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.”