The Method, Vol. 2: The art of the team talk (ft. Pa-Modou Kah & Stephen Hart)

It was the team talk heard across Prince Edward Island.

In a win-or-go-home scenario, Pacific coach Pa-Modou Kah had watched his team fail to register a shot on target against FC Edmonton through 45 minutes. He gave a brief half-time interview that told its own story.

And then he went to see his players.

In what were not exactly sound-proof locker rooms, the cerebral and normally upbeat Kah exploded.

It had the desired effect. Pacific came to life and won 2-1 after falling behind, with Marco Bustos’ 85th-minute winner securing their place in the next round.

In volume 2 of The Method, we examine the do’s and don’ts of how a coach effectively delivers his message before, during, and after a match, speaking with Pa-Modou Kah of Pacific FC and Stephen Hart of HFX Wanderers.

Tip 1: Speak from the heart, always

“My players know me, and I know my players, which is a great thing to have as a coach,” Kah said, reflecting on the Edmonton game.

“They know me as a person. It’s not that I can hide my emotions that well! Because I’m passionate. And my passion comes from what I believe that they can do.

“If they’re not doing it, they know that I’m not going to sugar coat it. I’m not somebody that’s going to try to give them something that’s not there.

“At that moment, there was nothing positive I could come in and tell them because then they will figure it out and say, ‘what is he doing? That’s complete bollocks.’

“You try to stay true to yourself and who you are and that was just the passion that came out.

“That was the passion of, ‘we are better, but we’re not doing it at the moment. We only have 45 minutes. Otherwise all the hard work that we did in preseason is just going to waste.'”

Pacific FC coach Pa-Modou Kah. (Photo: CPL / Chant Photography)

Kah refuses to pat himself on the back for the turnaround against the Eddies — “it’s still the players that are going to go out and perform,” he points out — but that match offered a glimpse of the weight that those few moments at half-time can carry.

It is the one true opportunity a coach has to change the course of a game.

“Sometimes it has a negative impact because (the players) take it the wrong way,” HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart said.

“And other times it has the opposite effect where they just come out flying. It’s really a tricky one.”

Hart identified two key principles he sticks to.

First, “give an air of being in control” in front of both the players and the media.

Second, cut through the stream of information that is at a modern coach’s disposal and focus on what is most important.

“There’s a lot of stats now and a lot of analysis and things going wrong and you look at the game and you say, ‘I don’t need all of this s***,’” he said.

“I can see that we are giving away the ball in certain parts of the field and that’s costing us. It’s as simple as that.”

Tip 2: Skip the Hollywood theatrics before kick-off

In a stunning development, it turns out Hollywood’s depiction of what happens in the locker room before a game is not typically accurate.

The reality is less Any Given Sunday and more a functional reinforcement of the training sessions and meetings that have led into matchday.

“I just give them a couple of reminders,” Hart said.

“Just a little reminder of what we’ve been doing the whole week, so it doesn’t get lost,” echoed Kah.

“I never got the big rah-rah-rah kind of stuff by some coaches,” Hart continued.

“I know a lot of players thrive on that, but I didn’t get it because I really never had to be motivated to play football. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart. (Photo: CPL / Chant Photography)

For Kah, motivating his players is an ongoing process and not something that rests on last-minute pep talks.

“If you’re going to rehearse (a speech) and all of this stuff, it’s going to be bollocks,” he said.

“Players are smart enough to see whether you’re genuine or not as a coach or you truly mean it or truly believe it.

“You cannot always come and think you can bring words into the players and then they will go, ‘oooh!’

“It’s never going to happen. I always stay authentic and say what I believe.”

Tip 3: After a match? Nothing needs to be said

Neither coach is in the habit of berating their team after a bad result.

“I don’t really ever talk in the locker room (after the game),” Hart explained.

“If I do, it’s two or three words. I usually go around and pat everybody on the back or whatever and then leave.

“I knew for myself, I didn’t want to listen to anything at that point. Especially if the game didn’t go our way.

“I let it sink in. Players know when they’ve had a bad game. Players know when the team didn’t function well.

“They know. And then I talk about it the next day.”


Kah has played for or spent time around a host of top coaches, with Huub Stevens, Pim Verbeek, Patrick Vieira, and Louis van Gaal among those he has learned from when it comes to communicating with players.

But it was ex-Vancouver Whitecaps boss Carl Robinson’s approach to the final whistle that stuck with him.

“He made me laugh, because even when you lose a game, in his mind he’s serious — you could see (he was disappointed),” Kah recalled.

“But then he put it in a perspective of, ‘listen, we just lost a game. Go home to your family, enjoy your kids, enjoy everybody around you. It’s going to sting but tomorrow we come back to work.’

“He always put it into perspective, which was a great thing to have.

“Just looking at myself, I like to help people. I like to talk to people. I like to give people confidence. But also, I like to say the truth to people.

“I think my players appreciate that. Hopefully they do.”

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