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Thinking Critically About Calling Time-Out

Posted on 06 September 2009 by Chuck Rey

usa junior national team time out 300x225 Thinking Critically About Calling Time Out volleyballBy:  Paul Arrington, MD

During a match, volleyball coaches call time out for a variety of reasons.  One of the most common reasons is to stop the other team’s “momentum.”  This is commonly understood to be that the other team is scoring a run of points.  It is thought that by causing a break in the action, the coach can change the “momentum” in his team’s favor.  Although most coaches think that calling time out is successful in stopping the other team’s “momentum”, has the validity of this concept ever been evaluated critically?

To evaluate the impact of time out on stopping “momentum,” i.e., a run, the average side out percentage for all serves needs to be evaluated and compared to the side out percentage on the first serve after a team calls a time out.  If calling time out is effective in stopping a run, then one would expect that the chances of a team getting a side out after a time out would be higher than their chances of getting a side out on any given serve.  For example, if a team gets a side out on 60% of serve receptions during a game; one would expect to see a side out percentage significantly higher than 60% on the first serve after the time out.  That is, if the time out is actually effective in stopping a run.  On the other hand, if calling time out is not effective in stopping “momentum”, one would expect an equal or perhaps even a smaller than the average percentage of side out on the first serve after the time out.

To study this concept, matches from several different levels were examined to determine the average side out percentage on all serves and the side out percentage on the first serve after time out has been called.  These included:
•    Seven matches from the 2004 Women’s’ NCAA Division I Championship Tournament  (1195 points)
•    Six matches from NCAA Division I Men’s early season 2004 (1424 points)
•    Eight matches from the 18 and under 2006 Volleyball Festival Championship Division (865 points)
•    Eight matches from the 13 and under 2007 Volleyball Festival Championship Division  (882 points)

From the Division I NCAA Women’s Championship matches, it was found that the average side out percentage was 64 percent.  During these matches, after a time out was called, the team that called time out (receiving team) got a side out on 63.7 percent of the first post timeout serve.  If TV time outs are included, the receiving team got a side out on 63 percent of the first post-timeout serves, not a significant difference.

For the NCAA Division I Men’s matches, it was found that the men side out at an average of 67 percent of the time and after a time out the side out percentage by the receiving team was 68 percent, again not a significant difference.

The above data was surprising.   It was felt that perhaps these high level experienced athletes had such a high level of mental and emotional skill that timeouts had no impact.  Perhaps examination of juniors’ volleyball might show the expected impact of calling time out.

In the 18 and under division at the Volleyball Festival, the receiving team got a side out on 54 percent of the serves.  On the first serve after a time out the receiving team got a side out on 53 percent of the serves.

In the 13 and under division at the Volleyball Festival, the receiving team side outs 46 percent of the time.  However, on the first serve after a time out the receiving team sided out on 54 percent of the serves.

As was stated earlier, if time outs are effective in stopping the opponent’s runs, the percentage of side outs after time out should be higher than the side out percentage for any given serve during the match.  This was found to be the case for only the 13 and under age division.  For the 18 and under girls, and the NCAA women and men, the percentage of side out after a time out was identical to the side out percentage on any serve.

With the exception of results the for the 13 and under division, these findings certainly do not fit the commonly accepted wisdom of calling time out to stop the opponent’s run and thus win a point.  Although it was not studied, it would be interesting to know how frequently a service error was the cause of side out in the 13 and under division.   It is most likely that these very young athletes have not yet developed the mental skills necessary to maintain the level of concentration necessary to complete a successful serve after a time out.  It is felt that the older athletes have developed the mental skills to be able to complete their serves successfully after time outs.

It remains to be determined at what age or level of development, between 13 and 18 years of age that the athletes develop their ability to maintain their concentration.  But it is apparent that for 18 and under girls and more experienced athletes, calling time out to stop a run and win a point is not an effective strategy at all.

