Tweeeet! The whistle has blown, and your players are jogging off the pitch. The first half is over, and before long, the second half will begin. You have seen moments of accomplishment, periods of wavering stamina, goals scored, successful and unsuccessful tackles, different types of passes and much more. How can you possibly relate all of your feedback concerning the first half in a typical 5 to 10 minute half-time speech? As a coach, what are your responsibilities during half-time, and how can you make the most out of the little time you have?
Primarily, what you say during half-time should be succinct, helpful and clear. You have an entire half of a game to recount, and you have a very short amount of time to do it. Brevity is clearly a must. In addition, your players may be weary, and half-time is also an important time for them to rest their legs, re-hydrate and catch their breath. In order to get your points across effectively, using simple language and clear explanations are necessary.
Generally, your comments ought to provide your players with feedback concerning the progression and the outcome of the first half. It may seem impractical to impart advice about half-time speeches given that the first half of every game will be slightly different from the next. We do not know the strengths and weaknesses of your players, nor do we know the type of opponent your team is up against. We can, however, provide valuable recommendations to consider as necessary topics to cover. These tips will help make your half-time speech effective, concise and encouraging.
The conditions of the pitch and certain unfavourable weather conditions can subtly or drastically affect the game. If it is raining, the pitch will be wet and the ball will travel faster across the grass. A slick ball may also be more difficult for a player to trap. Is it windy? A team that attacks with the wind blowing from its back will have an advantage as opposed to the team that must fight the wind head on. In addition to the weather, what are the conditions of the playing surface? Is the grass trimmed well or is it rather long? Longer grass is more difficult to run through and may be more trying on players’ legs. The ball travels a longer distance on a pitch with short grass. Are there uneven spots on the pitch? Are there divots, bumps or large dirt patches? Are your players aware of these areas? Is the pitch short, long, narrow or wide? For instance, narrow pitches have a short distance between the side of the penalty box and the sideline. Caution them about how the pitch conditions may have affected their play, and advise them to be mindful during the second half.
Player sense and vision
It is always helpful to remind players to be aware of their surroundings while they are on the pitch. Anticipating where the ball is going, knowing where teammates are and getting in position are vital off-the-ball skills that can only be mastered if a player has good pitch sense. Sometimes players only examine their own positioning on the pitch in comparison to where the ball is located. Encourage your players to see the entire space around them. In addition, advise players with the ball to keep their heads up so they can make important choices relative to dribbling, passing and shooting.
Play your game!
You may be wondering what coaches mean when they encourage players to “play their own game.” Although it is helpful to know the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent, frequently coaches expend too much energy discussing the other team’s skills and identifying the better players. What skills have you and your players focused on in practice? When your team has possession of the ball, where are the team’s strengths, and what strategies work well for your players offensively? In the first half, did your players execute the skills and strategies that you worked on during practice? Remind your players of these tactics, and encourage them to take control of the game as a team. Advising a team to “play its own game” incites confidence, promotes teamwork and plays toward your players’ strengths.
Pressure the ball and mark up
By putting pressure on the ball, your team will force the opposing team to work harder. Pressuring the ball increases the possibility that an opponent will make mistakes, thus increasing your team’s opportunities to retrieve possession of the ball. Every player on the pitch must play defence when the opponent has the ball. To protect your goal effectively, each player must be defensively alert, and everyone must pressure the ball. Although only one of your players may be marking the opposing player who has the ball, your entire team is responsible for defending. Supporting teammates must mark up and effectively guard their players to block any potential passes or runs. A team that pressures the ball and defends as a unit will break down the opponent’s methods of attack. Have your players been “going to the ball” and attacking opponents as soon as they receive the ball, or have your players been waiting for the opponents to advance, only challenging them after they have complete control of the ball and are ready to be challenged? Has the opposing team been able to make passes to players who are not “marked” or defended, or has your team done a good job of anticipating passing lanes and shutting down those potential passes to unguarded players?
