Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Art of the Time Out

Yes, I know, it's been more than awhile since I've put fingers to keyboard on my blog site. Thank you to the many who have sent emails and made telephone calls to inquire if I was, well, OK! I doubt I've never been fully OK, but thanks, I'm fine! 

So what's the reason for the no blogs for several months? I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't write just for the sake of writing. If there wasn't something to say, I wasn't going to say it! But now there is and it's time to reach into the electronic mailbag to answer an email sent from someone for whom I have great respect. His name is John Newhook from one of my favourite cities in Canada, Halifax. I had the joy of spending an afternoon with John at the iconic Mayflower CC as he walked me through an example of his passion and calling, the science of our sport, particularly as it applies to one of the hot button topics, brushing!

This time the topic was "time outs", when to call one and indeed if one should be called and, for whatever reason a coach is called upon to chat with the team during an end, what does one say? What I'm about to write certainly is not the definitive word on TO's, it's only my take on the subject so John, buckle that chin strap, let's weigh in.

TO's in the sport of curling are curious animals! From a coaching perspective, we usually only get two of the them, not counting the mid-game break. And, calling a TO is something a player must initiate, not the coach although, according to the rules on the date of publication of this blog, the coach may signify to his/her athletes that he/she wishes to stop the game for a brief chat. These rather sporadic opportunities to speak with one's athletes puts curling into something of a unique position when compared to other team sports. 

If you think of a basketball coach for example, besides the seemingly endless number of TO's available, most used in the last minute or two of regulation time, he/she can substitute players in order to take one aside for some one-on-one counselling, then quickly send the player back into the fray. Not so in curling. In a curling facility setting, where the coach is sitting, ahem, behind a pane in the glass (no low hanging fruit to be picked to advertise a certain coaching manual), that transparent barrier does more than keep the coach warm, it tends to isolate the coach from the "rhythm" of the game, that ebb & flow of momentum and emotions that inevitably take place in any athletic contest. To be blunt, a well-intentioned TO with very valuable advice ready to be delivered can end up being counterproductive, significantly disturbing that rhythm referred to above which brings me to my first suggestion, rehearse TO's to reduce and hopefully avoid the possible distraction factor. 

When your team plays in regular league play or in pre-arranged exhibition games, ask the opposing team if it's OK if you call your two TO's (keep them brief) to help the team deal with your presence on the ice. In most cases, especially if you have a young team playing in an adult league, the opposing team will be more than happy to help by allowing you the TO's.  

My next suggestion is to decide who is going to call the TO. Will they only be called by the members of the team or is it OK if you, as coach, call them as well? Clearly a young team will benefit from the input an experienced, certified coach can provide. Perhaps not so much with an older more experienced team. That type of team may respectfully ask you not to call TO's. 

Mutually decide the nature of your input during the TO. I learned this some time ago in my position as National Development Coach when I was asked by a women's team in my programme who earned the right to play in an event to complete the first Curling Trials field when curling finally achieved full Olympic medal status, to be its coach at the event. During the discussion about my involvement during a TO, I suggested that I would guide them through an examination of all the possible shots which might be played and the reasons for each. To that the team replied, "Bill, if we call a TO we want you to come out, suggest a shot and leave. We've already done what you're suggesting.". In black-and-white on your computer screen, that sounds rather callous but it wasn't meant to be so and it wasn't taken that way by me. Quite to the contrary, that's exactly what I needed to know!

Then there's the whole "time duration" thing. As I write this, it's 90 seconds from the time the TO is called for the coach to get to the ice surface and join the team and discuss whatever needs discussing, another really good reason to rehearse TO's. You need to decide who speaks first and where the discussion goes from there to complete the discourse in the time allotted.

Venue plays a significant role. I've been positioned in the most unusual of places relative to the access point to the ice surface. The path to the playing area can be convoluted to say the least! I'm writing this from my hotel room in St. Catharines, ON, waiting for my four young curlers from Whitehorse to arrive for the 2017 Scotties Tournaments of Hearts. I know I'm going to be positioned right behind the scoreboard, very likely at the home end of the playing area. Not only that, I can speak with members of the team between each end as long as I stay behind the scoreboard (more about that later). Not much of my 90 seconds will be consumed by travel. 