Since calling time out is not effective in stopping the other team’s “momentum,” then perhaps the time out should be used only when the coach notices that there is a problem with fatigue, court alignment, strategy or other areas that are in need of a change.  However, before adopting such a policy, the coach should inform the team that time out’s will be not be used to stop “momentum” and that they need to stay focused and play through an adverse run of points by the opponent.  Experienced players have become so accustomed to having time out called when the opponent scores a run late in the game, that they may wonder “ when is he going to call time out?” and lose their concentration on the game.    It may take a while for them to adapt to a new approach.

It is also possible that the ideal time to call time out is late in the game when your team is serving and needs a point.  During the time out, the coach should make clear what service strategy, blocking strategy, and defensive alignment are necessary to score a point.   This approach would need to be evaluated before it could be strongly recommended, however, based on the above findings it would be at least as successful as calling time out to stop the opponent’s “momentum.”

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24 Comments For This Post

  1. Coach H Says:

    This article is very interesting. My question is, are there any suggestions as to when timeouts should be appropriated, and is there statistical data to back up the suggestion.

    I have tried many methods, but my data analysis is limited.

    A couple of other options…

    I like calling timeouts before one of their better servers is up. An interesting statistic that would be beneficial from the information presented above would be Passing % after a timeout. Does your team pass better after a timeout or worse, not necessarily the sideout percentage. My theory is based upon the idea that the server is going to try their best to serve “in” after the timeout. I would assume this means serving at 75% of their max, to ensure it goes in. This would make it an easier ball to pass. There are some flaws in this idea, but you can figure those out.

    I have also tried calling timeouts at specific scores in the game. The team was notified before the game that timeouts would be called at 15 and 25 (adding both teams score together) My philosophy with this is to discuss strategy, and to have positive timeouts. The players know ahead of time that the timeout will be called and that things that need to be changed will be addressed. The timeout wasn’t called because they were playing bad. I haven’t factored into this, when the opponent calls a timeout.

    Just some ideas…

    Pipe in if you have any comments..

  2. Coach H Says:

    This article is very interesting. My question is, are there any suggestions as to when timeouts should be appropriated, and is there statistical data to back up the suggestion.

    I have tried many methods, but my data analysis is limited.

    A couple of other options…

    I like calling timeouts before one of their better servers is up. An interesting statistic that would be beneficial from the information presented above would be Passing % after a timeout. Does your team pass better after a timeout or worse, not necessarily the sideout percentage. My theory is based upon the idea that the server is going to try their best to serve “in” after the timeout. I would assume this means serving at 75% of their max, to ensure it goes in. This would make it an easier ball to pass. There are some flaws in this idea, but you can figure those out.

    I have also tried calling timeouts at specific scores in the game. The team was notified before the game that timeouts would be called at 15 and 25 (adding both teams score together) My philosophy with this is to discuss strategy, and to have positive timeouts. The players know ahead of time that the timeout will be called and that things that need to be changed will be addressed. The timeout wasn’t called because they were playing bad. I haven’t factored into this, when the opponent calls a timeout.

    Just some ideas…

    Pipe in if you have any comments..

  3. Tony Says:

    The fact that the “after time out” efficiency is the same as the “normal” efficiency could actually prove that the timeout did accomplish its purpose. Apparently the timeout was taken at a point in the match when the receiving team was performing much worse than “normal” since their recent sideout efficiency was Zero percent.
    I’m not ready to say Yes or No to the argument. I’m just pointing out that the data that was collected is probably not adequate to answer the question.

  4. Tony Says:

    The fact that the “after time out” efficiency is the same as the “normal” efficiency could actually prove that the timeout did accomplish its purpose. Apparently the timeout was taken at a point in the match when the receiving team was performing much worse than “normal” since their recent sideout efficiency was Zero percent.
    I’m not ready to say Yes or No to the argument. I’m just pointing out that the data that was collected is probably not adequate to answer the question.

  5. Coach H Says:

    That is a good point Tony.

    Statistical analysis for volleyball, in my opinion, is a bit behind that of baseball or basketball.

