The Truth About Timeouts*

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The conventional wisdom is that using timeouts are an important coaching skill.  A very good coach is able to positively influence the outcome of sets and matches by the correct timing and use of the available timeouts.  Conversely a less skilled coach loses opportunities that his team would otherwise have to had.  My opinion on conventional wisdom is, I hope, by this point in time fairly clear, as is my leaning on timeouts.  To summarise, conventional wisdom must be ruthlessly challenged and there is no actual evidence that timeouts influence the game.

To test the effects of timeouts I participated (with reader Ben Raymond, who did the actual statistics parts, ie the ‘work’) in a study of timeouts in the Polish and Italian men’s leagues from the last season.  For the 2015/2016 Polish Plus Liga, we were able to obtain data for over 70% of the matches (143/181).  We found out some interesting things. Some of those things are obvious.  But because they have never (to our knowledge) actually been tested before, the results are still important.  Some of those things are strange. But we’ll get to those later.

Some basic observations…

  • The number of timeouts taken by each team reasonably correlates to the set win / loss ratio of the teams. Teams that win more sets take less timeouts.  Teams that lose more take more timeouts.  This suggests that at least implicitly all coaches follow a similar timeout strategy.  For the record, because I know you want to know, I am a slight outlier.  I take fewer timeouts than my win / loss record suggests I need / needed.  I will leave you to interpret that however you would like.
  • The frequency of timeouts taken steadily increases over the course of a set until the opponent has a score of 21. However, there are exceptions.  Coaches take less timeouts just before a technical timeout which occurs in the Plus Liga at 8 and 16.  It seems that after a score of 21, teams losing have likely already used their timeouts, although this isn’t explicit in the data.
  • Looking at score differential, at nearly all periods of the set, teams are more likely to call a timeout while trailing than while leading. The exception is a between 22 and 24.  23 – 21 is a particularly popular moment to call a timeout.  It is also common to take timeouts early in a set, i.e. before 5 if the opponent has gone out to a quick lead.

timeouts by score and differential

  • Coaches most likely take timeouts with a point differential of -2, -3 and -4. These three cases account for about 50% of all timeouts.  About 25% of timeouts are taken by the team leading at the time.

timeouts by differential

In the next post, we will look at how timeouts effect sideout percentage and serve efficiency.

All comments are welcomed.  Further parts of this series can be found here, here and here.

* Truth in this context means the truth about timeouts in one league and in one season.


  1. Hi Mark, 

    The link doesn’t work here. And the post seems not to be on your blog either. Can you help?

    Viele Grüße |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| Oliver Wagner

    Kreuzer Straße 23 . 25813 Husum t 04841.776665 . m  0151. 65475051

    Am 7. Juli 2016 um 06:29:47, At Home On The Court ( schrieb:


    1. I accidently hit publish instead of draft and it notified all my social media accounts 🙂
      It is live now.


  2. It would be interesting to see percentages on which team is serving when the time out is called. Ie do most coaches call time outs when their team is serving or when the opposition is serving. Also who wins the point immediately after the time out?


    1. We found that 1.2% of timeouts were taken by the serving team. But when I checked, it seems that most of those were actually recording errors. So the answer is less than 1%.
      Who wins after the timeout is something we will get to in future posts 🙂


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