Mike Chiapparelli began to sketch out a worthy pregame speech within hours of a regional win that landed Mamaroneck in the NYSPHSAA hockey semifinals.
The longtime coach knows how to work a locker room.
Depending on the moment, Chiapparelli will use comedy or drama, and the best lines are usually delivered with a spray of saliva for emphasis.
It’s a way to get the adrenaline flowing.
“My goal is to get everyone pumped up so they’re anxious to get out there and play the game at a high pace,” said Chiapparelli, whose Tigers face Pittsford in a Division 1 semifinal on Saturday in Buffalo. “We look at the kids when they walk in. If there’s color in their faces, we’re good. If there’s not, I get a little nervous.
“If we’re playing a game I think we should win, I’ll build up their confidence. If we’re playing a game I know is going to be tight, I want to loosen them up.”
The inspiration comes from all directions.
He is big on themes. Chiapparelli might run with a line from a song that blasts in the locker room or a quote from an opponent that was printed in the paper.
“Chap loves getting us fired up any way possible,” Mamaroneck captain Jason Bienstock said. “He always stresses the importance of playing our game. And right before we get on the ice he loves to get us amped up. We’re all hooting and hollering. It’s fun and exciting, and it makes you want to get out there and play.”
Of course, there’s a time and place for emotion.
“I don’t make too many speeches in basketball,” said Ossining girls coach Dan Ricci, whose Pride team is back in the Class AA final four and plays Commack on Friday. “Maybe if we’re down at the half, but not before the game. You don’t want them all hyped up. They have to be relaxed to play basketball.
“Now football, that’s different. It’s all about adrenaline, so I will use it there.”
Taking a few moments to review the game plan is a routine that plays out in a wide majority of locker rooms.
“We always start there,” said Byram Hills boys basketball coach Ted Repa, whose Bobcats play Elmont in a Class A semifinal on Saturday. “If we’re playing a weekday game in the middle of the season I might give a pep talk. Or before a big game, I might give them something along the lines of appreciating the moment. I always think about what I’m going to say, but I never script a speech or anything.”
And hopefully, the kids listen.
“Who knows, right?” Repa said. “I’m sure each kid has his own way of getting ready to play. Some are in their own worlds, locked in. Others are on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word. Even when I’m terrible, I get a big roar, but maybe that’s because they’re just anxious to get out and play.”
Halftime is a different story.
Sometimes a wake-up call is needed. Sometimes a hug does the job. In close games, most of the chatter is X’s and O’s.
“Halftime is short, like a timeout,” said Rye girls basketball coach Dennis Hurlie, whose Garnets play Floral Park in the Class A final four on Friday. “You can’t throw 50 things at them. There are adjustments that need to be made. I’ve found it helps the more we talk about how well we can play and the pieces we have. When everything is even, that collective confidence is sometimes what makes the difference.”
It also pays to be honest.
Kids are not likely to buy into some kind of a scripted Hollywood moment, so when things are not going well, it’s usually easier to put out the little fires.
“You have to remember that high school athletes live in the moment,” said Pelham coach Ed Witz, whose Pelicans play Skaneateles in a Division 2 semifinal on Saturday. “If they make a mistake, it can be hard to move past it, so I’ll focus on that. You have to be honest with them. Kids are not dumb and if you play games with them, it never ends well.”