Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, Sterling, Soccer
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Half-time talk like a pro

The half-time talk gives the coach a chance to adjust and steer the style of play and behavior of his/her team.

During the game a coach is only able to give a little input at a time to individual players, assuming the course of the match and the situation of the game allow it.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes where the coach can have the biggest impact on a game as he can directly make changes, inspire his players, or simply push for a change of attitude in the second half.

You can adjust your team tactically, changing the system, you can change a player because of his performances or simply according to the system, you can change your players’ mentality, you can sometimes change the game during this sacred 15′ break.

Here is an example of Pep Guardiola talking to his team in difficulty in the first half. You can see that he goes straight to the point to give his players as much time as they do what they need during the break an go back with a fresh mind and knowing what to focus on. In this case particularly, Guardiola wanted to emphasize the defending part at all cost to not concede any goals and keep the clean sheet.

Procedure and Structure

Depending on the sports facilities, it can take a few minutes to get back into a team’s locker room. Once the players have arrived there, they should be given a few minutes to rest and cool down.

It’s important to rehydrate during the break as well. Energy boost, for example through fruit, can also be helpful. Assuming it takes a few minutes to get to the locker room and to go back to the pitch afterwards, you are left with about six to eight minutes to talk to your team.

A possible way to structure the speech is with the so-called “sandwich method,” in which the beginning is positive, followed by constructive criticism, and then to end on a positive note. The substance of the speech should cover the events of the first half including a brief assessment, during which the positive aspects and strengths of the team should be emphasized.

After that, you can matter-of-factly go into deficits and room for improvement and offer a maximum of two to three concrete tips. It is possible in this phase to allow room for questions from the players if necessary, but it should not end up as a team discussion as the time simply does not allow for it.

The last part of your speech should provide reassurance (ending on a positive note) and include substitutions or tactical changes. The assistant coach should inform the substitutes on the pitch. Finally, you can head back to the pitch together with your team.

Preparation is key

You should begin making notes of the important points for your half-time talk during the first half, or have your assistant coach take notes.

It’s useful to discuss your talk with your assistant coach beforehand: What did he/she see? What aspects of the game should be stressed? If you don’t have an assistant coach, which is often the case in lower divisions, then it is of course up to you to find the right substance and wording for the half-time talk.

When you’re well-prepared and speak confidently it is reassuring for your players, which is why you should be careful to control your emotions at this point.

A rant to turn up the heat on the players for the second half should only be used rarely and purposefully if there isn’t any way around it. It is crucial to focus on the most important and possibly match-winning aspects of the game and, if possible, to demonstrate using a video or a tactics board. Visual aids improve the players’ ability to let the information really sink in.

Under no circumstances should the half-time talk be too overloaded with info – two to three concrete pointers must be enough.

Tips for a half-time talk

  1. Short, encouraging talks with individual players can be done on the way to the locker room by pulling the player aside.
  2. In the initial cool-down phase players should be able to speak to each other (but not argue).
  3. If there are discussions or even disagreements about the substance of the game, the atmosphere in the locker room is more important. The players should re-enter the game feeling confident and focused. This could mean making a joke in a particularly serious situation, or sternly reeling the players back in if they aren’t taking the situation seriously enough. Either way, it’s important to stay true to yourself and not to pretend to be someone you’re not.
  4. Your speech should quickly be steered from criticism back to focus on the second half and the objectives of the team.
  5. Speaking directly to certain players and outlining his/her assignment is a good way to grab their attention and give them a sense of responsibility.
  6. A coach shouldn’t demand the impossible from his/her team, as it can completely cripple them. If the team is trailing by a few goals at half-time, it could be presumptuous and even discouraging to talk about “still winning.” A better alternative would be “let’s win the second half,” or to focus completely on other objectives within the game like “more shots at goal,” “winning more tackles,” and so on.

The half-time talk is not an end in itself, but rather a means of support for the players. If there isn’t much to say, then not a lot should be said.

In some cases, it’s also possible not to give a motivational speech at half-time at all and by doing so purposefully show disappointment in the team.

A purely emotional speech can and should only be used when absolutely necessary. If it only happens rarely, it could help in certain situations. Under extreme circumstances a coach must react extraordinarily.

It is said, for example, that Liverpool’s coach Rafa Benitez never once mentioned in his half-time speech of the Champions League Final in 2005 that his team was behind 0:3. Instead, he calmly and factually outlined the plan for the second half and spoke about extra time, which is a remarkable and unexpected reaction for a coach in his situation. In the end, Liverpool won against AC Milan in a penalty shoot-out.

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