Each week an AFL coach will write an exclusive column in partnership with the AFL Coaches Association. This week, North Melbourne's Brad Scott explains what happens during the flurry of activity between quarters.
QUARTER-time and three-quarter time breaks might only last seven minutes, but they are critical times in a game.
Australian football is one of the few sports in the world where you can't call a timeout during play to immediately address any concerns you have as a coach.
A runner can deliver instructions to individual players, but you can't get a message to your entire team until the next break.
In some games, you wish you could bring quarter-time or three-quarter time forward so you could get out there and talk to your players.
Once the siren goes, coaches have got to make every second count.
In such a limited time, you can't overload players with too much specific information because there's only so much they can take in before you just end up confusing them.
It's basically about breaking down what's going to give us the best chance of winning.
But before I address the team, we get the players to walk around for a little bit, just to try and flush some of the lactic acid from their legs.
After the siren, most of their heart rates will be at 85-90 per cent of their maximum level. You've got to be conscious that they are extremely fatigued and fatigue has a huge effect on concentration.
So we use the first two minutes of the break just to get the players physiologically calmed down.
I really like to get the players' feedback in that time, so our line coaches walk with their respective groups and ask them what they think has been going on out on the ground.
As coaches, we can get a pretty good sense of the way the game is unfolding from up in the coach's box, but it's very difficult to get a feel for the pressure the players are under. So we like to get their feedback first up.
Our line coaches will then briefly spell out to their players the most pertinent points to have come out of the game from the coaches' perspective, while I might also speak one-on-one with an individual player if I think it's necessary.
But, generally, I try to use this time to calm myself down, because when I address the players I want to make sure I'm giving them a really clear and succinct message. You don't want to let emotion get in the way of that.
So I spend a fair bit of time looking at our match-ups on the whiteboard, determining the way we want to go at the start of the next quarter.
By the time we've done that, I'll often only have 90 seconds to address the team before they go out again.
When I get the group around me, I try not to get too much into specifics. There are a huge number of factors that influence the result of a game, but you've got to try and break it down to the one or two that you think are most important.
Most of the time I'll talk about what we need to improve and reinforce the things we're doing well.
But coming from the coach's box, we've been able to get an overall perspective on the game that players can't get out on the ground.
So I think the role of the coach here is to inform the players: 'Hey, guys, this is what's happening'.
Especially when things aren't going well, you need to give your players a way forward: 'Right, this is what's happening, this is how we fix it'.
I'm normally fairly measured with the tone of my message, but sometimes a calculated spray makes sense. You've got to pick your time and recognise that it becomes a blunt instrument if you use it too regularly.
It also comes back to understanding your players, both as a group and individuals.
When I was a very young player I never quite understood how abusing a player would make him play any better. And, as a coach, your job is to make your players and your team play better – it's as simple as that.
If you know that a player won't respond well to a spray then why would you do that? You're only letting your emotions get the better of you.
But there are times when you can elicit a response from the group and from individual players with a bit of fire and brimstone.
When I'm addressing the players, I try to gauge whether they're switched on and my message is getting through.
There are days when I think I've really got the players' attention and they understand everything perfectly and I'm convinced they're going to go out and execute really well, but they don't. Other days I'm a bit concerned and they do.
It's always very difficult to judge, but I think you're always better to err on the side of simplicity with your message because the biggest mistake you can make is being too complex and confusing your players.
At three-quarter time of our NAB Cup game against Gold Coast this year, we shifted a lot of players into different positions and went with a lot of different set-ups, which resulted in mass confusion.
That was a great example for me of not being too complex with your message.
But it can work the other way. Take our round 17 game against Richmond last year, for example.
We went into three-quarter time that day seven points down. We had been pretty good for most of the game, but Richmond had been very good as well and had some terrific plans in place to make it difficult for Drew Petrie on our forward line.
At that break, we were able to make some structural changes that made a significant difference to the way we were moving the ball and helped Drew out a bit more.
I'm not saying for a second that the work our coaches did at that break won us that the game. Drew was the one who went forward, marked the ball and kicked five goals in that last quarter.
But with a relatively simple message and a few small changes, we were able to at least give him a better opportunity to do that.
As a coach, you only wish your message worked that effectively at every quarter-time and three-quarter time break.