By the way, a note about courtesy before I continue. In our sport, as with most, if a team calls a TO, both teams may meet with their coach. There has been a movement to allow only the team that called the TO to do so. I'm not against that by the way but I digress. If you are the coach of the team that did not call the TO, it's courteous to not access the playing area before the coach who did call the TO and if that TO is at the away end of the ice, you should not begin speaking with your team until the coach of the team that called the TO has reached his/her team.

If you are a coach of a junior team, you are most likely aware of a special TO known as a "Fair Play TO". This affords the coach an opportunity to call a temporary halt to the game so a player can recompose him/herself. That's a polite way of saying it gives the coach the opportunity to settle a player down, no discussion re. strategy &/or tactics or anything technical. I don't know who or which sport governing body came up with that idea but it has proven to be a good one! This TO was the idea of one of my coaching role models, Keith Reilly. 

If I may speak from personal experience, during TO's including the mid-game break, I prefer to hear the athletes speak as opposed to me launching into some diatribe which may be inappropriate (see earlier paragraph re. distraction). My best TO advice has come from something I've picked up from what an athlete said first. If the team knows that you are waiting for them to speak, that's what will occur (don't forget those 90 seconds). 

As a TV viewer, and this may just be my sensitivity as a coach, when I see a team call a TO only to totally ignore the mere presence of the coach, well, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard! Therefore, I tell my teams that if they call a TO and just want time to talk among themselves, I'm more than OK with that. I suggest that when the TO comes from the ice, if they want me involved, just give me the wave and I'll come a runnin', oops, no, you can't run to meet your team. Officials frown on that!

I said I'd refer to that rule at Scotties & Briers (for example) that affords me the opportunity to speak with my team between ends. There are those who would argue that calling the right shot and playing it the right way (strategy & tactics) is in integral part of the game (not much argument there I suspect) and therefore (now here's where views begin to differ) it's a skill that should be developed by the team, and a coach should not become a participant in those critical decision making junctures. Hmm, good point I guess but what about precedent? TO's in other sports allow the coach to become involved in decisions that regularly affect the performance of the team and therefore the outcome of the contest. The extreme example is North American football, especially at the more elite levels where just about everything that happens on the field is choreographed by the coaching staff. Well, I have always held to the belief that just because sport X does or does not do something, that does not mean that curling should or should not. That said, I have to be honest when I say that I work very hard to "empower" my athletes in all phases of the skill sets required to perform including calling the right shot and playing it the right (most appropriate) way. When an opposing coach calls a TO when he/she senses that his/her team is about to make a strategic &/or tactical error and calls a TO to prevent that mistake, I get a little frustrated. 

Here's my take on this matter. I feel it's appropriate for me to meet with my team to ensure that the end plan for the upcoming end is sound. I don't feel I should be able to influence my team's performance during the playing of that end. Just my take and I welcome opposing or supporting views.

And oh, by the way, not every TO is about strategy and tactics, sometimes it is to remind the players of something technical or about team dynamics or ...

There is one more TO and it’s an “official’s TO”. If you feel you need to draw something, anything, to the attention of an official, you cross your forearms in such a manner to be clearly seen. Clocks will stop (if applicable) and an official will come to you to hear your concern.

John, thanks for your email and yes, it does feel good to put fingers onto keyboard once again!


  1. I quite agree with your views on time outs . Many of the coaches I worked with questionned why I did not call timeouts myself. My view was that I taught my junior teams to know when they needed one and the older teams and I discussed when they would feel them valuable. The team and the coach need to be on the same page for it to have any benefit. When I give courses I try to stress the ethics of allowing a team to develop and not looks for ways to circumvent the rules.

  2. You play well, and put your opponents into a very difficult position. Your reward? They get to ask their coach what to do! Crazy.

    Why should what they do in other sports matter. So what if the participants in some sports can't think for themselves - curling is played from the neck up.

  3. Nice to hear from you again. Seems like you both are enjoying some good time and what a nice plan for upcoming days. Really inspiring and entertaining.Thanks

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