When to call a timeout

Mark Lebedew did a couple of posts on the subject of taking timeouts. In them he referenced research indicating that calling a timeout has no net effect on odds of winning the next rally. Basically, they stay the same whether the timeout is taken or not. There was a fair bit of discussion about probabilities in the comments. Of course the idea of momentum came up (we’re not talking technical timeouts here).

I think most coaches think in terms of trying to break the other team’s momentum (or keep them from getting it) when taking a timeout. This isn’t to say there aren’t other reasons, of course. You may pick up on something you want to tell the team, for example. The vast majority of the time, however, momentum is the deciding factor. We look at our players struggling and want to try to give them a chance for a mental reset.

To that end, I want to see stats on something with a little bit longer time span. For example, the next five rallies. Does calling timeout improve a team’s performance when addressing things from that perspective? To my mind, that is really what we’re after (or should be) when we call for a team huddle.

I do see some ridiculous timeouts, by the way. Like the coach whose team is getting soundly thrashed calling time out at set point. What does he really think he’s going to accomplish?

Sometimes you just need to let the players sort it out for themselves. In a developmental circumstance I will oftentimes not call timeout when the team is struggling. I want to see if they can fight through and overcome the adversity on their own. Better if they can develop that ability than if they have to rely on me all the time.

So what about you? What’s your timeout philosophy?

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

One comment

  1. Dean Turner says:

    Hey John,
    Like you have said my objective is to break up the current flow of the match. It is difficult these days with TTOs as these provide significant flow breaks but in many domestic competitions in AUS we do not use TTO so the simple TO provides that flow interruption. Loss of concentration, simple skill errors following or overall change of match flow are outcomes sought from “taking a break”!

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