TIME OUTs: DO’s & DON’Ts in Volleyball

by Orest Stanko

Game management is an area of volleyball that is not often on the agenda at coach clinics. Ordinarily topics include technical skill development, offensive and defensive systems, training the setter, sport-specific strength and conditioning, etc. And, if you depart the clinic with a set of new drills then it was worth your time and the registration fee.

During any match/set you have limited occasions for meaningful communication with your team, and even less opportunity to influence change and possibly impact the final outcome. In the good old bad days coaches were prohibited from uttering a sound or from leaving their designated seats…not a peep! Nowadays you can pace up and down the side-line and bark-out instructions on an ongoing basis. Also, as in the old days, you are afforded a brief window of opportunity during time outs to potentially affect your team’s performance and perhaps the outcome.

Usually, the overwhelming reason that coaches call time outs is to stop the other team’s momentum. It is debatable whether in and of itself this represents the sole, best purpose. There could be a number of other relevant reasons and situations that could give a coach cause to consider a time out including:

  • A need to change strategy; defensive or offensive
  • Calling a time out should not be exclusively restricted to when the other team is serving
  • Player fatigue

There is potential risk in exclusively restricting time out criteria to “stopping momentum”. For example, rather than concentrating on playing through an adverse situation players reassign their focus and begin to look to the coach in anticipation of a time out.

Regardless, if you are calling a time out it is likely that your team is performing poorly, i.e., losing; and if the opposing coach is signalling for a time out it usually indicates that your team is on a point streak. In the former case presumably you will be imparting useful information that might stop the “bleeding.” In the latter instance, presumably you are identifying ways in which you can sustain the “bleeding.” If not, then what exactly are you saying/doing during those brief, precious moments?

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Following, in no particular order of importance, are some of my thoughts regarding time out dos and don’ts.

During a time out DON’T:

  • Signal for a time out in a manner that clearly shows you’re angry and frustrated with the team’s current performance. Most coaches remind players to maintain a positive demeanour. As a coach you have an obligation to lead by example.
  • Call a time out and then remain firmly planted in your chair, arms crossed, enraged and ignore the team for the duration of the time out essentially inferring, “I am not responsible for this performance. I’m only here for the good times.”
  • Rant and rave during the time out so that it is audible in the adjacent county. In fact, don’t rant and rave at all. Google former Russian women’s national team coach Nikolai Karpol. Karpol is famous for yelling at his players all throughout matches. According to his own statements he never insulted players but only offered technical advice, albeit at decibel levels that were measurable. Not a role model! Having said that, he is a volleyball Hall of Famer and his international winning record is unparalleled. Go figure!
  • Single-out an individual’s poor performance in front of the entire team. Very deflating, demoralizing and contradictory…the entire team is responsible not just one (1) individual
  • Look puzzled. Presumably you know why you are calling a time out and you have something of value to convey; maybe a solution; maybe some soothing words; a change in strategy…you do know why you just called a time out, don’t you?
  • Wait until the score is 24-11….for the opposing team! Really? That’s just negligent. A dereliction of your responsibilities as a coach. What are you thinking? It’s the “dangling the carrot” strategy. We got them where we want them and now we‘re coming back…NOT!
  • Waste precious seconds glaring at the official because of what was perceived to be a bad call and of course, deflecting responsibility.

During a time out DO:

  • Have something relevant to offer, presumably related to the match at hand, e.g., is there a new strategy that the team needs to consider; do we just need to catch our breath and calm down. Whatever you have to say, be positive, supportive and confident! Don’t go Karpol!
  • Demonstrate that you are as much a part of the match, the current situation and the team as the players, i.e., don’t point fingers or use the pronoun “you”. It’s “WE”!
  • Allocate a portion of the time out for the players to express their thoughts, perspectives. It’s a team, and it should be a collaborative undertaking.
  • Be organized. Keep notes, stats. Always know the current line-up/court positions for the opposing team. This may enable you to be better prepared to suggest a post-timeout strategy, e.g., overload the block on the left-side hitter.
  • Engage players one-on-one if the situation calls for it, e.g., dialogue with the setter to run a particular play.
  • Avoid singling-out and berating an athlete, and especially if the parents are sitting in the bleachers behind you.

Bottom-line, time outs can be valuable opportunities for coaches to communicate with their teams and potentially have a positive outcome on the final result of the set/match. More importantly, it is a valuable opportunity to underscore the importance of “team” and have a positive impact on the team dynamic.

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