More On Timeouts

Happy to see that Brummie’s and my post have sparked a good discussion about the optimal use of timeouts. Here are some interesting thoughts from folks in the comments.

Charles Yu:

[quote]Timeouts are different between ultimate and basketball or football, and it’s naturally more sophisticated in other sports. Let’s take a look.

Timeouts in football are mostly clock management. When are most timeouts used? In the two-minute drill, right? This simply does not exist in ultimate. Calling timeout late in the game actually hurts your offense if you’re behind because the timeout does not stop the cap from coming on. I’d say that timeouts in basketball would be a better comparison for timeouts in ultimate.

In basketball, you’d call a time out to call a play at the end of the clock (shot clock or period clock). You could also call one to slow down the other team’s momentum if they’re on a 7-0 run or something. The same could be said about ultimate. You might call a time out to discuss your end zone play, or to collect your team when the other team just rolled off three straight goals. Those are your similarities.

However, let’s now talk about “hairy situations.” In basketball, you might end up diving for a loose ball and end up on the ground, about to be tied up. You might have to jump out of bounds to save a ball. You might have a player being double-teamed on the sideline. In ultimate, you could have a receiver stranded after catching a huck just short of the end zone. You could have a high-stall situation.

in NBA basketball, you get 6 timeouts per game, plus one 20-second timeout per half, subject to further restrictions in the 4th quarter, and the last two minutes of the 4th quarter. Forgetting about the restrictions (look them up if you’re curious), that’s 6 time outs per 48 minutes, plus a couple of 20-second timeouts for small adjustments, an average of one per six minutes. In any of those basketball situations, you might use a timeout to keep possession.

In ultimate, you only get two per half and four for what I will estimate to be 70 minutes of play (2-hour round, minus ten minutes for halftime, and we’ll assume 40 minutes of between-points downtime), if the game doesn’t get to overtime (at which point you’d have exactly one timeout). That’s one per 14 minutes if you get to overtime, and one per 17.5 minutes if you don’t. Timeouts are much more scarce in ultimate, and impulsively using one in a “hairy situation” would mean that you don’t have that timeout in your pocket when your team needs a breather or your defense is about to play an important point.

High-stall (stall 8+) timeouts may be rare because of the previously mentioned scarcity combined with the idea that many people (myself included) believe that it’s pretty much a turnover waiting to happen. Picks hurt the offense because they stop the flow. In that way, timeouts have a similar, but lesser effect. You have to start your offense from a dead stop, and on top of that, you have a second and a half to get open (whereas on a pick, you’ll have at least 3-4 seconds). Not only that, the defense gets to see your setup, and they get to set up in response to what they see. The offense freezes, and the defense has 20 seconds to set something up. A smart defense could probably come up with something to force a low-percentage throw.[/quote]

Brett Latham:

[quote]Timeouts in basketball and football are most often used to call set plays and coordinate offense. If your team has a well-structured endzone O then what’s wrong with calling a time out after a fast break or huck? – that is your percentage play.

On the other hand, if your team loves a fast break and endzone space then don’t call it, throw the goal instead.

TImeouts are used to implement/change a tactic that involves verbal discussion to advantage your team, so save it for that (or when you’re tired and playing savage). Match the timeout to the team.[/quote]

Michael Whitaker:

[quote]I agree with the suggestion to not call timeouts after hucks short of the endzone, but find that direct throws from the receiver to streaking cutters often result in turnovers whether due to high stall counts, miscommunications, or misjudging speed/lead. With my teams, I tend to advocate that the first teammate following a huck goes to the end zone to prepare to score but the huck receiver looks to hit the second teammate to arrive on the scene with a dump pass thrown as the teammate is still running forward toward the end zone (“a dish”). The goal is then thrown after the dish to the first teammate who is in the end zone.[/quote]


[quote]If you call a time out at stall 9, how do you expect your dump to get open with no time to cut?[/quote]

And, in response, Brummie:

[quote]You don’t need to. You have the advantage of a completely static situation, so any thrower-led throw away from a defender will suffice, aka “the German”[/quote]

Rise UP’s Mario O’Brien posted some great thoughts on his website. Here’s an excerpt:

[quote]Now, about using timeouts, I could certainly rattle off a list of my personal opinions on best, worst, and acceptable uses of timeouts. But I think a better question for leaders and coaches to ask themselves is this:

“When and how am I going to teach my team to identify and handle these situations?”

If you want your team to learn or understand something, your best bet is to be intentional about teaching them what you want them to know. Great coaches and leaders are intentional about almost everything, and at times also intentional about creating space for improvisation, “letting it happen”, and capturing teachable moments. So when/how would I do it?

The When:
At an early season tournament (a.k.a. months before the “main event” that my team is training for), in between games.

The Why:
Why at a tournament and not at practice? Practice time is too valuable (in my opinion) to have this conversation there, practice should be used for other skill and strategy development. It’s all about effectively using your time. This is one of many conversations that are perfect for tournaments, because I know I’m going to have a lot of non-physically-active team time that are opportunities for growth. Time together, for any team, is at such a premium, that we, as coaches and leaders, must value every moment. Of course, I’ll also allow time for the team to mentally relax and then dial back in, which is also important.[/quote]

Read his full post for more on what to do and how to do it.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email ( or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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