Super Bowl Victory Starts with Words

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You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small – I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.” – Any Given Sunday

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, sports analysts, Las Vegas bookies and fantasy football die-hards pore over team statistics, commentator analysis, and betting odds, all with the hope of identifying that special something that will bring one team to victory.

But what if, at the end of a long season, when a team has come so far, the key to securing the Super Bowl ring isn’t hidden in the number of rushing yards or completed passes. What if the difference between winning or losing comes down to the words spoken by the head coach in the locker room before the team even steps onto the field?

It happens in the movies all the time. The underdog team faces its toughest enemy, convinced they’re going to lose until the coach, the fearless leader, gives the speech of his life, inspiring the team who, of course, go on to win the big game.

If those locker room speeches are as powerful as Hollywood makes them out to be, then the coach with the greatest oratory power will be kissing the Vince Lombardi trophy come Sunday night.

So to provide our unique perspective on who will win in New York, we’ve analyzed five past locker room speeches given by Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox and five from Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll to determine who will inspire their team to victory.

But first, in order to determine the linguistic markers of a game winning speech, we used our Natural Language Processing and Linguistic Mapping technology to analyze what is arguably the best pre-game speech in football movie history – Al Pacino’s “Inch by Inch” speech from the 1999 film, Any Given Sunday. The results from Al Pacino’s speech, as well as the competing head coaches, were indexed from 1 to 100 and benchmarked off our database of more than 50,000 unique pieces of communication content.

There were two communication metrics in particular that Al Pacino, Pete Carroll and John Fox’s speeches blew out of the water – audience engagement and speaker authenticity.

When compared to our database average:

  • Al Pacino’s speech was 34.7% more engaging and 42.7% more authentic
  • Pete Carroll’s average was 25.1% more engaging and 17.8% more authentic
  • John Fox’s average was 42.3% more engaging and 30.5% more authentic

While any great speech must be engaging and authentic, a game winning speech must also be persuasive – a trait lacking in John Fox’s locker room prose. John’s average was 10.2% less persuasive than our database average.

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Certainly, in order to talk his players to victory, a good coach must keep his locker room audience engaged so the players actively internalize the inspirational words. At the same time, great coaches must speak authentically, being sure not to borrow the cadence or language from their Hollywood counterparts and of course, a Super Bowl winning coach must persuade his team that they are capable of winning.

Executives and team leaders can learn from these inspirational coaches. Whether giving a sales pitch, leading a team meeting, or presenting on stage to hundreds of people, you can inspire your audience and move them to action by being engaging, authentic, and persuasive.

So, will John Fox’s authentic style of speaking inspire the Broncos enough to win their third Super Bowl title? Will Pete Carroll’s persuasive words fuel the Seahawks’ game winning drive? Of course it’s inevitable that one team will go home disappointed, but, whether you’re a Seahawk fanatic or Denver devotee, you’d better hope that come February 2nd, your team’s head coach shows up with something great to say.