Finally, it is always useful to remind your players to talk to each other. Soccer players cannot use their hands, but there are no rules that prohibit the use of voices! Your players should consider their voices as aids on the pitch, because verbal communication is very important, whether your team is playing defence or is on the attack. “Someone’s on your back!” “Double-team!” “I’m on your left!” “I’ve got number ten!” Players warn others about potential tackles, and they can help teammates make good runs and find open passes. At the same time, you need to critique your players, to advise them whether the oral advice they have been giving is good advice and whether they have taken the good advice from their teammates. For example, a player who constantly runs down the pitch yelling “I’m open! Pass it to me!” may not actually be open and may be giving advice contrary to what you as the coach have been telling your players to do. Is that player actually open? Would it be a good idea for the player with the ball to make the pass that is being requested? Is the player yelling for a pass when the player with the ball is in an open space and should continue dribbling? At the same time, when players are yelling advice, are their teammates listening and following it properly? When a player correctly calls for a pass, is the player with the ball trying to make that pass or are they moving ahead on their own, trying futilely to dribble through several solid defenders? Overall, communication is a fundamental tool of a successful team, and it is a skill that should be utilized at practice. Remind your players to open their mouths and communicate.
Keep it up!
Some of the most important topics to discuss during half-time concern what your players are doing well on the pitch. Choose a few maneuvers or skills that your team mastered in the first half. Highlight a few great passes, plays or combinations during the first half that were noteworthy. You may choose to provide three positive and praiseworthy remarks for every negative comment or piece of constructive criticism you report. Ultimately, it is important to praise your players as well as provide constructive criticism. Positive reinforcement boosts confidence and increases the likelihood that certain skills or plays will be repeated.
These suggestions for effective half-time speeches will remind young soccer players about some very important basic concepts. Nevertheless, based on the tone of the first half, there may be many other topics you wish to cover during half-time. Here are some more questions for coaches to ask themselves at the end of the first half of a match.
Is your team taking advantage of set plays and free kicks? Are your players having trouble defending against them?
Consider the possible physical advantages of the opposing team. Are players on the other team exceptionally tall? Is your team having trouble getting the ball away from taller opponents? Is your team shielding the ball successfully? Is the opposing team more aggressive than your players?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing goalie? Is he/she better in the air? On the ground?
What specific calls has the referee made? Does it seem that the referee is paying more attention to certain types of fouls?
Are your players being spectators? When players do not have the ball, they should be moving to support the player with the ball or moving toward a better position to receive the ball. Passive observers on the pitch do not help a team succeed.
What formation did the opposing team use in the first half? Should you alter your team’s formation to better respond to your opponent? How can you use the other team’s formation in your team’s favor?
Have your players been using the pitch effectively? Do they keep trying to plow straight ahead, and should they be moving the ball across the pitch more? Are they passing as much as you would like or are they dribbling too much? Are they passing when no one is on them, and you would prefer that they take the ball forward themselves more? Are they making short passes or kicking long balls past the defense for their teammates to chase (and is that what you want them to be doing)? Are they supporting their teammates, moving into open spaces when they do not have the ball, moving forward with the attack, and retreating to help defend? Have they been playing the game the way you have been coaching them at the level of ability that you can reasonably expect of them at their age and stage of development?
How did the process of substituting players in and out of the game go during the first half? Do you want to tell your players to work as hard as they can, then signal you (or you will see) that they should come out for a short rest? Or, do you want to tell them to pace themselves so that they will have sufficient reserves to make the necessary sprints when a scoring opportunity (or severe defensive threat) presents itself?
To review, clarity and brevity are important objectives of the half-time speech. Do not try to address all the topics listed in this article in a single half-time speech. If you are worried that you have too many items to discuss, do not try to cram in everything. Be selective. Try not to say all the same things every half time or your speeches are not likely to be effective. Try to identify the few key changes that may help them improve, and applaud their play when praise is appropriate. Encourage them to keep it up.
In addition, it may be beneficial to leave time for questions and comments at the end of your speech. During the game, you have a particular vantage point as a coach and as a spectator, but your players have very different perspectives on the pitch. Players’ comments and suggestions for the second half may be useful supplements to your half-time speech – and it will give you some time to catch your breath! Good luck, and remind your players to have an orange slice and to stretch if they desire.