Timeouts in volleyball: everything that you need to know

During a volleyball match, the players sometimes run to the bench during the middle of the match after the referee has given a specific signal (finger of one hand in the palm of the other hand). What is going on? This is called a timeout Let’s discuss what a time-out is.

What is time out in volleyball?

During the match, everything can get paused by a timeout. A time-out gives the coach of the team the opportunity to give instructions to his or her players during the match. This can help the team if they are struggling with offense or defense. The coach can clarify certain concepts or show the team how they have to defend or attack. This is typically done by drawing on an erasable whiteboard. The coach has to speak loud enough so that everyone on the team knows what needs to happen. At the same time, they shouldn’t shout as the other team can hear it as well then. The players might be tired and the coach can give a motivational speech instead of focussing on strategy. 

At the end of the timeout, players come together to cheer. This can give a new boost of energy to the team. The players can talk to the team members that are sitting on the bench and this can push them to get back in the game. 

It is also the opportunity for the players to rest and have a drink. The water bottles are often standing next to the bench so the players can get a quick sip. Volleyball matches are very intense and being able to catch a breath can be great. During a time out coaches often substitute players as well.

 It can be challenging to get back in the game after a timeout as you need to regain your focus. Attacking aggressively after a timeout can be a great idea as the other team might need some time to pay attention to what is going on. If a team is on a winning streak, the coach of the other team will often call a timeout to try and break their rhythm. It can also be used to calm down the team during critical moments in the match (for example a set point). 

Photo by Stephen Baker on Unsplash

Timeouts are also allowed in a lot of other team sports such as basketball and baseball. It can be useful to give some tactical instructions, motivation or let players rest. Given their short duration, it is not possible to have a long chat. You have to wait in between sets to do this. After the second set, there is often a longer break in volleyball. This allows players to go to the toilet and have a long talk.

How many timeouts do you get in volleyball? 

Each team has 2 timeouts per set in volleyball. This means that male teams can get up to 10 timeouts if there are 5 sets in the match. Female teams get up to 6 timeouts per match if they have to play 3 sets. Timeouts only last a maximum of 30 seconds. Teams can restart faster if they are ready. This means that men have a maximum of 300 seconds per match in timeouts, ladies have a maximum of 180 seconds of timeouts per match.

In 30 seconds you can only say a few things. Often the coach gives some information about the other team and mentions some things that you have to pay attention to. For example, it is possible if a middle blocker is repeating the same mistake over and over again. You can also warn about their outside hitters so that the defense can make sure that they can catch the ball in time. 

It can be challenging for players to pay attention to what the coach is saying as they want to get a sip of water and a lot of players are standing around the coach. As a player, you need to be able to pay attention to what is being set and you have to implement it on the court. If you don’t listen to what was being said, you can infuriate and annoy the coach.

 There are also special timeouts:

  • Technical timeouts. The FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) has decided that in professional competitions, there can be a technical timeout. In the first four sets, a 60 seconds timeout is used when the 8th and 16th points are reached in a set. This timeout allows the TV stations to broadcast ads or analyze the action. It can be annoying for teams that are on a winning streak as a 60 seconds pause is quite long.
  • Injury timeout. In high school and college volleyball in the USA, the referee can award a timeout when a player is injured and the team has no substitutes left. This can give the player additional time to recover. If the player is not able to recover in the given time, the team has to withdraw from the match.
  • Protest procedure. If a coach disagrees with a decision by the referee, he or she can ask for a timeout. This gives the referees time to reconsider the decision. If the decision stands, the team that requested the reconsideration loses a timeout. 

How many timeouts do you get in high school volleyball in the USA?

High school volleyball is mainly regulated by NFHS in the USA. This organization outlines that each team has 2 timeouts per set. The coaches can use these at will during the set and have to ask the referee to award it. This will only be done once a rally is finished. 

In high school volleyball, the coach and team captain can ask for a timeout. In college volleyball, only the coach is able to do this once the rally ends. Teams don’t have to leave the court during a timeout.  

In high school volleyball in the USA the timeouts last 60 seconds. After 45 seconds a whistle is blown to indicate that the timeout is almost ending. For college players in the USA, the timeouts generally last 75 seconds but coaches can agree to let it last 60 or 90 seconds. Once again a whistle is used 15 seconds before the timeout ends. In both high school and college volleyball the timeout can last a shorter period of time if both teams are ready earlier than the time limit allows. 

In general, volleyball players on the bench are not allowed to move during timeouts but the NCAA forms an exception, and college teams in the USA can run and use the ball during a timeout but it has to happen next to the court. This is not allowed in high school volleyball. 

To conclude, we can state that timeouts are a very useful tool for coaches in volleyball. It allows them to give some guidance and directions to the team. Each team has two timeouts per set so over a match this results in quite a lot of time that can be spent on this. They only last 30 seconds each but it takes some time for the referee to call it and for the timer to start. Teams have to walk to the bench and then back on the court. All of this can take quite some time. Players are often distracted once the game restarts and the best teams can take advantage of this.