The Value of a Time-Out

A tool to detach.

We were playing our crosstown rival and had a 10 point lead with about 3 minutes left in the game. We were feeling pretty confident and just needed to eat up clock by finishing defensive possessions with rebounds and working for a GREAT shot on the offensive end, no matter how long it would take us.

Instead of doing that, we turned the ball over a few times, took early ill-advised shots, and failed to secure a few defensive rebounds. All of this allowed our rival to comeback, take the lead, and ultimately beat us.

As the game fell apart, our varsity coach reminded me that I had timeouts to use. For some reason, I've never really loved taking timeouts when the momentum shifts in a game. Sometimes it feels like we are calling a timeout because of the emotions that can come from getting beat for a few minutes. Sometimes, I would rather our guys play through it.

So I didn't call a timeout until our lead had been eliminated. At that point, we were reeling so bad that we couldn't recover.

As I analyzed the last few minutes of the game, I came to realize a powerful purpose behind calling timeouts when things are chaotic, stressful, and falling apart: Timeouts are a great tool to detach from the moment, and focus on whatever is needed next.

Detaching from the chaos, taking a step back to breathe and analyze the situation helps calm the chaotic and stressful feelings that often accompany feeling out of control.

I should have called a timeout with 3 minutes left to communicate a winning game plan, help the players detach a little from the stress, and focus on ball movement and great shots. Instead, I let the players play and assumed they would play that way without coaching. My mistake.

A few games later, we had built a decent lead that was whittled away late in the 4th quarter. This time, I called a couple timeouts down the stretch to focus my players on the task at hand: take care of the ball and rebound. With a simple game plan clearly in their minds, my guys went out and executed perfectly. And we won a close game!

So the lesson I'm learning is how to use timeouts as a form of detachment in stressful moments. A simple lesson I should have learned long ago, but you only learn as you experience all the variables at play when coaching basketball.