Blystone's Blog

Call a timeout you idiot! - Saturday, November 5, 2016

Positive timeouts are something that is unheard of in sport, and especially in the sport we coach, volleyball.   I have been using them for many seasons and many teams.  Although it is a culture shock when for new teams first experience the new methodology, many love the process once it is understood as a tool for our team to utilize..

What are the good things?  Usually other teams will still use timeouts in a traditional way, which certainly creates a little chaos for the other team, and near disbelief that we did it.  Let's think about what happens...first, we call positive timeouts for our team when we 'catch them doing it right', and the other team calls timeouts in a 'traditional' sense....means we get more time to celebrate the things we value, while the other team generally talks more about the things they are either doing wrong or need to focus on....ie, "We need a pass" :)  

To that end, a quick story of one of my experiences on the topic.  I had been calling positive timeouts against this team, and the coach was, well, how shall we say, very 'emotional', and liked to definitely yell at her athletes.  After probably my 4th or 5th timeout of the match, the coach yells at me, in our direction, "These are the worst timeouts ever".  My team, of course, thought was rather comical that we had affected another coach so much that she had to comment on it.  We ended up losing that match, as the team had more talent than we did, but because we keep things in perspective, we were happy with our performance at the conclusion of the match, we looked over to their team, even though they won, was nearly dejected, like they got hit by a Mack Truck!  We were 'still' energetic and still positive, even after the loss.  I then followed that teams record the remaining matches, and although they had started off very successful, by the end, they were losing to teams that we were able to beat...Interesting....

Next, when you call positive timeouts, I find the teams have more energy, they 'look forward' to timeouts.  They are interested in being the 'reason' for the timeout (novel concept :))  By 'rewarding' the team in a positive way, to me, I see much more benefit and it more closely aligns to our training in practice.

What about when you are doing poorly in the match?  This is a very hard situation to allow your team to 'work throught it'...it is important to train it though...I've seen teams take a greater 'ownership' in fixing/focusing on the challenges (this is of course, assuming the team has the correct level of experience).  Sure, it is very hard to watch your team out there, getting served tough and not able to execute.  It is hard to 'stop the momentum'...but the lessons learned are invaluable in mental toughness and 'rewarding the behavior we want'.  Although we don't want our team to think we have abandoned them, we continue to coach or sub as appropriate, but not let them 'off the hook' with a timeout.  It's hard...it takes coaching discipline, but in my experience, it generaly pays huge dividends in tough matches.  We can't 'fix' it for them, and if you empower them to fix it, they will do what they can.  Keep in mind general regression to the mean and something I refer to as 'extraordinary circumstances creates extraordinary performance'.  If you sub an athlete in, instead of the timeout, especially one that may not see a lot of court time, again, my experience shows a generally elevated level of play for some period of time.  (call it adreneline, call it desire, call it opportunity).  This is the way to 'slow' the game, without an actual timeout.

Don't you lose matches because you do not call a timeout when your team is not executing?  I would argue no, but several studies also support that timeouts for teams over the age of 13, has no impact in the outcome of a match.  I would argue I'd love to see a study on positive timeouts, but I need MORE of you to do it to get enough of sample size!  I can tell you that my teams have had generally better records than I would expect, have generally achieved more and generally have been satisfied with their season experiences more so than if I were doing 'traditional' things with my team. (I think outside the box a LOT).

I will finish with a story from coaching juniors club.  Several years ago, my first experiene with 'positive timeouts', after reading the studies, I decided I'd try it...At first, I tried to beat the other coach to a timeout...wrong...I tried to 'make them up'...wrong....but then I learned call them for things you would like to 'reward' (a great hustle play, win or lose the rally, a slide if you had spent some time on it in practice....an athletes first successful jump serve...etc....RIGHT!  This is where I found it should be done...emphasizing the things you value.  In a competitive multi-day tournament, we did our share of winning, and found ourselves in the finals against the the team favored to win the event.  We played the first set, and won it close 25-22.  We called two positive timeouts.  The second set, we lost 25-4.  No timeouts called, as the team did not do anything we wanted to 'reward'.  I know what you are thinking....you lost the third badly.  No, we won the third set 15-5.  In our between set time, I discussed that I am only calling timeouts to reward the team.  I suggested that they team go out and focus, earn 2 timeouts...forget about the match, earn the timeouts...First timeout was called at 1-0 us.  The second timeout was called at 3-0 us.  At that point, my statement to the team was keep doing great things...I can't call any more, but I'll acknowledge them all.  I would have used 5 or 6 if I could have!  It was FUN for the team.  They learned hard work, focus and coming together as a team is so important, I am willing to allow the team work through it in a FINAL.  That day, my team took home a gold medal, after defeating the opponent 15-3, with the help of the other team calling 2 additional timeouts in our favor (coincidentally on things I would have called them for, I had them, because we valued and would have rewarded the athletes...Those kids were all in for the remainder of the season, and it showed...Our team medaled in 4 of the next 5 events...no superstars on the team, no 'ringers', nobody that was so great they could 'do it by themselves'....it was truly a team effort and THAT team now understood what TEAM meant, and how important it is.

Several years later, one of those athletes I coached on that team came to play for me again at the college level.  She came because she loved the positive timeouts and enjoyed not being 'yelled at', having to run laps and do pushups for mistakes.  Positivity can go a long way, making an impact well beyond the season!  To me, this is a tribute to holding the line on the philosophy and demonstrating it to the athletes....valuing process over outcome.  Make no mistake, I want to win as badly as anyone else, but when you are looking at the big picture, by training in a 'different' mentality, you might attain what you searching for from your team!  After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Like anything else, if this is your philosophy, you need to communicate it up front and often.  It has been a part of mine for several years.  I've lost recruits because I share the philosophy with them, and they 'don't like it'...I always say, 'Don't knock it until you experience it'.  At any rate, I'm fine losing those recruits because they are not the type of athlete that I am looking for to fill my program.  I would much prefer and athlete that is not as skilled with an open mind, than one that is more skilled...at the end of their season or career with me, I can guarantee they will learn more life lessons and we will have the ability to build character with these athletes through these types of activities. Winning and losing is temporarily remembered, your overall experience is always retained....ask any average athlete what their 'exact' record was 2 years ago (and make sure you emphasize 'exact')....none will know...follow up with 'Did you have fun and enjoy the season?'...they know that answer immediately.

Stay positive!