By Noah Fernandes
More than just a water break, see what happens behind the closed doors at halftime.
While halftime may mean a trip to the bathroom or concessions for the audience, that precious break in the action serves as more than just a long water break for the athletes and coaches. It is a time to regroup and see how they can improve, regardless of the score.
The driving force behind this improvement is often the famed “halftime speech” from the coach. While every speech is custom made depending on what went well and what decidedly did not, each address has the same objective. As freshman men’s basketball forward Coleman Stucke said, “The goal for any halftime speech is to improve upon the first half performance.”
The speech, ultimately, is an art. The coaches have to carefully craft them to relay an effective message to their players. They can applaud the team when it’s deserved, but they also have to know when to wake the team up if they’re not playing to the expected standard. There’s a balance that must be achieved between praise and criticism. And not all coaches use the same approach.
“Some coaches are yellers and some are more observers,” Stucke said. “Most coaches will pick their spots with yelling, because if a coach yells all the time it can have less of an effect, but if the coach is loud only at certain times, it can have a far greater impact.”
Even before the speech starts however, there is a tone and energy displayed in the locker room amidst talk from the athletes themselves, one that is usually pretty reliant on the score at the half.
“When we are ahead at the half, the discussion is a bit more calm and casual,” women’s soccer head coach Ashley Phillips said. “When we are losing, they typically communicate with a bit more urgency. They also try to pump each other up when we are down in games.”
There’s a balance to the locker room energy, however. If athletes lose composure, they risk taking their eyes off of the prize.
“In the locker room at halftime, we are locked in whether we are winning or losing,” Freshman men’s basketball forward Alexander “Kachi” Nwagha said. “We know the job is not done. And that was apparent during our season because there were games that we dominated in the first half but got turned around in the second, and vice versa.”
Although the coaches may feel comfortable with how their team is playing, they too must not get too comfortable. They need to make sure they are assessing what is working and not working, and make the necessary adjustments.
“[Men’s basketball head coach Bill] Coen also does a good job of getting us focused and he studies the other team and tells us how we need to adjust, no matter how small the adjustment may seem. He will highlight key players and their strengths and weaknesses in addition to plays that are working or not working,” Nwagha said.
While soccer and basketball have one long intermission, volleyball presents an entirely different challenge. Instead of one long halftime, they get just a few minutes in between sets. Due to this, they don’t have time to make big adjustments in the locker room – they are made on the court as the game goes on.
Volleyball head coach Lenika Vazquez said that during the game she feeds the team specific information on how to win. During practice she puts emphasis on coaching “energy,” something she teaches them to create. Instead of having their halftime pep talk, they are able to tap into that energy that they create. The challenge is that the players have to know how to adapt on the fly.
“We only get 60 to 75 seconds for a timeout, so if we are in tough situations we have to know how to turn it around,” Vazquez said.
Due to these short breaks, the coaching is a bit different than in other sports.
“Because of these short timeouts, I like to be very specific and intentional,” Vazquez said. “If needed, I will pull the player aside and give her the direct information and coaching that she needs to make the proper adjustment.”
For Phillips, there is more time to sit and make detailed and calculated adjustments at halftime.
“If we are up in a game and not performing our best, we would definitely make changes,” Phillips said. “Changes at half when winning may also depend on our opponent [non-conference, conference, or playoff], depending on what the result would mean for standings or if we are in a one and done type situation. Changes at half usually consist of formation adjustments, style of play adjustments, and/or player substitution.”
The changes made can vary, depending on the score, opponent or even the sport. Sometimes, it is a small tweak to the formation, and sometimes it can be a wholesale change in the defensive scheme. Regardless of the gameplan change, there is one thing that all halftime talks want to end with: an urgency to come out with the energy to turn those adjustments into successful results.
Phillips said, “The most important thing to us and this team is the rate they work and battle to succeed.”