The Best Locker-Room Speech Ever, and Why it Works


People talk all the time about what makes up a great teacher or coach. The vast majority of the conversation focuses on the daily business of the craft: methods, information, and strategies. And this makes perfect sense.

But every once in a while, we get a glimpse of what coaching and teaching really are. Last month, at the Little League World Series, we got one of those glimpses, courtesy of Dave Belisle, coach of the Rhode Island Americans, in the moments after his team suffered a heartbreaking loss that eliminated them from the tournament.

(If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend it.)

Goosebumps, right?

This speech strikes such a chord because it is a perfect case study of relationship-based coaching. It’s an approach where the coach puts his effort and focus on building relationships — creating identity, trust, and a sense of belonging.

A conventional coach focuses first on skills. A relationship-based coach, on the other hand, focuses first on creating a sense of belonging. A conventional coach asks: what can I do to help them win? A relationship-based coach asks: what can I do to help us nurture connections and create a culture? A conventional coach views his team through the lens of performance. A relationship-based coach views his team through the lens of family — which, not coincidentally, tends to make the teaching all the more effective. People work hard for a team. They work even harder for a team that truly feels like family.

Let’s look more closely at Belisle’s speech, which is like a textbook for relationship-based coaching.

First, he connects:

Everybody, heads up high, heads up high. Let’s talk for a moment here. Look, I’ve gotta see your eyes, guys.”

It would be so easy to overlook this given the emotion of this moment, but it’s massively important. I gotta see your eyes, guys. Be here, right now, together.

Then, he establishes the core message:

There’s no disappointment in your effort — in the whole tournament, the whole season…We came to the last out. We didn’t quit. That’s us! Boys, that’s us!

Notice how he focuses on things the team can control — the effort — and uses it to affirm the strength of the team identity. That’s us! Boys, that’s us!

He keeps building, focusing ruthlessly on their accomplishment and linking it to their identity. The message: they succeeded not just because they played well — they succeeded because of who they are.

You had the whole place jumping, right? You had the whole state jumping. You had New England jumping. You had ESPN jumping. OK? You want to know why? They like fighters. They like sportsmen. They like guys who don’t quit. They like guys who play the game the right way.

He doesn’t BS them — this is the last game — but he frames their disappointment around their larger, far more meaningful connection:

It’s OK to cry, because we’re not going to play baseball together anymore. But we’re going to be friends forever. Friends forever. Our Little League careers have ended on the most positive note that could ever be. OK? Ever be.”

Then explains what’s about to happen — which, of course, is about more relationships, connecting to those who love and support them:

So, we need to go see our parents, because they’re so proud of you. One more thing. I want a big hug. I want everyone to come in here for one big hug. One big hug, then we’re going to go celebrate. Then we’re going to go back home to a big parade.

This is not conventional coaching. This is a clinic on relationship-building. Fully 90 percent of what he says is about team identity and family. And he proves his words through his actions and the steadiness of his demeanor, especially those long, intense pauses that drive the words home to each kid, one at a time.

You’d call these “soft skills” but as this shows, they are anything but “soft” in their application. They’re a product of a relationship-based approach that has four core principles:

  • 1) Seek to create belonging by establishing a clear, vivid identity.
  • 2) Be vulnerable. Notice how the coach talks openly about emotions, especially his own. This creates safety and trust.
  • 3) Teach the whole kid. Connect in ways beyond the field or classroom.
  • 4) Tell the truth. The strength of the relationship is in its honesty and trust.

So simple, and so powerful. If anybody has any other examples of relationship-based coaching/teaching, or ideas to share, I’d love to hear them.

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9 Responses to “The Best Locker-Room Speech Ever, and Why it Works”

  1. Mark Watts says:

    This is outstanding. A great way to put a system in place based off the emotions of the video. Everyone would agree it was a near-perfect speech. You enabled us to learn why it was. Thanks for all you do, Daniel.

  2. Mike says:

    This coach also gave a speech between innings in a game where they were down, I think going into the 6th inning. It was also pitch perfect. The team came back to win. What a great coach.

  3. David Coffman says:

    Man, I absolutely love this speech! Coach doesn’t try to sugar coat it, or dramatize what has just happened. He reaffirms the kids and takes them back to the core of “team”, which is family. I’ve been coaching for over 20 years and have always tried to reach every player and ensure they feel like they’re a part of the team and a contributor. However, I know I have fallen short on many occasions. This video will inspire me to strive to focus on this aspect of coaching and leadership even more so going forward. Thanks for posting and for your insight, Daniel.

  4. Tom Andres says:

    We are at a time in youth sports and society in General, where we need this type of mentoring and leadership that focuses on qualities such as this coach focuses. We would witness excellence in skill and sportsmanship. He is teaching way beyond a sport and will give the kids a leg up in life. Thank you Coach.

  5. Brad says:

    I wish they had recorded the speech Coach Mike made to his pitcher in the 6th inning of a the LLWS (that Mike was referring to above.) Briefly, his pitcher was in trouble with men on base in a tight game. Coach Dave comes to pitcher’s mound and you expect him to pull his pitcher. He does the exact opposite. He says I’m leaving you in (as a vote of confidence to his pitcher). He also encourages infield at same time. What happens next was surreal…his pitcher pitches 3 strikes and his team is out of inning. The announcer says “Makes you want to play for that guy” We all need a Coach Mike or Daniel Coyle in our lives!

  6. Brad says:

    Sorry, I meant Coach Dave, not Coach Mike.

  7. […] the speech by Dave Belisle to his Rhode Island team at this year’s Little League World Series the finest locker room speech of all locker room speeches. The reason the speech is great has to do with a relationship-based approach to teaching and […]

  8. Nick says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and haven’t yet said how much I appreciate it. Thank you, thank you for bringing a smile or an interesting thought every time you post.

    With that said, I think this has been my favorite post yet. I saw this speech the night it happened and was awestruck but you explaining it makes it even better. Hope I can be as great of a coach when my kid is old enough for little league.

    Thanks again.

  9. Art Young says:

    As an administrator of youth sports. It was important to respond to win conscious parents and children who imitated adult (primarily parents) behavior. The response was from the leadership team . It’s all about the kids having fun cause it’s play soccer or baseball etc. The emphasis was to develop healthy happy kids and families and officials and even administrators. And we all did when the W word didn’t get in the way. Thanks for explaining it with such a concise blueprint .

    There is more to do and as coaches need to reach an understanding of the role they play in the search of value through playing games. All the best and thank YOU for the effort.

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