    Just like hitting percentage is the biggest indicator of who will win in a given v-ball game, it doesn’t say anything about what it took to get there. What level of passing or setting accuracy is required to achieve a specific hitting percentage.

    I know that there are hundreds if not thousands of stats kept by coaches around the nation, but analysis of statistics, even the top secret equation that the Olympic uses may not be flawless. Volleyball being one of the least individualized sports, makes it hard to separate one from the other.

    I’d love to hear some of the crazy things people keep track of….

    Like… Grades on tests that week, Number of fans in attendance, Recent new boyfriends and break-ups, Blondes vs. Brunettes….

  6. Coach H Says:

    That is a good point Tony.

    Statistical analysis for volleyball, in my opinion, is a bit behind that of baseball or basketball.

    Just like hitting percentage is the biggest indicator of who will win in a given v-ball game, it doesn’t say anything about what it took to get there. What level of passing or setting accuracy is required to achieve a specific hitting percentage.

    I know that there are hundreds if not thousands of stats kept by coaches around the nation, but analysis of statistics, even the top secret equation that the Olympic uses may not be flawless. Volleyball being one of the least individualized sports, makes it hard to separate one from the other.

    I’d love to hear some of the crazy things people keep track of….

    Like… Grades on tests that week, Number of fans in attendance, Recent new boyfriends and break-ups, Blondes vs. Brunettes….

  7. volleyconcept Says:

    Your digital training manual with detailed volleyball training sessions and animated illustrations.

    Looking for complete training sessions?
    Are you a coach, teacher or volleyball fan?
    Would you like to get acquainted with top-level tactics?

    If so, then http://WWW.VOLLEYCONCEPT.EU is what you’re looking for!

    Free training session on the http://www.volleyconcept.eu homepage
    Mac version available on request from info@volleyconcept.eu

  8. volleyconcept Says:

    Your digital training manual with detailed volleyball training sessions and animated illustrations.

    Looking for complete training sessions?
    Are you a coach, teacher or volleyball fan?
    Would you like to get acquainted with top-level tactics?

    If so, then http://WWW.VOLLEYCONCEPT.EU is what you’re looking for!

    Free training session on the http://www.volleyconcept.eu homepage
    Mac version available on request from info@volleyconcept.eu

  9. Coach B Says:

    Interesting topic and I can’t effectively argue for or against because I think there’s a grey area that the numbers don’t address. You’d almost have to run simultaneous tests (impossible) in order to really clarify the results of the timeout. For instance, Team A gives up a run of six straight points. Coach calls timeout. Team A comes back and sides out on first serve after timeout. BUT – what would have happened if they had NOT called the timeout and instead received serve #7??? THOSE are the numbers you want to compare…Of course it’s not possible. You can’t have it both ways. Rey is doing the best he can with the numbers available to him, but total effective sideout percentage after a serve gets mixed with periods of time when a team is on a roll and siding out smoothly. The “momentum” timeout is called only after your team goes into a tailspin and gives up a run of points. Believing a timeout will stop an opponents “momentum” is mistaken, in my opinion. What it WILL do is give the coach a chance to calm his players, refocus them, and also can cause the opposing server to leave their “comfort zone” and lose their rhythm. When they return after the timeout, (if you’re lucky they’ll just flat-out miss!), but often many hot servers will take a bit off that first serve to get back in the flow, and receiving teams need to take advantage of that and do their best to sideout quickly before the server regains his/her “momentum” (!)…

    Personally, the stat I find interesting (and I need to think more about it) is not the “54% after timeout compared to 53% before timeout”, but rather the 54% itself, which means that only half the time did a team come out of a timeout and succeed in siding out. NOT comparing it to what they were doing aside from the timeout, but just the number by itself. That’s not a real high percentage. I think what happens is that Rey was combining stats from a bunch of teams into one and that may be misleading. As a coach, what I would be interested in is what percentage MY team sides out after MY timeout. If my aim is to calm them, refocus them, adjust positioning, and then we only sideout 54% of the time, then I’d wonder if I’m having any effect. 50-50 is going to be true regardless, right??!! either you do or you don’t. I think I’d rather see MY team siding out after MY timeout somewhere in the 70% or higher range to feel like the timeout made a difference.

