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Study Says That Anger and Negativity is the Most Effective Coaching Style

SourceThe coach’s halftime speech is long known to be a motivational tool in the sports world. Many sports movies, such as Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, or Friday Night Lights include a pivotal scene in which the coach makes an impassioned speech to his team, igniting a furious comeback. But what makes an effective halftime speech in real life? A new study finds that anger is actually more effective during halftime speeches than inspiration.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business analyzed hundreds of halftime speeches and final scores from high school and college basketball games, and 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.

“That was even true if the team was already ahead at halftime,” lead researcher and Haas professor emeritus Barry Staw comments in a media release. “Rather than saying, ‘You’re doing great, keep it up,’ it’s better to say, ‘I don’t care if you’re up by 10 points, you can play better than this.’”

Thank you, science, for answering one of the all time great questions of human nature that has been debated by our greatest minds for centuries. One that is right up there with “Nature vs. Nurture,” “Good vs. Evil” or “Is it better to be feared or loved?” In fact, in many ways, this one answers all three.

Fear is much better.

It’s the classic philosophical question of sports. The Player’s Coach vs. the Taskmaster. How many times have you seen one kind of coach lose the locker room, so management replaces him with his polar opposite? Just to keep it to Boston examples to make it less work for me:

— Bill Parcells was the ultimate sarcastic, abrasive, master of the Ball Bust. So the Patriots replaced him with Pete Carroll, who was so much into being liked by his players that he was rumored to have once disciplined a player by making him run gassers, joined him beyond the practice field where no one could see them, handed the guy a water bottle and told him to pour it on himself and just tell everyone he completed the run.

— The Red Sox fired a popular and universally respected Terry Francona. With Bobby Valentine, an unpopular and universally disrespected asshole. When that blew up in Larry Lucchino’s face like a special delivery from Bugs Bunny, they went with Bill Farrell, a wonky, technobabble guy. When the players grew tired of his jargon-y bullshit about arm slots and release points, they let him go in favor of the less nonsensical Alex Cora.

— When the world got sick of being lectured about their insufficient wokeness by the humorless, overworked, underpaid drones at Deadspin, Jim Spanfeller was brought in to try one last desperate attempt to make reading it not make you want to drink bleach. That is, before he inevitably sells it to Dave Portnoy, who’ll fire everyone and turn the site into a tribute to his recently departed dog and write the loss off as a business expense.

But finally we know what management style works best. And it’s the miserable, abusive, impossible-to-satisfy, uber-demanding feudal overlord who wins the day. It’s the Coach Nickersons of the world, not the Eric Taylors. It’s the Herman Boones, not the Bill Yoasts. When I was coaching baseball and football, I won a few championships. But it was only as a low-level assistant. Because I knew I could never crack the whip the way a manager/head coach should. My style was more that of a Bobby Finstock:

“Never get less than 12 hours of sleep. Never play cards with a guy who’s got the same first name as a city. And never go near a lady who’s got a tattoo of a dagger on her body. You take care of that and the rest is cream cheese.” Yup. That was my kind of pep talk. And that wasn’t bringing home any 4-foot tall trophies.

But now we know pep talks don’t work with kids at any level. Being a heartless bastard does. Let this be a lesson to all you aspiring coaches who aren’t in it for fun, but for the eternal glory that comes from coaching youth sports. It’s science.