Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Getting Your Youth Football Team "Fired Up"

You hear do much about teams getting “fired up”, many parents seem to like coaches who appear on the surface to get kids “psyched up” before games. While I feel it is important that the kids are physically and mentally ready to play, I find there is very limited value in getting kids fired up or to “hate” their opponent in order to be ready to play. I’ve written on this subject in a variety of ways in the past, but want to go off on a bit of another tangent with this post.

I’ve seen and heard so many silly pre-game speeches, it makes me nauseous just recalling them. I even know of a very well respected coach who riles his kids into a fury and has them chant loudly “hit with hate, hit with hate” before their games. Back in the day I used to think if I just said the right thing, got the kids really fired up and angry, that they would play inspired football. It never worked out that way. I’ve even heard a few descent speeches but I’ve never seen any of them have the desired effect.

In fact most of these speeches have the exact opposite effect, the kids play out of position or forget their responsibilities trying to make a big hit early. When that doesn’t work out, they ride that emotional roller coaster right into the pits of despair. Often when that happens the kids get more and more desperate to make a play and when they don’t you often see that frustration leading to blown assignments and even unsportsmanlike penalties.

It reminds me of those great Nebraska Cornhusker teams of the 90s, in one 5 year stretch they went 60-3, won 3 National Titles and played for another, just losing on a last second field goal. I went to every one of those home games and many of the away games. In those days I remember the Husker players coming down from their dressing room and out to the field. There was no screaming, yelling or jumping all over each other, there was just quiet resolve, focus and confidence. You could see it in the kids eyes and in their body language, they knew what they had to do and everyone in that stadium knew someone was going to get the snot kicked out of them that day and it wasn;t going to be the quiet kids dressed in red. Coach Osborne never demonized any opponent or made any fire and brimstone pre-game speeches. Compare that with the bravado, screaming, yelling, posturing, head bobbing and jumping around that went on during the Bill Callahan era here. Those teams went 27-22 and broke every negative record in the history of the program.

Did the pre-game attitude of the Callahan teams determine the outcome of the games? Probably not, so many of the losses were by blowouts, but their false bravado made them into a laughable paper tiger that crumbled in almost any tight game. When coaching youth football, don’t fall into the trap of getting your kids “fired up”. Come into the game well prepared with a sound game plan. Talk to the kids about specific coaching points and specific goals prior to the game. Expect to play well but don’t try and come up with some silly motivational scheme or talk and expect that to turn your season around. Youth Football is about execution, not about getting a very short term and possibly counterproductive spike in emotion from your kids.

Remember you really aren’t playing against the other team anyway, you are playing against your teams true potential. The game of football is in actuality almost like playing golf with another person. If he shoots a 138 and you shoot a 136, you win, but so what? How about the golf game where you shoot a 68, the best round of your life by 10 strokes and your opponent shoots a 67, did you play poorly? The game is measured by how well you play to your true potential and how exactly does getting your team spiked emotionally or getting your kids to hate their opponent help your team execute better?
It doesn’t.

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  1. Eric W

    I worked hard this year to quell the “kill ’em!” rhetoric and totally agree with what you’re saying. I also think it’s counterproductive to get kids riled up. First, it puts the focus on the wrong thing (the other team instead of their own jobs). Second, the emotional high will never last for entire game and can actually be draining. Third, if it happens that something unforeseen occurs, like you said, it could be devestating to the morale. And finally, many of these kids attend the same grade schools that all feed into the same high school. If they’re not teammates this year, they may be next year and they definitely will by high school. I believe a “hate” and “kill” mentality will have a negative effect on team cohesion in the future as well as turning off some kids (if not some parents) to the sport.

    I tell our kids that the thing to beat is their last performance. Can you do better than last game? Can you do your best? I tell them that if they do their jobs to the best of their ability and concentrate on having fun, the rest will take care of itself.

  2. Travis Dyson

    I came across this site looking for a way to motivate our 6,7,& 8 yo team. Hoping to find a way to avoid another one of those games where nobody came to play. It is as if they all show up, or only the ones that live on football do. We have never tried this and I will before our next game. We did well on our last game so maybe if I ask them questions like Eric W suggests, we will get the results we want. It all makes perfect sense. Would a quick pregame hitting drill help to create a sense of urgency? Would it also be counterproductive? How do you effectively get the lead out?

    1. davecisar


      We do about 6-8 minutes of full scale hitting about 10-15 minutes prior to kickoff. We usually do 3 level Okalahomas which allow us to get 7 players involved in each rep.

  3. Coach Jay

    I respectfully disagree. I feel as if you lump every speech into one type. I feel sports is just as much as a mental and physical game as it is an emotional one. Inspiring a child and tapping into the biggest, strongest and most valued muscle a child has is in my opinion, instrumental. That muscle I am referring to is the heart. I see nothing wrong with inspiring a child to compete. The over all goal is to win. If your players and coaches go out to just play football, your team may not be around very long. I live by a motto. Win if you can, lose if you must, but always do your best to compete. If your not inspired, if you have nothing vested in the game except the cerebral, you are bound to lose your inspiration. And fast. Just my opinion as a coach.

    1. davecisar


      Everyone has a right to their own opinion. I see too much weight being given to getting kids “fired up” before a game with some words most of them arent paying attention to or discard. Inspiration is developed in the weeks prior to the game, not by a few words or platitudes by a coach in the minutes before the game.


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