About Under Armour
Under Armour's vision is to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can't imagine living without. We believe in waking up every morning to make athletes better. From the best of the best to the ones just getting started, we put the athlete at the centre of everything we do. We create fearlessly with the courage and conviction to defy convention. We show up big where athletes train, compete, and recover.
About hedgehog lab
hedgehog lab is home to a team of experts who leverage human behaviours and data-driven product design principles to produce award-winning digital experiences. Partnering with global brands, the lab combines expertise in artificial intelligence, software development and UX/UI design to deliver world-class solutions. Through knowledge-sharing workshops, deep user research and expert coding, hedgehog lab can produce customised AI products that open the door to unprecedented levels of creativity.
In August, Under Armour is launching its ‘Protect This House’ campaign across Europe, following a successful re-launch in the US in early 2023. The movement, which first rallied athletes two decades ago to defend their turf, returns in a new form, shifting focus to a mentality that’s bigger than going all-out for yourself, but for the team. When today’s athletes hit their breaking point, it’s their team that pushes them to keep going. That’s what Protect This House is all about.
Bringing Together Man And Machine
The purpose of this project was to explore how AI can create the most inspirational team talk of all time, designed to help team sport athletes be at their best physically and mentally. As the human performance company, Under Armour is always striving for the latest innovations in tech and apparel to make athletes better.
In partnership with UK-based hedgehog lab (HHL), Under Armour has leveraged the power of AI to create ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’, an inspirational speech for the start of the European football season, harnessing the best possible language, sentence structure, cadence, and energy, designed to mentally prepare team sport athletes ahead of competition.
Team sport athletes are driven by their teammates and their desire to not let them down. When they face big challenges, they need to find the right ways to stay motivated. Research shows that AI is increasingly being used to help athletes stay motivated, and its emergence in the zeitgeist of society shows its popularity as a tool.
However, we never underestimate the power of personal connection. So, we knew we needed the right person to bring this speech to life. Nothing can replicate the emotion, passion and authenticity of a coach or captain addressing their team.
That's why we also partnered with acclaimed actor, artist, producer and director Ashley Walters to voice ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’. Whilst taking direction from the AI on how to deliver the speech, Ashley acting as the coach was given license to adapt the wording to suit his personality, further demonstrating how man and machine can effectively work together.
First and foremost, we had to choose an AI product that would be best suited to our project. Under guidance from HHL, we were keen to use one of the public models trained on large datasets. This gave us a wealth of data that our AI model could use to understand the fundamental building blocks of an impactful speech.
Though there are a number of Large Language Models (LLMs) that could take on the challenge, we felt the outright performance of ChatGPT in generating creative texts was the best in-class at the time when we and HHL began this process. Specifically version 4.0 of the platform excelled in creative composition and our ability to correlate feedback comparison to some of the other AI models we tested against.
HHL used a combination of ChatGPT’s web interface to undertake prompt engineering and a bespoke copy tool built to enable an iterative approach through the individual stages of review.
Approach & Methodology
Establishing Theoretical Grounding
Our goal was to determine the key psychological constructs that would evoke the desired physical and mental state in team sport athletes, encapsulating the spirit of toughness, grit, aggression, and unity. We analysed a wide range of studies, seeking to uncover the central elements that could make a speech "motivational" in sport, and most likely to foster the desired affective response in our target audience, young team sport athletes.
We began by conducting an extensive literature review, focusing on the drivers of motivation within team sports, particularly top-flight football. Our exploratory search adopted a broad approach, combining a range of sources to rapidly understand the problem space and tackle key technical uncertainties within the speech creation process.
Our review was grounded in sports psychology academic literature, drawing from the applied studies of Tiffanye Vargas-Tonsing and others, which build upon the theories of Thrash & Elliot applied to athletic motivation, inspiration, and communication over the past 20 years. We supplemented this theoretical grounding with other data sources and methods, depending on the variable at hand, including analysis of speeches available online to fill knowledge gaps and address technical queries quickly.
Under Armour Athlete and Brand Input
To ensure our findings were grounded in real-world experiences, we surveyed Under Armour football athletes, including: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Antonio Rüdiger (Real Madrid), Laura Freigang (Eintracht Frankfurt), Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), Jayde Riviere (Manchester United), and Reuell Walters (Arsenal). Their responses allowed us to gain an understanding of the thoughts, perceptions and experiences of motivation in sport and how they believed it impacted their performance on the pitch.