  10. Coach B Says:

    Interesting topic and I can’t effectively argue for or against because I think there’s a grey area that the numbers don’t address. You’d almost have to run simultaneous tests (impossible) in order to really clarify the results of the timeout. For instance, Team A gives up a run of six straight points. Coach calls timeout. Team A comes back and sides out on first serve after timeout. BUT – what would have happened if they had NOT called the timeout and instead received serve #7??? THOSE are the numbers you want to compare…Of course it’s not possible. You can’t have it both ways. Rey is doing the best he can with the numbers available to him, but total effective sideout percentage after a serve gets mixed with periods of time when a team is on a roll and siding out smoothly. The “momentum” timeout is called only after your team goes into a tailspin and gives up a run of points. Believing a timeout will stop an opponents “momentum” is mistaken, in my opinion. What it WILL do is give the coach a chance to calm his players, refocus them, and also can cause the opposing server to leave their “comfort zone” and lose their rhythm. When they return after the timeout, (if you’re lucky they’ll just flat-out miss!), but often many hot servers will take a bit off that first serve to get back in the flow, and receiving teams need to take advantage of that and do their best to sideout quickly before the server regains his/her “momentum” (!)…

    Personally, the stat I find interesting (and I need to think more about it) is not the “54% after timeout compared to 53% before timeout”, but rather the 54% itself, which means that only half the time did a team come out of a timeout and succeed in siding out. NOT comparing it to what they were doing aside from the timeout, but just the number by itself. That’s not a real high percentage. I think what happens is that Rey was combining stats from a bunch of teams into one and that may be misleading. As a coach, what I would be interested in is what percentage MY team sides out after MY timeout. If my aim is to calm them, refocus them, adjust positioning, and then we only sideout 54% of the time, then I’d wonder if I’m having any effect. 50-50 is going to be true regardless, right??!! either you do or you don’t. I think I’d rather see MY team siding out after MY timeout somewhere in the 70% or higher range to feel like the timeout made a difference.

  11. Tom Says:

    There is a chapter about time-out in a book ‘Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need’.
    Karpol says: For the half of a time-out my players are not allowed to drink nor wipe their sweat off, that time is reserved for my advice, which they would not hear if they were doing anything else. However the basic function of a time out is to get concentration back…

  12. Tom Says:

    There is a chapter about time-out in a book ‘Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need’.
    Karpol says: For the half of a time-out my players are not allowed to drink nor wipe their sweat off, that time is reserved for my advice, which they would not hear if they were doing anything else. However the basic function of a time out is to get concentration back…

  13. David Says:

    It is anecdotal and I have no stats to back me up, but a couple years ago I made a concious effort to stop calling time outs to try and effect an opponents momentum, it has never seemed to work. I use time-outs to encourage, to support, to cheer up, and on very rare occasions to scold – my team. I always assume that a time out called by me will not effect our opponents, so I focus on using them to help us.

    Time outs are my chance to get a team who's spirits are flagging cheered back up again. They are my chance to briely discuss strategy without yelling it from the sidelines. They are my chance to face-to-face evaluate a player's mood or temperment to decide if they need to be removed from the court, or pushed even harder.

    When our opponents call time out, more often than not, I stand at the periphery of the huddle and listen as my captain manages the huddle. Her job then is to keep the teams spirits up, their energy high, and their cheers loud.

    Time out huddles on my side of the net are almost always about team mood, team spirit, team enthusiasm, and what we have to do to squeeze a little bit more fun out of this game.

  14. New sport Says:

    Hello I am very impressed with this blog, thanks for sharing.
    I will stop by soon …

  15. Coach Rey Says:

    Well thanks…and thanks for stopping by!

  16. Darren Says:

    Hey, Chuck! I agree with Tony. A way to look at the statistics would be: what about the number of sideouts recorded WITHOUT a timeout after a more than 1 point run by a server? IE before serve #2.

