Forget the Inspirational Stuff – Go with Angry

I just discovered a web site that may be fertile ground for future blog posts.

The site is, and it defines its mission as:

StudyFinds sets out to find new research that speaks to mass audiences — without all the scientific jargon. The stories we publish are digestible, summarized versions of research that are intended to stir debate: We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves.

The site features research findings in a variety of fields, from medicine to sports to the weird, and I ended up spending a lot of time on the site paging through various studies.

One of the first studies I came across looked at what made for an effective halftime speech. I think most people think that an effective halftime speech is one that is inspirational, one that serves to pump the players up to play to their potential.

After all, who wouldn’t be inspired after hearing something lie this:

But what a team of researchers at UC Berkely’s School of Business found was surprising.

After analyzing hundreds of halftime speeches and final scores from high school and college basketball games found that players seem to perform better after a harsh, more negative halftime speech from their coach. In fact, researchers discovered a significant relationship between the level of negativity a coach projects during a halftime speech and second-half scoring outcomes. The more negativity, the more the team outscored their opponents, that is at least up to a certain threshold point.

Whenever coaches displayed “extreme” bouts of anger, frustration, and negativity, it ended up hurting their players’ performances. So, it’s clear from the researchers’ findings that negativity, up to a certain point, can help players perform, but too much negativity is ultimately going to be detrimental to the team.

So maybe Bobby Knight had it right (warning: adult language):

Or is this an example of too much negativity?

I’ve always been more of a carrot than a stick sort of guy, but maybe there are some occasions that call for the stick.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll go out and buy one to keep in my office…

*image from American Rhetoric

28 thoughts on “Forget the Inspirational Stuff – Go with Angry

  1. Perhaps Knight was right there on the edge, without crossing over. After all, he had a pretty good record. Maybe winning is all about how skillfully you use the F word.

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  2. The conclusion about negative halftime speeches is a good one to debate because it can be interpreted different ways. It makes sense, though, that a coach will be negative when a team doesn’t play as well as they are capable of playing especially against an inferior opponent.

    As a longtime fan of the Hurryin’ Hoosiers and former fan of Bobby Knight, it appears that Knight’s relentless negativity, vilifying physically abusing players became a detriment to team performance. His lack of self control led to his dismissal at IU. In the later years at Indiana his teams did not live up to their potential. The Knight clip seems to be mislabled. I may be wrong but I don’t think it is a halftime speech but one after or during practice.

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    1. It is an interesting debate, and I think different people respond differently to how they are motivated. Some may like to be inspired, others may like to be yelled at.

      And yes, Bobby Knight seemed to be out of control. Who knows if people would have looked the other way if he had continued to be successful…

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    1. I think people put up with Bobby’a antics when his teams were more successful; once that was no longer the case, people were not as willing to look the other way…

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  3. I think the generalization maybe too simple. I am definitely a “carrot” kind of guy, assuming there is a carrot to be had. I don’t know that anger is necessarily a good motivator. And uncontrolled anger is definitely detrimental to success. The best motivator, which can come across as negative, is disappointment. When a coach or leader is disappointed, which is easy to convey without anger, it seems to have the greatest effect on the efforts put forth by the individuals or team. I look forward to your gleaning of fun topics and subjects from this site to share with us. Great post!

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    1. thanks, Brad. And I also think it depends on the personality of the person the coach or other leader is trying to motivate. Some people respond better to inspirational words, some people like the anger approach. After watching the Michael Jordan documentary on ESPN, it was pretty easy to see what motivated him – if you crossed him in some way – look out…

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      1. Thanks for the update; now I remember that story about the coaches from when I had read it before on your site. I think good coaches have a full bag of tricks as to how to motivate, from the soft touch to full-blown tirades…


  4. I think there’s something in this. One of the most famous and successful managers in recent years here was Sir Alex Ferguson, who was famous for giving underperforming players the ‘hairdryer treatment’ at half-time. He was also reportedly given to launching teacups or football boots across the changing room, as witnessed once by David Beckham’s facial bruises. His record of league and cup successes was pretty good, though!

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      1. Probably not, but in a results-based environment he proved his worth. He wasn’t the first to use it and isn’t the last – it’s a fairly common phrase over here.

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      2. One of the most successful we’ve ever seen here. You can judge his success by the level of hatred supporters of other clubs had for him!

        We can be good with words, sometimes. We have the best words 😉

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  5. I think that if you make people feel that a situation is hopeless, they will loss faith and their performance will nosedive. If you make them think they’ve been performing poorly and need to pull up their socks, they do that.

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