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Take the time to win! (Basketball).

THIRTY SECONDS REMAIN in the game, the score is tied, and your team has just gained possession of the ball. Do you call a time-out and, if so, what do you say in the huddle?

Game scenarios such as this focus on the strategic issue of time-outs. In my 18 years of coaching from grade school through college, I have developed a comprehensive philosophy on time-outs, based on all the abuses I have witnessed by players. It focuses on three questions:

When should you use a time out?

What should you say and do during the time-out?

What should be the roles of the coaching staff?

Proper Use

Perhaps the primary reason to call a time-out is to stop the opponents' momentum or "run" Al McGuire believed that a coach had to call a T.O. any time the opponents suddenly increased their lead to either 7, 11, or 17 points.

Another time to call time is when you start a quarter slowly or you become sloppy or lethargic. Call a T to address your mistakes and make adjustments to the game plan.

No. 3: You may want a T to change your offense or defense to keep the opponent off-balance or to set up a specific set play that will exploit a mismatch or put your best Player to work.

No. 4: You may call time simply to give your team a rest, especially in the second half or whenever you have a short bench and need to keep your starters on the floor.

No. 5: One of the most critical situations for a T is late in a close ball game with your team trailing. Upon making a basket that cuts the deficit, immediately call time to stop the clock and set up your defense.

I usually try to save a time-out or two for this specific late-game situation. It's amazing that coaches don't do this more frequently, as it's one of the most important times that a T is needed.

There is a difference of opinion about calling a time-out upon gaining possession for a last shot.

Some argue that you have to keep on playing, as a stoppage will give the opposition a chance to set its defense. I believe otherwise--that there's too much riding on the last possession to leave the game to chance, particularly on the grade school and high school levels. It's better to call time, settle the players, design a last play, and discuss contingencies.

Closely related to this last point is the use of a time-out to freeze or ice a free-throw shooter: Be ready to call the time-out just before the shooter receives the ball from the referee.

If little or no time remains on the clock and the game is on the line, you should consider calling two T's in a row to give the free-throw shooter a lot of time to think about the pressure.

Coaches shouldn't hesitate to call two T's one after the other, especially in the second half or any time they feel the game is getting away from them.

Conversely, you should not call time-outs unnecessarily, such as to save a ball possession in the first half. It has apparently become SOP to call a time-out in every potential jump-ball situation in order to retain possession.

This is a mistake. Preserving your timeouts for second-half or end-of-game situations is far more important than trying to retain possession, especially since you are going to keep the ball half of the time because of the alternating possession rule.

How many times have you seen a team blow a game because of calling a time-out that they do not have?

College coaches who deal with TV time-outs (called every four minutes) must use their judgment on when or whether to call for time. If the game is getting out of hand, they cannot wait too long for the official time-out to be called.

Conversely, it makes little sense to burn a time-out when you are only seconds away from an official stop in action. It's a fine line of distinction and a matter of personal preference.

One other point of note is worth mentioning. Though it happens infrequently, you do not want to start calling a time-out only to spot the opposing coach signaling for one at the same time.

Make it a habit to check the opposing coach just before calling a T to see whether he is trying to signal the referee. If he is, let him do it! Sit back and enjoy the T.O. without having it subtracted from your team's allotment.

What to Do During a T.O.

Since you have only 30 seconds or one minute to address your team, every second counts. Train your players to run over, not walk, to the bench and to sit down or come to attention immediately.

Look at the Dukes and Kentuckys and you will notice that the players, and particularly the reserves, are tightly aligned with their heads in the huddle. No one is conducting a conversation or checking out the crowd.

Time-outs can take many different forms. It may require a strictly tactical approach wherein the coach diagrams "X's and O's."

If the game is on the line or the team appears lifeless, there may be no need for diagrams. This scenario may require a gut check and or an appeal to emotion. No matter how you approach it, you must try to be succinct, covering only one or two major points and not overwhelming them with too many directions.

In addition to talking to players, you should get into the habit of listening to their suggestions, especially on older levels of competition.

You will gain more respect from them and often receive valuable insights that may increase your chances of winning.

It is also critical for every member of the team to gather tightly around the coach. It will keep everyone focused and also promote team unity.

Perhaps the worst mistake a coach can make in the time-out is to focus only on the five players on the floor--letting the remaining players sit on the bench, excluded.

It is important for coaches, in general, and especially during time-outs, to be positive and direct with their players, offering constructive criticism, compliments, and encouragement.

Coaches must make sure to project a sense of calm and confidence in the huddle, a steadying influence, a leader in control, who sees that all the players are working to their potential.

Coaching point: It is not always what you say, but how you say it, that counts.

At the conclusion of the huddle, make sure all of the players put their hands together and end with a unified chant. It might be the team nickname, the world "Defense!" or perhaps the skill that was emphasized in the timeout, such as "Boards!"

Borrowing from Rich Majerus and his Utah team, I often conclude with, "Team, Together!"

Staff Roles

Often overlooked and underutilized during time-outs are the roles of the coaching staff. These are assigned at a staff meeting at the beginning of the year.

While the head coach should do all of the talking in the huddle, it is sometimes wise to let an assistant handle the time-out, especially if the team needs a change of pace or perhaps a change in the flow of the game.

The coach may also employ this strategy in a non-critical situation. He can help train an assistant for a head coaching assignment and provide them with an occasional different voice and/or perspective.

One assistant should be put in charge of the marker or "grease" board and have it ready at any time during the time-out. It is also wise to have an assistant jot down a diagram or some other helpful aid before the time-out is called or about to be called so that it will be ready the moment the players enter the huddle.

The head coach should always delegate one assistant to approach the official scorer's table at every timeout and between quarters to confirm the number of time-outs left for both sides as well as team and individual foul totals. In fact, it is an excellent idea to seat your own bookkeeper next to the official scorer to ensure accuracy and to prevent any surprises.

Time-outs provide an excellent opportunity to talk to the officials, but you should do so only if a concern arises. Pick someone on the staff, usually an assistant with a relaxed, non-threatening manner to approach the officials and phrase things in the form of a question.

He should avoid making opinionated statements or editorial comments and always conclude the brief conference with a "thank you."

By delegating this to an assistant, the coach will have the time to work with the team directly and avoid being distracted.

One final and very valuable role that assistants can play occurs at the end of the time-out as a huddle is breaking up. After the head coach finishes speaking, the assistants can jump in with last-second individual advice or instructions to specific players as they are walking back on to the court.

As you can see, the coaching staffs must be highly organized during time-outs so that they can make every second count.

Good communication in the huddle will increase the team's chances of success on the court.

You've taken the "time" to win!
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Author:Liccione, Dave
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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