Category Archives: Communication

The Art of the Timeout

I spent this weekend coaching a junior mixed team in the zone playdown (we won B side) instead of traveling to Kingston to watch the Scotties and my favourite womens team, Jennifer Jones (no hate mail please…).  Still, I was able to watch a number of Scotties round robin games on TV and was particularly interested in how teams managed their time outs.  You see, I’m very curious to see what role other coaches play on their teams mostly so that I can see what improvements I personally can make.   What I observed is very interesting because there are so many different coaching styles, more so than playing styles.

On one hand you have Earle Morris, coach of Team Ontario (Homan).  Earle is worth listening to anytime he opens his mouth and has a very determined way about managing the time out.  He comes out to the ice with purpose and imparts a definite preference to his team when he talks to them.  If you watch a Team Ontario time out, it’s…interesting.  I personally find them uncomfortable because there seems to be so much push back from Rachel Homan.  Regardless, the team finds that effective and it obviously works well for them.  On the flip side, I watched a Newfoundland time out where the coach came out, mumbled a few words, was ignored then walked back to his seat.  Again, this might be what works for that team, I don’t know and I’m not passing judgement.

What I will say is that in curling, the time out is such an oddity that it bears a little reflection.  Competitive teams must discuss how the time outs should proceed.  Things such as, who talks first, what information should the team be looking for from the coach, should the coach call the time out or leave it up to the team etc.  Teams should have conversations about this stuff and figure out how they are going to make the most of their meagre in game time with the coach. Personalities figure into this in a big way.  With the Ontario (now Team Canada!) team, Rachel needs to hear some definite and assured opinions from Earle.  She will make up her own mind in the end however, she doesn’t want another soft suggestion.

For my junior / bantam teams I typically tell them that I want them to get the issue down to 2 shots.  I only have a minute and it goes fast so I can’t teach them strategy out there.  From there I typically ask the questions they likely should have already answered.  1. What are you trying to accomplish?  2. Which shot gives you the best chance of doing that? 3. Is the risk of missing that shot worth the reward? 4. How do you want to miss?  I make sure they answer these questions quickly then try to gauge where they are leaning in their shot preference.  Unless their choice is really poor, I’ll support their decision and confirm to them that I believe they can make the shot.  I ALWAYS leave a time out on a positive note, showing support to the team.  Rare is the case where I have to go out and tell them what to do.  It’s far better for younger curlers to work through the decision making process on their own and simply get guidance from the coach as opposed to simply being directed to an answer.

For club teams, how does this factor in?  You might not ever have had a time out!  Well, think about those mini team meetings you have to discuss shots.  When the four players all gather to talk about what to call perhaps at the hog line.  This is very much like an in team time out.  Aspiring club teams should talk about how they want this to go down.  If you watch the pros, you’ll hear the phrase “I’m okay with whatever you like” a LOT.  This usually comes at the end of the conversation and is NOT a matter of the team throwing up their hands and walking away.  It’s their way of letting the skip know she has control and their support on her decision.  Teams should feel they can voice their opinions but once the decision is made they should get on board whether they like it or not.  After the game, if there is still dissention about the shot then you can have another discussion.  Mid game is not the time for that.

My advice to coaches is to put some serious thought into your time outs.  Typically they come at critical points in the game and so deserve some serious planning.

Coach Sean