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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Breaking Down the Perfect Pep Talk

Eric Gay/AP

It’s NBA playoff time and, as I write this, the San Antonio Spurs haven’t lost a game since April 11. That streak was almost broken a few nights ago when the Spurs were down big to the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of the Western Conference championship series. The Spurs turned it around, though, and went on to win after NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich unleashed one of the greatest pep talks I’ve heard in a long time.

The punch line of the talk, “I want some nasty!” is now emblazoned on T-shirts throughout San Antonio. Popovich has won four NBA championships with the Spurs over the years and when you watch the pep talk you can see why. It’s a 27 second model of how to coach and motivate a team.


Popovich’s pep talk contains only 45 words. It’s like a pep talk haiku.

Let’s break it down line by line to see what leaders can learn from Coach Pop about motivating their teams. (Popovich’s words are bolded.)


  • Are we having fun yet? Opening with this question brings a little humor to a stressful situation. It gets the attention of the team in a more effective way than yelling something like, “What in the hell is wrong with you guys?”
  • I need a little bit more dose of nasty. This is the set up for the rest of the talk. With this line, Popovich is describing the big picture of what he’s looking for from the team.
  • I’m seeing a little bit of un-confidence. A little hesitation. Now, he’s getting more specific about what he’s been seeing from the team and what needs to be corrected. It doesn’t matter that un-confidence isn’t really a word. You don’t have to speak perfectly to get your point across.
  • It’s not supposed to be easy. Every round gets tougher. This is a great perspective check. Remember, he’s talking to guys like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker who have won championships. He’s reminding everyone that they’ve been here before.
  • Penetrate hard. Good passes. Shoot with confidence. This is beautiful. In seven words, Popovich gives very specific direction on three things that will turn it around for the Spurs. He’s giving them a clear and actionable set of instructions to overcome the un-confidence.
  • I want some nasty! And the close. I want some nasty is a battle cry that sums up everything he’s just said. He opens with nasty; he closes with nasty and in between he explains exactly what nasty does and doesn’t look like. That’s something a team can work with.

Forty five words in 27 seconds. Like I said, a pep talk role model for leaders who need to motivate their team to win.

What’s your take on the Popovich pep talk?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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