Bring It In: Ultimate Timeout Theory

Are you using your team's timeouts correctly?

Washington DC Scandal in a huddle during a timeout at the US Open of Ultimate Frisbee 2016.
Timeouts are a valuable tool, but when to use them is more complex. Photo: Burt Granofsky — UltiPhotos.com

Bring It In is a coaching-focused column by Keith Raynor.

Over the past few years or so, I’ve discovered more of the game theory around competition. Initially, this was through exploring Magic, a table-top card game that has now extended into the digital and e-sport realms (an accelerated transition with COVID-19 restricting in-person gatherings). Additionally, I began playing more fantasy sports online, particularly Daily Fantasy Sports. Many of the thought-leaders in both of these spaces utilize ideas from game theory, often pioneered and/or championed by older competitive games like chess and poker.

This framework of thinking about competition has bled into how I examine ultimate, and I’ve been ruminating about a tool coaches have that is often undiscussed: timeouts. These in-game breaks have many different uses, none of which should be to stall until cap (as I argued vociferously with Charlie Eisenhood on Deep Look). But I want to focus specifically on the context of helping you win the specific game you are in.

Ultimate is structured, like nearly all sports,1 as a zero-sum asymmetric game, with ultimate specifically broken up into a bunch of zero-sum mini-games. The victor gets one win and the loser gets one loss, decided by a series of points in which one team scores and the other fails to. Because of that, coaches who prioritize winning need to make judgments based not only on the impact to your team, but also the opposing team. And that brings me to what I’ll call Ultimate Timeout Theory.


  1. There’s some scenarios created by organizational rules that change that, but at their core, I believe this holds true. 

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  1. Keith Raynor
    Keith Raynor

    Keith Raynor is a Senior Editor and the Business Development Manager at Ultiworld. He co-hosts our Deep Look podcast and does play-by-play and color commentary. He coaches UConn Rise, the college's women's team. You can reach him by email (keith@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@FullFieldHammer).

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