The timeout discussion I have been having here is a very interesting one and has inspired / provoked some very interesting discussion (for example here). A few days ago I was having a social conversation with some high level volleyball personalities and somehow (I don’t remember exactly, it was late 😉 ) the topic came up. These highly experienced volleyball people could not believe the idea that timeouts do not have an effect. I should rephrase that… they could not believe that evidence exists that timeouts do not have an effect, because it doesn’t confirm what they see with their own eyes.
Faster than you can say ‘confirmation bias’, this article appeared in my consciousness (or rather was linked in another article that came into my rss feed). To save you from reading it, it shows that there is no condition in which a timeout near the end of a game improves the chances of an NBA team scoring on the subsequent possession. To put it another way, in every situation that they studied, taking a timeout reduced the likelihood of a team scoring. They postulated several reasons why that may be so, and also of why a coach would consider a tactic with such a poor expected outcome. One commenter suggested that coaches need those timeouts to put their imprint on the game and to improve the quality of play, a proposition which fairly aggressively ignores the evidence. The author linked another article in which he himself proposed an alternative, if slightly less flattering for the coach, explanation.
“…part of staying hired is not just knowing what you’re doing, but looking like you know what you are doing. …
In reality, coaches can have smart game plans and diagram killer plays, but the only times a coach inarguably and directly impacts the game are when he calls timeout and when he substitutes.
It’s the most obvious point at which fans, the media and his bosses can tell how well a coach is doing his job. So if you’re a coach, you’re expected to make a difference through these actions. And at the end of games, you’re supposed to exert control over the outcome by outwitting the opposition with a clever adjustment or timely play call.”
For the record, I just did a quick calculation of my season so far. In 22 league and cup matches this season, I have taken 56 timeouts. The effect of those timeouts has been to reduce the sideout percentage of my team by more than 14%! Probably not statistically significant.
Hopefully not statistically significant…