Just do it.
For over twenty years, Nike’s slogan has been a call to action, invading our senses through every form of media in an attempt to inspire, motivate and, of course, sell shoes.
Our greatest motivational speeches, however, seldom reach our ears. They occur behind the closed doors of locker rooms, as coaches at every level try to spur their teams to victory through words and deeds. Occasionally, news of outrageous motivational schemes leak out, such as a college football coach’s misguided attempt to inspire by castrating a bull before the eyes of his horrified players.
Pat Riley, five-time NBA championship coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, has a well-deserved reputation for his ability to motivate. He created a second career for himself between coaching stints by traveling throughout the country making motivational speeches to large groups for big money. He also wrote a successful book on the subject, The Winner Within: A Life Plan For Team Players. Today, removed from the sidelines as president of the Heat, Riley is still occasionally called upon to rouse his players with stirring words and actions (he once sank his head in a bucket of ice water at the end of a speech). It has been said that his motivational skills were partly responsible for the Heat’s successful recruiting of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the top free agents on the market this past off-season.
The most memorable sports films usually contain at least one instance of a coach or player inspiring a team to victory. Perhaps the most famous screen sports speech was “Win One for the Gipper,” dramatically recreated in the 1940 Ronald Reagan vehicle, Knute Rockne All American, directed by Lloyd Bacon.
One of the best motivational screen speeches occurred in a non-sports comedy, director John Landis’ 1978 classic, National Lampoon’s Animal House. Near the end of the film, after Faber College’s Dean Wormer (John Vernon) notifies members of the Delta fraternity that, after being placed on “double secret probation,” they will be expelled from the school, D-Day (Bruce McGill), Otter (Tim Matheson) and Boon (Peter Reigert), sit around their frat house, lamenting their fate. Enter Bluto (John Belushi) and the following classic scene:
D-DAY: War’s over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.
BLUTO (his voice rising before the group): Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
OTTER (aside to Boon): Germans?
BOON: Forget it, he’s rolling.
BLUTO: And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the going gets tough…
BLUTO: The tough get going! Who’s with me? Let’s go!
(runs out, alone; then returns)
BLUTO: What the **** happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you, Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my *** from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Wormer, he’s a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer…
OTTER (rising): Dead! Bluto’s right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. We gotta take these ********. Now, we could do it with conventional weapons. But that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.
BLUTO: We’re just the guys to do it.
D-DAY: Let’s do it.
BLUTO (shouting): Let’s do it!
What follows is the film’s classic final madcap scene of urban mayhem, where the Delta students turn a parade into total chaos before asking Dean Wormer whether he would see fit to give them just one more chance.
It has been suggested that, in attempting to motivate athletes, coaches often lose sight of the big picture. Sports are, after all, games where the act of competing should be placed above winning. This issue will continue to generate debate, as sports-crazed fans demand victory from their favorite teams.
One other scene from Animal House touches on this last issue. In that scene, Boon and Otter watch from atop a hill, golf clubs in hand, while Niedermeyer (Mark Metcalf), a bully whom the film’s closing credits tell us will later be killed by his own troops in Viet Nam, berates a group of Faber freshmen, including several Delta pledges, from atop his horse. While they watch, Boon drives golf balls in the direction of Niedermeyer, but becomes frustrated by his inaccuracy. Otter then steps up and executes perfect drives that strike Niedermeyer, knocking him off the horse and spooking the animal.
As Nidermeyer is dragged away screaming by the panicked horse, Boon and Otter have the following exchange:
BOON: I gotta work on my game.
OTTER: No, no, no, don’t think of it as work. The whole point is just to enjoy yourself.