''Engaging each and every player during that 4 – 5 min period is a skill within itself and may require a number of strategies to achieve total attention.''

One of the fundamental aspects of coaching or mentoring a Gaelic Football team is the half time team talk. It is also possibly the one area where coaches or mentors fail time and again. Information overload is a common pitfall, often times less is more. In this article, adated from Aussie Rules, coach Andri Taheney looks at different aspects of this art form.

Delivering your message to 22 people is not easy especially under conditions that have multiple distractions, fatigued players and differing levels of concentration span within those players. A Coach who falls into the trap of addressing the players for 5 minutes straight will run the risk of delivering a large amount of information for little reward in that the players will not be able to retain the information provided.

Let’s look at what a player hopes to achieve during a break:

  •     Mental release from 30 minutes of concentration
  •     Re-hydration
  •     Attend to injury, equipment
  •     Personal reflection (especially at a junior level when players look for praise from mum and dad, team mates)
  •     1 on 1 Coach to player feedback (players will actively seek this from their coach for self-assurance) 

If a player has any of the above foremost in their mind they will not be concentrating on the Coaches message. It is best to allow the players to have their time to switch off and attend to individual needs before asking for total concentration.

Let’s look at a structure that will help provide the best outcome for the players and the coach in regard to what all want to achieve at the break. In order to do this I encourage Coaches to breakdown the 5 minutes into segments of time.
  • Half time Whistle  – 2 mins: Players are asked to jog to huddle to maximise time, rehydrate, seek medical attention, change of equipment (boots etc) and most importantly switch off mentally from the requirements of concentrating for 30 mins. This may be extended to 4 mins for junior teams, as coaches use this time for team management, 1 on 1 instruction or positional changes etc.
  •  2 mins – 4 mins: Small group discussions with line coaches (or senior players), this may also include players seeking medical attention as the group can move to that player. Player reflection and review of structure would form a large part of this discussion.  For example, what didn’t work well and how can improvement occur. Continual rehydration and an increase in attentiveness would also be prevalent.
  • 4 mins – 5 mins: Coach addresses players with full attention. May include brief reflection through individual questioning of players before providing specific instruction that all players can easily retain.
Throughout the first 4 minutes the coach would also use the opportunity to speak 1 on 1 or in small groups to players. The playing group would also need to be aware that they need to be ready when the Senior Coach calls all players together. This should be considered by all players as a cue to begin that switch on period (total concentration) for the next 30 mins.
Engaging each and every player during that 4 – 5 min period is a skill within itself, and may require a number of strategies to achieve total attention.
Limiting any distractions should be first and foremost in the Coaches mind especially with junior players who are easily distracted. This should involve the Coach positioning themselves in front of all players with an area that has little activity directly behind the Coach. The players would then have their back to the distractions such as parents, supporters and clubroom activity.  Don’t forget the sun! Always position yourself so that the players are not looking directly into the sun.
A quick review of the previous half will allow you to praise players for their effort and also question players on what they feel may be a reason for aspects of structure breaking down. The use of praise and questioning are both valuable tools to ensure total attention. In praising a player all others will be attentive in the hope that they may be next for praise especially at a young age. The act of questioning a player will ensure all eyes on the Coach as the players don’t want to draw attention to themselves and be the next to be asked a question. A well prepared Coach will use the question to reinforce team rules, game styles etc by asking a player who they know will provide the correct response. This maybe a repeat of a 1 on 1 discussion held only a minute before but helps to reinforce a message to all players.

Tone of voice will also help reinforce a message and maintain attention. The constant ‘rant and rave’ of years gone by is rarely seen today and not well received with the younger generation. A firm tone blended into a message will again reinforce key points that require attention from the players.

With less than 1 minute remaining in the break, 2 or 3 clear and distinct messages are likely to be retained by the players. Each message should relate specifically to how you want the team to play either offensively or defensively and provide a clear motivation for the whole group. Anymore than 3 distinct messages may confuse or be lost upon the players.

''The constant ‘rant and rave’ of years gone by is rarely seen today and not well received with the younger generation.''