What comes to mind when you think about someone yelling “TIMEOUT” in a heated moment?

Was it when you were a kid and did something bad? Then had to sit in the corner with your face against a wall?

Or is it the time when you were playing video games with your friend (who you happened to be destroying at the time), so they paused the game?

Or maybe, was it the time your coach waved his hands and crossed them in a “T” in the face of a referee during the last minutes of a big game?

All these scenarios point to a time when a few calming moments were necessary to regroup and refocus. The events leading up to the timeout were probably trending away from your desired outcome.

Merriam-Webster defines a “timeout” as a brief suspension of activity. But, it is more than an adjournment. If used correctly, it is a strategic tool, to be used to your advantage. Timeouts are essential in many situations; thoughts can be regathered, perspective is gained, goals are set, and visualization is prompted.

Calling a timeout can give you or your team a mental edge over that situation. In some cases, coaches have used it inversely as an attempted disruption to the opponent. Let’s assume that a coach thinks the other team might NOT be so productive with a timeout. Maybe he thinks the extra time to think might cause them to think too much!

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In close games, for example, timeouts can be called in the hopes of “icing” a kicker or free throw shooter. In other words, to take an extended period of time to distract the player from their focus and make them overthink or lose the benefits of a typical routine.

However, in the NFL Time Management: The Role of Timeout in End Game Scenarios article, after conducting probabilistic studies, researchers found that timeouts aren’t necessarily effective at causing NFL kickers to miss field goals. This could mean that at the NFL level, the time off does not distract the player enough to miss the play because teams have practiced staying focused in stressful situations. Maybe the “icing” tactic is more productive at lower levels. Either way, it’s highly recognized that a timeout has implications for strategically gaining a mental advantage, in one way or another.

So, how can timeouts be used to our advantage? We know that it can be an essential tool for our mindset and to refocus. 

1- Stop Opponent Momentum
2- Change Strategies
3- Design a Specific Play or Action
4- Mental Rest
5- Physical Rest
6- Motivation

As a coach, understanding how to use a timeout advantageously is essential for a team’s ability to win games. As a player, understanding how to maximize that physical break and induce mental focus is crucial to performance. As a player or coach, on the other end of a timeout play, it is important to know how to maintain momentum or not let the timeout be a disruption in good play. 

Athletes know that timeouts are a break for their body, but not all athletes realize that it’s an opportunity to focus and learn something as well. They need to stop, breathe, relax and listen. Listen to the coach, listen to their body, and listen to their own thoughts. The few moments that a timeout provides can be what wins or loses a close game (coaches know this feeling all too well, and have probably won or lost games based on the success of a timeout!).

If timeout strategy is not something you’ve considered before, it’s time to start!

Understanding the value of taking time to reflect, re-organize, and get back to work, is a skill that athletes and coaches can actualize beyond the game as well.

Whether it’s a coach who’s feuding with a family member, or a player feeling stressed about an upcoming test in school, understanding how to take a step back, and utilizing a well-strategized timeout, is an extraordinarily helpful skill to have.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, it is advantageous to think about how you can optimize the “timeout” you call or the one you find yourself in. Realize the potential that timeouts have on the game, and on your life, and put them to good use. They can give you a great mental edge.