    Then just compare that to the non-adjusted normal sideout percentage, since for more advanced athletes there is basically no difference. This would be considered the “timeout” sideout percentage, makes life easier. The reason for the timeout would be the stop of a skid or prevention of long runs to get the team refocused and playing at peak, or at least average, level. You could even look at two or more point runs by a server, I would guess that there is an idea time to call the timeout, say after serve 2, 3, or 4 after which the server gets tired to breaks concentration anyway and it is better just to let them ware themselves out.

    What about only calling timeouts on the opposing team's serve compared to your own serve? I find this to be a good strategy too, keeping the momentum for your server after a sideout or service point.

    Oh yeah, Chuck, I didn't realize that you were back in SC, just his weekend we were looking for a setter, Travis couldn't do it and Thea was snowed-in in Asheville. Our replacement, Kristin from USC (Columbia), worked out great though, so I cannot complain. She probably blocked better than Travis anyway, haha. Are you still playing?

  17. Coach Rey Says:

    @Darren,

    I can't say I play too much these days. Coaching takes up way too much time on the weekends. You still playing with Jeff Little? I have a guy here that I coach with, Brian Rosen that played in Orlando. He's 23, not sure how good a baller he is, but I assume he can hang.

    You coaching club this season too? I'm coaching the Carolina Juniors 16s team. We'll be in Spartanburg area for the Southern Classic and Atlanta a couple times. If you are, lets be sure to get together.

  18. Darren Says:

    Check ur email.

  19. 4ever3 Says:

    Interesting stats.

    I'm with David on this.

    I coach 13 and 14 yr olds and I only use my time outs like that when I've exhausted all other avenues. Usually I'll try to slow the server down by doing subsitutions. That usually works for me.

    I like to use my time outs to get my team up for when I see them getting down on themselves or nervous and not to break the other team's momentum (not if I can help it anyway).

  20. Larry M. Says:

    Interesting info. And I can attest to the 13s. We coached 13s this season and in our last tournament we were up 24-23 and had a little run going. Our server had serve for 4 straight points when the other team called time out. Our server came into the huddle and said “They always do this to me!” We tried to pump up her confidence and positive thoughts but, you guessed it, her next serve was into the net.

    Good learning experince for her, though.

  21. Larry M. Says:

    Interesting info. And I can attest to the 13s. We coached 13s this season and in our last tournament we were up 24-23 and had a little run going. Our server had serve for 4 straight points when the other team called time out. Our server came into the huddle and said “They always do this to me!” We tried to pump up her confidence and positive thoughts but, you guessed it, her next serve was into the net.

    Good learning experince for her, though.

  22. Rookie Coach Says:

    Hi Coaches,
    Hoping to get some ideas from you. This is my first year coaching volleyball. I coach 7th and 8th grade recreation volleyball.
    My team seemed to have lost focus last night. They were easily distracted.
    I called timeout and tried to pep them up. I figured words of encouragement would help.
    I was wondering if anyone could suggest physical activities to get them to loosen up. I don’t want to make them run a lap or suicides because I feel as though that will be seen as punishment.
    Any ideas?

  23. Pascal Says:

    hello coaches
    i already took TO to stop a run of the opponent but also when our team got a set or matchball during a difficult game; in the twoo cases : side-out and when we serve .
    My goal was to prepair my team on the strategy of the other team and to give the good answer on it . Also to make the good choices on side-out .
    In the most of the cases , it works because the are focussed on the strategy and know what they have to do .
    And it also can have an mental impact on the opponent if they are in a moment of doubt ;-)
    i’m a coach of a team at 3rd level in Belgium .
    Pascal

  24. T.Perry Says:

    I have had a coach that I assisted consistently say that he would call the time out at the next point scored by us after there time out in hopes that the opposing coach would “be in there business” more than he or she was during the initial time out. Although it never happened have you heard of this theory?

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Coach Chuck Rey is Assistant Coach at Miami University


Prior to this position, he was Assistant Coach at Winthrop University, the University of Minnesota and Georgia Southern University.

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