The pep talk: Should we skip one for the Gipper?

I used to think so—until I heard myself giving pregame speeches to my 10-year-old daughter.

A few years ago I wrote a post on my personal blog in which I decried the practice of pre-game motivational speeches, dismissing them as more superstition than communication.

Well, it turns out I was right! A pregame speech is more superstition than anything else.

Here's how I know. I hear myself making these speeches—these "pastiches of loudly mumbled clichés," as I once derided them—to my own daughter before her soccer games … and I'm not even a coach on the team!

"Work hard. Hustle! Be tough!" Sometimes some mild swearing comes in into it. "Kick some ass!" (Seriously, Dad?)

I just asked her what she's thinking when I give her those speeches.

She told me gently what I already know: In her mind, she's rolling her eyes.

Of course, I'm going to continue giving her my short but boring pregame speeches. Because they're not for her, I realize, even better than I once did. They're for me. They give me a sense that I'm doing something. When in reality, whatever I've done to prepare her for this game—good God, for this life!—is already done. And whatever I've neglected to do, I can't make up for now.

But I need to say something right before she gets out of the car and sprints out to meet her teammates.

Don't I?

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