used when the coaches speak to their players this weekend? We’re excited to see how the tournament plays out.