From these inputs, we identified shared rituals, optimal emotional states or characteristics of pre-game interventions, which we cross-referenced with our research and feedback from Under Armour’s VP of Athletic Performance Paul Winsper, who shared insights from his 20+ years of working with elite athletes.
We asked our Under Armour athletes a number of questions to better understand their own personal experiences. Real Madrid player Antonio Rüdiger shared his experience of a stand-out motivational speech that had an impact on his mindset:
Similarly Trent Alexander-Arnold, right back and vice-captain of Liverpool, shared his experience of a motivational speech that he felt was transformational to his performance:
Developing a Research-Informed Framework
Bringing this all together, we synthesised our collated research (including theoretical grounding, Under Armour athlete input, and experiential brand values) into a simplified set of elements and guiding principles to underpin our modelling. These elements formed our framework — communicating the most essential considerations relating to speech content, duration, and delivery style, in a usable form. This framework was used to continuously inform the model and assess the potential degree of motivation from our prompts and outputs.
Findings: ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’ Framework
Our framework comprises twelve elements that are likely to increase the effectiveness of a pre-game talk delivered by a coach or captain in a team sport environment. By balancing these elements correctly, a speech will foster motivation, unity, and a performance mindset among athletes. A speech with these characteristics is far more likely to result in an improved game performance. The elements include fostering a mastery mindset, championing effort over outcomes, visualising victory, focusing on controllable performance aspects, and using emotive language.
The 12 Elements of ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’
1. Mastery Mindset: Reminding team sport athletes of the practice and hard work they've put in can help them feel prepared for the challenge ahead. This reinforces their confidence and readiness to perform.
2. Sweat Over Scores: The focus should be on the grind, not the glory. By highlighting efforts rather than outcomes, a growth mindset is cultivated, which can lead to improved performance and resilience.
3. Visualise Victory: Encouraging athletes to envision their triumphs can be a powerful tool for self-belief. This can help them approach the game with a positive and winning mindset.
4. Confident Control: Focusing on controllable aspects of performance can foster a sense of individual power. This can help athletes feel more in control and less anxious about the game.
5. Unleash the Underdog: Turning a perceived disadvantage into a driving force can motivate athletes to perform better. This can help them see challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles.
6. We are the House: Referencing shared symbols and team colours can forge bonds among athletes. This can enhance team unity and a sense of belonging.
7. Harness the Heartbeat: Using emotive language can make the heart race and inspire performance. This can help athletes connect emotionally with both the game and their teammates.
8. Channel the Charge: Encouraging calmness and focus can help channel energy towards the mission, not machismo. This can help athletes stay composed and focused during the game.
9. Simplify to Amplify: Picking three mission-critical points and echoing them consistently can help athletes remember and focus on what's most important. This can help simplify the message and amplify its impact.
10. Speak with Spark: Using pauses sparingly and repetition effectively can hammer home the message. This can help ensure the key points are remembered and internalised.
11. Mountains of Momentum: Developing the speech to a peak that emboldens the mission can create a sense of momentum. This can help athletes feel more motivated and ready to take on the challenge.
12. Impact in Instants: Keeping the speech brief, significant and filled with sincere emotion can make it more impactful. This can help ensure the message is powerful, memorable and resonant with the athletes.
In summary, our research acknowledges that an effective pre-game speech is not just about what is said (the content), but also significantly influenced by how it is said (the delivery). While we were confident that our AI model could assist in outputting text that fosters a mindset of mastery, unity and performance, we remained highly conscious that delivering the message in a way that resonates with team sport athletes and truly motivates them to perform at their peak remains the domain of human judgement.
Human + Tech
From its inception, the project’s goal has been to bring the best of technology together with the creativity, authenticity and passion so powerfully conveyed by a suitable voice, such as Ashley Walters.
Interacting with AI
HHL set about developing a prompt we could use to create an initial draft of the speech. For the prompt, we distilled ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’ framework we developed during our research into a series of directions for the model. These were designed to ensure that the speech accurately reflected our research findings and aligned with our outcomes.
The first element we included was a prompt to define the overall theme of the speech, which was based on the concept of team unity.
