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The Great Halftime Pep Talk
by Mike Woitalla, February 28th, 2013 1:52AM

TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls


By Mike Woitalla

If you're watching a game on TV, and a team stages a second-half comeback, you'll likely hear the commentators speculating on what brilliance the coach imparted during halftime, on what motivational technique he used:

“They came out of the locker room fired up. … Whatever he said at halftime, it ignited them."

So I’m coaching 13-year-old girls. We’re down, 1-0, at halftime. As they get their water, I’m composing in my mind the "speech." It’s going to be concise, powerful, inspirational.

After I get their attention, I’ll pause, scan their faces, and they’ll sit silently as they eagerly await my words of wisdom … and then I'll say:

“We’re down 1-0. So what? Yesterday we were down 2-0. And what happened? We came back to win! We’re playing even better today. But after they scored we looked a little nervous and started making mistakes. We need to relax. Take our time with the ball, and pass it around like we did in the first 15 minutes. And our goals will come! I know they will! … Claudia, lead the cheer!”

Not bad, I think -- but it never came out that way.

It was actually more like this:

I finally get their attention. The silent pause lasts a half-second because a couple of girls remember something they needed to share – right now – with the teammates next to them. And I get them to settle down again ...

COACH MIKE: We’re down 1-0. So what? Yesterday we were down 2-0! We just need to ...

CAROL: No we weren’t, Coach Mike. We were down 2-1.

COACH MIKE: We were down 2-0. And then we scored three goals!

CAROL: It was 2-1 at halftime and today it’s 1-0 …

KIM: She’s right, Coach Mike, it was 2-1 at halftime yesterday.

COACH MIKE: I know, but it was 2-0 before it was 2-1. The point is …

MOLLY: It was 2-0 and then Claudia scored …

HANNAH: I thought Claudia scored the second goal?

CLAUDIA: I scored the first goal, Kathy scored the second goal. Right Kathy?

COACH MIKE: Look, the point is …

KATHY: I scored the third goal. Victoria scored the second goal.

ASHLEY: Emma set it up …

COACH MIKE: OK now, just listen …

LAURA: Coach Mike, if we win today, is the final next Saturday or Sunday?

COACH MIKE: Look, we just need to … [Ref blows whistle] … Claudia, lead the cheer! ...

Well, we scored right away and ended up winning -- and that’s now my favorite halftime ever.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United/Bay Oaks in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

    commented on: February 28, 2013 at 11:34 a.m.
    no halftime speech, too busy talking to each player individually......
  1. Lance Eber
    commented on: February 28, 2013 at 12:22 p.m.
    An awesome read today Mike!! Thanks for putting in writing what we've all experienced so many times and probably "forget" are the best times and moments of volunteering our time at coaching youth soccer. Lance Eber Merced United FC, California
  1. Gary Muello
    commented on: February 28, 2013 at 1:33 p.m.
    Fantatic. I'm still laughing. So true. I'll use that halftime prep talk for my GU18's and I'm sure they'll love it. Nice job.
  1. R K
    commented on: February 28, 2013 at 3:02 p.m.
    Hilarious. Great stuff.
  1. Michael Podolny
    commented on: February 28, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.
    I coached girls soccer for 20 year and when I read this it brought be right back. Yes! this is the real world of coaching middle school aged girls.
  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: March 1, 2013 at 11 a.m.
    I couldn't stop laughing throughout. Marvelous piece.
  1. Doug Martin
    commented on: March 1, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.
    "COACH MIKE: We’re down 1-0. So what? Yesterday we were down 2-0! We just need to ..." So you transmitted to a u13 girls team that they were losing as your first statement ..and "we just need to" excuse me the game belongs to the players not to "we" you included. And why the heck were you worried abouty the score at u13 it should be development not worrying about state cup etc., why did you not praise the players for what was done right in the first half and encourage them to do the same in the second. Or did you not see what they did right but only focussed on the score. Do some self examination and ask is it right as a coach in highly competitive club to worry about the score after the first half rather then the way your players played and excuted the things you were teaching in the season ? And why a second game in two days ? Sorry to come off as a negative nancy not enjoying the humor of your article but seriously why are you coaching if being down 1-0 at half is an issue when developing a love for the game and a future for your players... no wonder they stepped up and took the converstion away from you and made it their own, good on them.
  1. James Madison
    commented on: March 2, 2013 at 8:33 p.m.
    Hey Doug, lighten up. Mike's not trying to save the world. He's making just two points: One is that what's may seem important to a coach often is not what is important to players, and the other is that sharing, i.e., socializing is to girl players one of those most important things.

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