How to Channel Your Inner Olympic Coach


Start with the direction-giving “head” element. Say things like:

“Here’s what you should focus on.”

“Show up on time, give a firm handshake and make eye contact.”

Then pivot to the empathetic “heart” element. Say something comforting like:

“I’m confident you can do this.”

“Life has handed you some curveballs recently. It’s been tough, I know.”

Then switch to the meaningful “spirit” element. Connect their actions to the bigger picture and how they can inspire others:

“Your ambition will encourage others on our team to pursue their dreams, too.”

“Your family will be so proud of you!”

Following are more ways to help others attain their own version of winning a gold medal, whether it’s banishing a friend’s first-date jitters, supporting a loved one who’s making a positive health change or encouraging your spouse before they head out to a job interview.

There’s no one-size-fits-all message to effective pep talks. As a coach, leader or friend, it’s on you to discern what words the other person needs to hear.


“Everybody operates in a different way and everyone has different triggers that make them excel,” said Ms. Boorman, who is now the assistant coach for the Netherlands women’s gymnastics team. Some athletes, she said, need a more emotional approach than others; other athletes respond better to technical corrections. Adapt your approach as needed.

“A coaching relationship doesn’t work if there isn’t trust,” said Jason Pryor, an épée fencer who competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and now works as a performance coach with Future, a personal-training app. The most useful pep talks he received “came from people who knew me, knew my story, knew my concerns and knew I struggled,” he said.

When you get it right, the results can be transformative: “I’ve seen talks turn people into superhumans when the coach knows them and their struggles,” he said.

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