The allocated fifteen minutes between whistles is without a doubt an extremely important time during a football match but as coaches how much time do we spend working on our half time actions? If you break it down simply there is 45 minutes of football with 15 minutes break with a further 45 minutes of play. We put all our coaching resources, effort and expertise to making the 90 minutes of football the best it can be but half time accounts of nearly 15% of the time the team spends between starting a match and finishing a match. Do we spend 15% of our preparation time for games thinking about half time? I know I don’t.
Now there are some important factors to consider here, most importantly teams can’t score or concede goals at half time (so the actual match is more important) and to a certain extent you can’t predict how the first half will turn out and so you can’t completely plan what you are going to say at half time. These are two valuable and appropriate factors but I have a feeling there is much more that can be done to make half time more effective.
I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject and had some good discussions with coaches on it, I also feel I’ve tried quite a lot of different half time approaches as well. In my opinion it’s a very interesting subject and one that a lot of coaches I speak to don’t really think a lot about. When I ask the question to coaches “How do you approach your half time team talk?” the normal response I get is “Well it depends on how the team plays in the first half!”. As i’ve mentioned previously, this is a fair comment and totally acceptable but what about these factors to consider:
- How much information can players take on at half time?
- Do players need time to reflect on performances?
- Is it just the head coaches opinion that influences half time?
- Do you have access to stats and if so are they appropriate?
- Can you address the whole performance of the first 45 minutes?
- How do you decide what are the most important issues to address?
- Does the scoreline influence what you are trying to achieve long term?
These are just a few testing questions to coaches without even contemplating the manner of the half time talk, as coach how do you conduct yourself at HT. Is it the same each game? Does the infamous hairdryer treatment feature? Are you calm? Are you accurate? Are you overly emotional? Are you positive and energetic?
I have just about opened the box here, can you imagine how many questions can be asked of coaches when considering half time? When you break it down in simple sections:
- Detail or Information
- Feedback (Positive or Negative)
- Coaches Manner
- Players Physiological Factors
There are a lot of factors, questions and thoughts to consider. And thats essentially the point, as coaches have we been through the exercise of actually getting into some serious thinking and detail around half time? As with many things in coaching there probably isn’t a right or wrong answer and I certainly don’t have a magic formula either.
These are the areas I would explore in more detail when considering my approach to half time.
1.Using an empowerment approach with the players.
Ask my players what they find most useful at half time? What do they remember most about half time talks? What do they need most from me as a coach? How can they be at their best in the second half? How do they want me to approach the half time period as a whole? What approach do the respond best to?
2. Consult the coaching team before I speak.
Often as a coach you can get emotionally involved in the game, you want to kick every ball especially if you have made the move from playing to coaching. It’s even worse if you have conceded or scored a goal right before the whistle. Those goals could change what you were going to say (because now you’re annoyed) or even mask some issues (because you’re winning all of a sudden). It’s almost law that commentators on live games say after a late goal is scored “Well that changes the coaches half time talk.” Well should it? If you have additional staff then use them before you say anything to the players.
I have started getting into the habit of evaluating everyone’s opinion before I speak at HT. I asked my captain and vice captains to run to each other at the whistle and while they are walking in, discuss the biggest issue from the first time, then as they walk into the dressing room they tell me what it is they feel needs to be addressed. I also make sure I walk slowly with my assistant coaches to the dressing room and ask them “What are the most important areas to address?”. Then finally after getting the thoughts of my coaches and leaders I meet my technical analyst outside the dressing room, look at the stats and ask them on their opinions. They have been in the stands and away from the emotions of the touchline, it’s quite interesting how their opinion differs from mine.
I then give the players 2-3 minutes to relax, get a drink, sort out any issues with the physio and just let off steam. I find a private space and decide what things I’m going to talk about having been given all the information I needed from my staff and players.
3. Save the best until last.
Players will remember the last point you make the most so make that one the most important thing you want to take with them back onto the pitch. I’ve done this before, but so many coaches will go into HT, say their piece and then casually look over to their assistant coach and say “Anything to add” at which point the assistant coach or manager has their say. So basically by the time the players go back out they have probably forgotten what you said and are now ready to implement your assistants off the cuff comments. Comments which you probably didn’t discuss, might not agree with and which have been made up so not to sound the same as what you said just before!
4. Positive Sandwich.
I have tried to get into the habit of starting off on a positive note, perhaps what the team did best in the first half, then i’ll discuss the areas we need to fix or address and get their attention focused on this. To finish with i’ll say something positive again, so they don’t go out thinking about negative feedback. It could be as simple as some positive assurances, maybe even something detailed that we have done really well so far or a reflection on what we know we are capable of and remind them how good they are.
Keep It Simple Stupid. I’ve tried to make my points as simple to understand as possible, I don’t like getting into real technical detail with the team at half time. It needs to be really easy to digest because they are tired, they are eating and drinking, thinking about what just happened and visualizing the second half. In my experiences if it is too complicated the eyes will glaze over and everything goes in one ear and straight out the other.
6. Team Focused
It sounds crazy but I’ve tried to make points that relate to the performance of the team rather than focusing on an individual. If it doesn’t relate to them specifically then again, they are likely to switch off. If I want to get some specific messages to individuals then either I talk to them separately, get the assistant coach to talk to them or grab them on the way out of the dressing rooms before they restart.
It’s a fascinating area for discussion and so much influences how your half time talk takes place. It’s an area in my own coaching I’d like to develop to become more effective. Finding the time is a major factor as there seems so much more important things to coach first and foremost but HT happens every game regardless and you can’t keep ignoring it because it might make a massive difference to the performance of your team.
The whole point of this article is to trigger your own thinking around this area for future development. It’s such a personal thing because everyone is different in their approach, everyone has different players and we all have different circumstances to contend with but if every coach at least gets into some more detail and thinks hard about how to improve their HT talks then we’ll see some outstanding second half performances from this moment forward. Good luck.