Give Speeches, Run Fast

How Coach Fullenkamp is Perfecting Sports Oration


People don’t give enough credit to speeches. Or to good ones, at least. We have coaches nowadays who are coming up with convoluted strategies, leg maneuvers, and swerve shots, all  to maximize the performance of their players. But there’s a difference between the performance of the heart and the performance of the bicep. Andy Reid can make his team drill crip shots and backward passes from dawn till dusk, but if he wants his team to play hard, he has to get up there and tell them. Speeches are the key. As long as athletes are flesh and blood, this will be the case.

In the face of all this speech skepticism, there is someone at this school who knows the truth. Enloe Track and Cross-Country coach Brian Fullenkamp, lovingly referred to by his pupils as “FK,” has a reputation for being a skilled orator. He is known by his track and field team for both having a knack for giving speeches and having the capability to motivate his athletes. “He brings out the best in people” junior varsity runner Gabe Sonawane said. It makes sense: when you coach a popular sport at a school of more than two thousand students, the only way to touch every heart simultaneously is the voice.

Instead of basing his speeches on vague idealism or tribalistic win-lose demagoguery, FK anchors himself upon the honest pillar of reality. “Most of my speeches―inspirational, motivational, whatever you want to call them, come from real life experiences
” he said. He added that “more than anything, the speeches that teachers try to do are based on experience, because they are seeing a student that reminds them of themselves, and they don’t want the student to make that same bad mistake.” That concept, the idea of passing down life lessons, is the foundation of popular parables like The Emperor’s New Clothes. A charismatic coach is a storyteller, not a preacher.

Most of my speeches―inspirational, motivational, whatever you want to call them, come from real life experiences.

— Mr. Fullenkamp

Good speeches are like echoes, reverberating faintly through the heads of their recipients for months. Even when it may not seem like it, a good speech never falls on deaf ears. FK was asked if, in the course of his coaching career,  he had students who directly responded to his speeches. “I’ve had some that didn’t mean anything to people, but they came back afterward a year later, so it meant something to them at that moment in time or they realized it was correct” he said. It’s clear his pupils felt echoes. And not only that, they responded to those echoes by shifting their worldview. This is an example of the kind of speaking strategy which builds a team and not a crip shot machine.

“The greatest advantage of an orator is not only to speak the necessary but also not to speak the unnecessary.” This quote is attributed to the ancient Roman orator Cicero, who is regarded as one of the greatest of his kind. In contrast to aimless speeches about athletic technique, the focus on real-world anecdotes which permeates FKs speeches is absolutely “necessary.” Sports are played both on and off the field, and we need more FKs who recognize that. Let’s go track and cross-country, keep making your coach and your school proud!