Winning At Halftime Through Effective Adjustments

by Kevin Weigand, contributing writer

Legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski once stated “I have a plan of action, but the game is a game of adjustments. I believe all coaches go into a game with a well -thought out plan of attack. However, in order to win, they must adapt their strategy.

While halftime does not offer an excessive amount of time in terms of minutes, it is the time period most needed to help coaches bring about these adjustments. This time must also be used efficiently. During this time coaches want players to get some rest and water, be able to talk about changes, review the original game plan and goals, talk as a staff privately, and also give players the opportunity to warm -up and get in some additional shooting before the second half. Much to do in a short period of time.  

Preparing For Halftime Ahead of Time

Photo: Wesley Sykes / Great American Media Services

While each halftime will have its own agenda depending upon how the game is going, coaches can plan ahead in terms of how they will use their time during halftime. They can break the halftime down into segments with respect to how much time will be given to particular tasks. Here is a sample of how a 15-minute halftime could be handled:

  • Meet as a staff (4 minutes)
  • Review game plan with the team (3 minutes)
  • Talk with the team and new adjustments and strategies (3 minutes)  
  • Motivational talk (2 minutes)
  • Time for players to shoot/warmup (3 minutes) 

Once this schedule is created, the team can go through it and practice it. As situations dictate, more time may need to be allotted to specific segments or other needs may need to be addressed.

Assigning Staff Roles

Giving staff members specific responsibilities ahead of time will kelp with the organization of halftime. For example, one coach may be in charge of checking the book to see who is in foul trouble as well as the time-out situation. Another coach might be in charge of getting to the locker room door in order to let the players in. I have found that head coaches will need a few moments to gather their thoughts prior to halftime so the less that they had to focus on these details, the better.  

Halftime on the Road

When playing at an opposing gym, particularly a new location it is best to know where locker rooms and water fountains are. Teams may choose to walk through the practice halftime when on the road to make sure time is allotted efficiently.   


Though I pointed out a general schedule of how the specific periods of halftime could be handled, each halftime will be different. Coach Krzyzewski also stated that “A leader needs to show the face his team needs to see.” The head coach has to figure out what her team needs to hear and communicate that halftime. Here are some scenarios based on scores and how they can be handled.

Team Is Playing Against an Inferior Opponent and Not Playing Well

I recall this scenario a few years ago as an assistant coach. We were playing one of the worst teams in our district. We found ourselves behind by six points at halftime A few nights earlier we had beaten a rival and were now in first place. Our head coach had to raise his voice more than usual in this halftime, but he also pointed out the urgency of the moment. He explained that the other team was not going to lie down for us. He explained that we could win if we got back to playing at a higher intensity. He further stated that “It would be such a shame to throw away everything we worked so hard for.” At that moment some of the veteran players also spoke up. The second half was a battle but fortunately, we prevailed. 

Team Is Playing Well in a Tight Game Against a Superior Opponent

Here the coach needs to point out the successful things the team is doing and encourage them to repeat these practices. However, she must also encourage his team to continue to play together as a team and keep up the intensity. She will point out that great teams have a lot of fight in them and will not give up. She will point out that the team needs to be prepared for a run by the opposition, and what strategies they will employ to defend against such a run.  

Team Is Ahead by A Lot Against an Inferior Opponent  

In this situation, the coach has an opportunity to give extra playing time to reserves off the bench. He may spend halftime reviewing the assignments and strategies with these players. He may also decide to play the starters for a little while in the second half in order to keep them fresh. The coach needs to encourage all players to stay in the game whether or not they are playing or on the bench. He must remind them too to show good sportsmanship.

Team Is Way Behind & the Chance of Victory Is Minimal

I remember experiencing this scenario very regularly early in my coaching career. I was coaching the boys’ freshman basketball team at my alma mater. This particular team went 0-20. Though we never won a game I loved coaching this group because they never gave up and always worked hard. Oftentimes that season we found ourselves behind by great margins at halftime. I would utilize the scorebook to see how we could create small victories. Perhaps we had played better in the second quarter than in the first. I would give them the goal of exceeding their points from the second quarter in the third quarter. I typically would address the fourth quarter goal after the third quarter. I found we were able to have small successes and victories this way.

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With other teams, the emphasis was on pride. I remember coaching a girls basketball team and we fell behind (and ultimately lost) the district championship by twenty points. We told the girls that while the score was not in our favor, we had control of our attitude. We also had the state playoffs coming up so we could try to get better at certain plays even during defeat.   

Defensive Adjustments

Due to various circumstances (score, foul trouble,), the coach may decide the need to tweak the defense. Perhaps he realizes that pressure defense will work. This halftime emphasis may be more on the defense than other factors. Before leaving for the floor everybody must be on the same page and know what the expectation is defensively.  

Offensive Adjustments/Mismatches

Based on observations from the first half, or by realizing that opposing players are in foul trouble there may be some mismatches that can be exploited. The coach must communicate to the players what they are, and how they will exploit them. The coach should also have a contingency plan should she need to revert back to a specific strategy. For example, a coach may realize she has a mismatch in the low post. The first three times down the court they are able to exploit this. However, on the fourth possession, the opponent chooses to double the post. The coach will decide to have the post player pass back out to the wing. Explaining this adjustment during halftime will prevent the coach from utilizing a timeout during the game which they would like to save for a late-game situation.  

I hope this article provided some insights into handling various halftime scenarios. Unfortunately, we never know what to expect though we do our best to prepare for the unknown. I wish you and your program all the best. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] with any questions you may have.