The team is everything: Delve into the profound connection that binds the team together (safeguard your brothers and sisters on the field, go to battle for them). Utilise language that invokes a fierce sense of camaraderie and a defender mentality.
We then provided directions for the core content of the speech, based on the 12 essential elements of a team talk, rephrased in a way that would produce the most effective output from the model. These included:
Grit and Determination: Emphasise the relentless spirit and unwavering commitment that each player holds. Underline that sweat, tears, and a never-give-up attitude form the bedrock of greatness.
Preparedness: Reaffirm the team’s readiness. Remind the athletes that they’ve prepared, they’ve trained, they’ve been here before. The preparation is done; they’re ready.
Growth Mindset: Focus on the indomitable will and relentless hustle over the end result. Foster a belief in constant evolution, irrespective of wins or losses.
Positive Framing: Avoid any negativity and focus on aspects that players have control over, empowering them to take charge of their own destinies.
Visualisation: Inspire athletes to imagine the glory awaiting them; encourage them to live those moments in their minds.
Underdog Energy: Capture the essence of the mighty underdog, the dauntless fighter who thrives despite the odds.
As part of the prompt, we asked the model to take on the persona of a copywriter working on ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’ in line with the human+tech approach and to help ensure the output of the speech fitted the brief and the goals of the project.
We also incorporated a number of constraints into the prompt to help guide the model. These included:
Tone: The speech should resonate with deep intensity, reverberating through the hearts and souls of all who dare to dream.
Duration: Keep it tight and high-impact, suitable for a 90-second delivery, ideal for a pre-game team talk.
Delivery Directions: Provide notes to guide a coach on escalating intensity, and modulating emotions throughout.
We also asked the model to review and refine its own prompt to ensure the best possible results with the output.
Rather than just using the first results from the prompt, we interacted conversationally with the model to gradually shape the speech, mimicking the real-life approach of working on a written piece of text.
This process of collaboration with the model meant it was able to retain all the context of our iterations.
During this process, we provided additional guidance on tone and language to help ensure that the script fit the brief and the target audience.
Once we had a draft we were happy with, the speech was put through review stages to ensure relevance against the brief and data. This was done through AI “Agents” - carefully constructed AI personas, representing the key stages of review in our process.
Suggestions and amendments that came out of this process were then fed back into the original conversation to produce the final draft, which was reviewed by internal Under Armour stakeholders.
# UNDER ARMOUR – THE ULTIMATE TEAM TALK # SCRIPT FINAL [AUDIO START: The speech begins with unwavering focus, steadily escalating in intensity.] [DIRECT AND STEADY: The voice commences, stern and sure.] This is where it all kicks off. Here and now, we stand as one. On this field, our bonds are unbreakable, our resolve unshakeable. This is our house. [ESCALATE INTENSITY: Voice gains momentum, echoing determination.] We train hard. We push limits. We learn. Every single day. That's our backbone, that's our hustle. We play for each other. Our sweat is collective, and we’re all-in. We watch each other’s backs. We've got each other, no matter what [REINFORCE CORE MESSAGE: Voice elevates, commanding attention.] This is where we fight. For the banner we represent. For every player that stands beside us. This is our turf, our unity, our unwavering will. Every tackle, every move, it's for something bigger. It's for us. It's for the team. [SIMPLIFY AND AMPLIFY: Focus narrows, the voice booms.] Are we the underdogs? Good. That’s where legends rise. They overlook us; we overperform. They doubt us; we outdo. Together we rise. Together we grind. [MASTERFUL RESOLVE: Voice becomes steely and definitive.] We keep moving, always pushing forward, unstoppable. Let's carve our names right here, right now. [FINAL PUNCH: Last seconds, the voice turns resolute.] Now let's get out there. For each other.
We were able to harness innovative AI technology to create ‘The Ultimate Team Talk’ and prove that human-AI collaboration can fundamentally impact how athletes achieve peak performance.
We also concluded that the conscientious application of large language models, like ChatGPT, can inspire but cannot replace humans’ deep understanding of consumers’ hearts and minds. At Under Armour, we pride ourselves on our ability to put the athlete at the centre of everything we do and it’s with those insights and first-hand experiences that we can join forces with new technology to defy convention and create something legendary.
For further questions, please email EMEAmediarelations@underarmour.com