Wednesday, December 4, 2013


by Mario O'Brien
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There’s a great discussion going on around when and when not to use timeouts. These discussions are fantastic, I love that our sport is so young, and that we’re coming of age and thinking about how we should be doing things. Ultimate is a teenager… we’re testing things out, we argue, we insist, we make mistakes, we’re trying to grow up. I’m excited to be a part of it. I LOVE learning.

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.

The What and How:
It starts with the team email that has the itinerary for the day. Between Game 1 and Game 2 the itinerary says “Strategy Discussion: Timeouts”. Maybe I’d even include a link to the Ultiworld article. Then at the fields, beginning of the day, before our first warm-up, while running through the daily itinerary (which includes specifically when we’ll be eating, resting, playing, warming up, etc.) I’m going to tell the team that between our first two games, we’re going to be having some team time to discuss team strategy.

Game 1 gets over, we shake hands, team huddle and debrief of the game, then I say something to the tune of “everyone take 2-3 minutes to hydrate and get fuel/food, then we’re going to bring it in for some strategy talk.” Now the team is sitting with their water bottles, they knew this was coming, they’re ready.

We proceed to have a guided discussion. I set the context and tell the team something like… “In order to be successful in games, we’re going to have to successfully navigate some specific, difficult situations. One of these is knowing when and when not to use timeouts. In lots of cases, I’ll be able to communicate to you that we should call a timeout, but in others, you’re going to have an opportunity to do it yourself. The goal of this conversation is to understand how our team is going to use time-outs effectively in order to give us the best chance to win.”

At this point, there are tons of awesome and effective ways I could proceed with the discussion. I could lay out my list of great times we should, could, or shouldn’t use timeouts. I could let volunteers say and justify when they think a good use of a timeout might be, and then I, as the coach would say “yes, great idea, here’s why” or “not a great idea, here’s why”. I could have my captains lead the discussion. I might set up a tiny field and show specific situations. No matter what, I’m facilitating and managing the direction of the conversation, and making sure we’re staying efficient with our time. I’m definitely going to allow some time for folks to ask questions about things they’re not sure of. Most importantly, I’m going to summarize our conversation at the end, highlight key takeaways, and wrap it up by saying, something like “Awesome, now we’re mentally prepared for these types of situations, and we’re going to do our best to handle them appropriately throughout the season so we can execute when it matters most.”

We bring it in, I tell the team how long we have before our next game and how they should be using their time between now and then, quick team cheer, break. Front to back this was 20-30 minutes total. The groundwork’s been laid, I’ll follow up appropriately and be looking for teachable moments, and reinforce our conversation with little reminders throughout the season.

Some quick thoughts to finish:
⁃ Context matters. I wouldn’t use the action plan above for leading my elite USAU club team, but I would use it coaching a juniors team, a young college program, or a non-elite club program.
⁃ As a leader or coach, know what you know, what you don’t know, and what you want your team to know.
⁃ The best thing about the plan above is that it is… a plan! Be intentional, be intentional, be intentional.

So, how are YOU going to do this with your team?

Always Building,