Team talks are an important part of gameday. A good team talk will engage our players, encourage them to reflect on the game, and help them to consolidate their learning. This Q&A looks at why they’re so important and explores the different opportunities to communicate with our players on gameday —  guiding us on how we can make these crucial interventions more effective.

In This Article

Why Do We Give Team Talks?

Effective communication is key to being a good coach. And team talks before, during, and after matches are vital opportunities to engage our players, communicate with purpose, and reframe gameday as a learning opportunity.

“It’s about how we define success,” says PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “If we’ve worked on something during the week, are we looking for that knowledge transfer? Can we create some key outcomes based around the topic? We can go into our pre-match or half-time conversations with those ideas.”

How Can We Set Our Players Appropriate Targets?

Gameday is a valuable opportunity for players to learn. As coaches, we can facilitate their learning by giving them targets that prioritise development over results, and then using our team talks to reinforce and reflect on them.

“I think it’s important that those targets are controllable,” advises PDP Technical Advisor Dan Wright. “I wouldn’t be talking about the result or numbers. For example, making 50 passes isn’t something you can control; if the referee, the opposition, or some other constraint means the players can’t do that, you haven’t got a team talk. But if one of your targets is to make sure that everybody works hard the entire time they’re on the pitch, that’s controllable.

“You can talk about those kinds of things at half-time and there doesn’t need to be any link to the score. They’re more process-driven than outcome-driven.”

What Should I Cover in Half Time Talks?

When coaching younger players, we should be careful not to overload them with information during our half time talks. “When you’re in the heat of a match and you’ve written eight key points down in the first-half, it’s very easy to get caught up and feel like you have to relay all of that information to the players,” says Dave Wright. “But overloading can be dangerous. We don’t want to deliver a tactical masterclass on the white board or overwhelm them.”

“It means choosing the headline,” adds Dan Wright. “What does everybody need to know — what will benefit everyone? And then what are the things that you could just deliver individually?”

We also shouldn’t see half-time as a stage to deliver the most inspirational team talks. “It’s probably not the place for the ‘climb every mountain’ speech if you’re 4-0 down,” Dave Wright advises. “If we’re focusing on development, we should instead consider how we can get some better outcomes in the second-half. For example, can we challenge the players to keep a clean sheet? And can we encourage them to think about how they could accomplish that?”

How Long Should My Interventions Be?

What you say, and the way you say it, impacts the outcome,” explains Professor Stephen Rollnick, a clinical psychologist and researcher on the subject of motivation and behaviour change who advocates a more collaborative approach to working with players. “There’s a phrase I like: ‘You’re a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage.’”

In the context of team talks, this philosophy means putting our egos aside, not acting as the fount of all knowledge, and keeping our communications concise and necessary. “Maybe have a stopwatch to ensure you’re not just talking and talking,” suggests Dan Wright. “For kids in the Foundations Phase [ages 5-11 in the UK], I’d say three minutes is a good target. That will get you into the habit of saying what you want to say as quickly as you can, in a nice, child-friendly way.”

How Can I Involve My Players in Team Talks?

Involving players in team talks is a great way to engage them and see how much they’ve understood. As Dan Wright explains, “If we want them to have a little bit more autonomy, we have to know what they’re experiencing — and they are better placed to tell us what they’re experiencing than we are.”

“You can even get the players to lead,” suggests Dave Wright. “You might choose two or three players and have them give feedback or identify issues to talk about at half-time, which you can then summarise. The player-led idea can be really empowering.”

What Makes a Good Debrief?

A good debrief encourages the players to consider what happened during the match and what lessons they can take away from it. “Self-reflection is a skill, and I think it’s something we need to encourage in our players,” says Dave Wright. “I think encouraging them to be analytical and honest with each other — for example, through peer-to-peer assessment — is really valuable.”

Whether our debrief is coach-led or player-led, we should use it to help players consolidate their learning. “The key questions are: ‘What happened? What does that mean? And what are you going to do about it?’” says Dan Wright. “Then you’re having meaningful conversations with the players about the stuff that they need to get better at, not whatever didn’t go well in one game.”

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