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Using Timeouts Effectively

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One of the many things that I have noticed while watching the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments is all the different ways that the various coaches use their timeouts. Some seem hesitant to ever call a timeout, choosing instead to let their team "play through" any adversity they may be experiencing. (In the NBA, Phil Jackson was notorious for this.) This is especially common when one of the mandatory media timeouts is quickly approaching.

On the other hand, other coaches are almost lightning-quick to stop the action and never allow the opposing team to score three straight buckets without rallying their troops.

It's also interesting to note that many coaches call timeout after their teams are involved in something negative (turnover, giving up a score, etc.) while others wait until their own team scores, presumably to get the timeout started on a positive note.

Regardless of when you call time out, there are 8 primary reasons why you call time out:

1. Stop momentum
2. Reassure a shaken or panicked team
3. Make complex offensive or defensive adjustments
4. Completely change defenses
5. Rest key players
6. Make substitutions
7. Set up a killer out of bonds play
8. Organize end-game strategies

Here are several suggestions that might help in making your timeouts more effective:

Sprint to the bench. The time out begins when the official gives the signal to the timekeeper, not when the players arrive at their respective benches. Slowly walking back to the bench not only exudes a defeated attitude but also wastes precious seconds as well.

Bench players/managers have water ready. I see several high school games a year where the coach is instructing and encouraging his team, only to have one of his key players standing fifteen yards away at the water cooler. Bring the water to the players; not the players to the water!

Organized seating. Try having your point guard sit front and center with the other perimeter players to his left and the "bigs" to his right. Everyone else forms a circle.

On the bench or on the floor? Depending on the proximity of the crowd, you may want to meet out on the floor away from the bench. This can help eliminate distractions and keep others from listening in on the timeout. (Let's face it, timeouts are occasionally emotional and shouldn't be overheard by someone's grandmother or little sister!)

Talk before calling timeout. I can understand why coaching staffs may want to briefly meet together if their opponent calls timeout. However, I have seen coaches call time out and then meet /talk/argue with their own assistants for nearly the entire time out, leaving themselves no time to communicate with their players.

Only one coach speaks. This is usually the head coach but could also be the offensive or defensive coordinator or the coach in charge of that particular opponent's scouting info.

Focus on one major idea or adjustment. You can certainly review several concepts if necessary but the first and last instruction should be exactly the same. Keep things as simple as possible. It's better to have your players remember one important idea than to forget several of them.

Keep things familiar. Timeouts are most effective when coaches are giving instructions and making adjustments that have already been presented and practiced. Drawing up something entirely new offers a huge risk that not everyone will be on the same page.

Ineffective timeouts may or may not lose a game but effective timeouts can definitely help win one. If you are looking to give your team a competitive advantage, analyze your timeouts from start to finish just like you would for other parts of your program.

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