David Flatman column: Hairdryer half-time team talks in sport are largely a myth

first_img Hairdryer team talks? Turn the setting to cool 1 This column originally appeared in Sport magazine, a brilliant free weekly publication packed with fantastic stories. Download the free iPad app here, and follow on Twitter @sportmaguk. And read on here to get former Bath and England rugby player David Flatman’s take on a big talking point from the world of sport, this week…“Cor, whatever the gaffer said at half-time, it’s worked!” is a reasonably common phrase in the world of sport. We fans also like to have a guess – pre-match and during the interval – as to what might be delivered to the players by their boss by way of last-minute purpose and direction.I can tell you that, in 14 years as a professional rugby player, I can remember one half-time talk. Just one. And the reason I can remember that one is because I was an as yet unused reserve. The team struggled badly in the first half and, looking to spark a change, the coach told me I was on immediately.“Mate, I need you to do a job on this prick,” he said, referring to Benoit Lecouls – the monstrously powerful, carnage-wreaking French prop I was running out to face in the second half. I think I remember this because I was not yet battling for oxygen, and also because I was rather excited.Otherwise, nada. So I think coaches’ talks are largely a myth. If we are talking specific tactical changes, then of course these can have an effect. Elite players should be good enough to respond and physically alter their actions. But that’s not generally the circumstance in which these phrases are used.We usually wonder about inspirational or hairdryer-based monologues when a team emerges rejuvenated and newly impassioned. And this is where I think we afford the team talk too much weight.I was part of a team that once underwent a study by a psychologist as to how we individually best absorbed information when under mental or physical duress, and how much of it would actually register.Pre-intervention, it was noted that we had an A4 ‘tip sheet’ given to each of us before each match that contained 78 tips. Seventyeight. Then we were bombarded with instructions and aggressive, sweary affirmations. Almost none of it went in, it was discovered.After a few months, and after the psychologist had spoken rationally to those who loved to offer orders and information, and to those who loved to shout a lot, things changed.I got a tip sheet with two tips on it. Two. And I recall them to this day. Our defence coach was a top bloke and was happy to totally adjust his natural pre-match behaviour to help improve real productivity, so the shouting and back-slapping gee-ups stopped and simple, reduced communication started.Never had I felt clearer as to my role when running on to the field.As for half-time, it was always a blur of rehydration, searching the air for oxygen, and having knocks either strapped up or jabbed. Most coaches seemed to need to shout things, almost as if that were what they thought they had to do.But the best ones always stayed calm, took their time, and gave the players as little to remember as possible.Shouting and balling means nothing. Just give me the info.last_img read more