Nobody wants to call a time out. It almost always indicates your team is struggling or doing some things you certainly didn’t train them to do! In terms of match impact, however, your time outs are your best opportunity to influence your team and players. Let’s focus on the timeout that we call and the decision making process during a set.

We generally call our time out because we haven’t sided out for a series of points or it is a crucial juncture in the match (late in a set). If we score the next point we consider the timeout a success and if we don’t, it’s not.

That is too short sighted. Our timeouts can be so much more than that. They provide an opportunity for us as leaders to reset or build on the narrative for what is happening on the court.

When a timeout is needed the first decision to make is: what does the team need to hear.
Note that it may be different than, “what do I want to say“, – sometimes vastly different! A time out is rarely the time to communicate our frustration or review what has been happening on the court…the players know what has been happening. They are looking to you for the solution and, perhaps more importantly, your belief that they can fix what ails them.

The next decision is: what are the two most important pieces of information the team needs to hear right now and for the next 8-10 points?
More than two points of emphasis will get lost and diminish the importance of the top two. The top two also bear repeating. And repeating.

As far as content…

  • does the team need a system adjustment (change serve receive pattern?)
  • an attitude adjustment (more positive, different thought process?)
  • or a behavioral adjustment (more energy, work harder?).
  • Perhaps all they need to know is that you have confidence that they have what it takes to finish a close set or match.
  • Put another way, what do you want the athletes focusing on or thinking about as they return to the court?
  • A one on one conversation on top of the team time out may also be time well spent.
  • If you only need information to go to one or two people, pull them aside after your whole team meeting. The specific information you need to get across will be heard more clearly and this will also not cloud the team information with unnecessary info.

Often we get wrapped up too singularly in what’s going wrong technically.
Giving only technical feedback sells a time out short. Remember, you have an opportunity to set the mood, work ethic and tone of the match for the next several points – don’t waste that opportunity to lead your team in a bigger way. And when technique feedback is necessary, frame it in the positive and give it only to those who need it. The team time out is first and foremost for the whole team. In communicating your “theme” for the next several points of the match, be sure to frame it in what they will do, not what they shouldn’t do.

If you paint the picture of the next phase of the match, you will help them visualize it as well, and convey your belief in them. Volleyball is such a game of momentum and emotion that it’s vital to send them back out with the thoughts you want them to have to be successful. They are already beating themselves up, so as their leader, err on the side of positivity. It may be harder at that moment, but that will be the most effective use of your short time with them.

Finally, set up your time outs so that their structure is always the same.
Do you want the players to sit down, huddle around you, get a drink first and then meet with you? I’m not convinced any one way is better than another, but structure gives the time out the importance it deserves. I have worked with coaches who have even changed the structure of their time outs based on feedback from their players. The coach really liked the resulting concentration he received from his players thereafter.

Volleyball coaches are so methodical about so many aspects of their training and programs. Sometimes I feel like, as a body, we don’t give our time outs the same methodical thought process. 

For related reading for junior volleyball coaches click HERE. For more coaching education, such as game management, mental training and coaching philosophy click HERE.

About the Author

Mora Kanim is the Founder and President of Coaching C.L.O.U.T.  She founded Coaching C.L.O.U.T in 2010 with the vision of sharing her insights with others, and helping them build more effective relationships in their quest for excellence. Currently, Kanim works primarily with collegiate teams, club teams and various companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. Before forming Coaching C.L.O.U.T., Kanim was the Head Volleyball Coach at Kent State University from 1997-2007. She was at the University of Michigan from 1992-1996 and Cal State Northridge from 1989-1991 as an Assistant Volleyball Coach. Kanim also worked with the USA Volleyball team (Atlanta ’96), and the Under 20 USA Soccer Team (2010). A member of the1984 NCAA national championship, and two Final Four teams (1983, 1985), Kanim received her BA degree from UCLA in 1988. She earned her MA in sports studies from KSU. As a former NCAA Division I athlete and coach, Kanim brings a unique perspective to Coaching C.L.O.U.T. In the coaching profession for more than 20 years, Kanim has worked with thousands of athletes and coaches. Her study of Human Behavior has a dramatic impact on her ability to motivate, communicate more effectively with, and create an optimal environment for her athletes.

Contact Mora at