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What to Say in Timeouts

After seven years as a junior varsity boys basketball coach, Brendan Mann has learned the right time to call a timeout and the best way to talk to his players. 

It takes time as a coach to figure out what to say to his guys and when to say it.

“It takes relationship building,” said Mann, the junior varsity coach at Central High School in Phoenix, Arizona. “The older I get, the more I seem to understand that culture is going to trump strategy all the time. I can have the best strategies and plays in the world, but if I don’t have a culture that’s positive, that’s together, that’s full of guts – a culture when we’re up 20 or down 20 we’re going to grind it until the end – it doesn’t matter what I draw up. I just think culture’s such an important part of good basketball units.”

When Mann calls a timeout, it’s not to draw up a play that hasn’t been worked on in practice.

“Everybody has a different theory on when to take timeouts and what to use timeouts for,” Mann said. “In my opinion, especially coaching high school kids in the younger grades, the chances of these guys being able to implement something they’ve never seen before is next to never. I like to make sure whatever’s being talked about in the huddle isn’t necessarily new.”

How Mann’s team is structured, either a veteran-led squad or an inexperienced group, can also dictate how the coach talks to his players.

“And it depends on the time of the season,” Mann said. “In the beginning of the season your timeouts and huddles are still time to teach. By the end of the season, there’s not much learning to do and it’s all about executing.”

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Mann believes addressing kids in a positive manner is the best approach to get his point across. Even if he’s not happy by his team’s play, Mann needs to give his 15- and 16-year-old guys a supportive, reinforcing message.

“You spend the whole time chewing out one guy, what do the other four guys do?” Mann said. “They don’t understand their role in that then. It is also really heavy then because you make the kid feel like you stopped the entire action to holler at one person. A lot of times that’s too much for a kid to handle.

“Kids these days, just from my experience teaching and coaching, are better reached through positively reinforcing the things you want rather than berating and degrading. I think we grew up in an age of coaches that hollered and yelled, and sometimes cut kids down to motivate. It’s just a different world that these kids live in.”

Building a strong rapport with his players is Mann’s top priority in working with young athletes.

“Guys have got to be bought in,” Mann said. “If they don’t think I believe in them or they don’t believe in what we’re doing, it really doesn’t matter where we’re at with things.”

Mann does however have to balance the rah-rah speeches with using a little fire in the huddle. As the junior varsity coach, he has to prepare his players for what they might encounter at the next level. The program’s varsity coach might be a loud, in-your-face person.

“I can’t completely leave that out from what I do, because I’m not getting them ready for what they’re going to see at the varsity level,” Mann said. 

Mann will exhaust a 30-second timeout if he needs to stop the other team’s momentum for a quick breather. He won’t say much to his guys during a quick break. Mann calls a full timeout if he needs to teach or remind his players of something, and he can talk to the guys more in-depth.

“In my opinion, timeouts are best used, No. 1, to control the game and tempo,” Mann said. “It’s to give our guys a bump, some water and to kind of stop some progress with the other team. Another good thing is to spend time encouraging, positively reinforce. Lastly, I like to use them to set small, reachable goals – especially if I’m down. If I’m down big, I’m like, ‘Hey guys, in the next two-three minutes, we want to cut the lead to 13.’ Or, ‘By the fourth quarter we should have this cut to seven.’ I think those are good use of breaks in action.”

Mann’s timeout speeches don’t vary too much, even if his team is up 15 points or down 15 points. In a tight game, it can get a little trickier on what kind of message to convey to his players.

“That’s just experience,” Mann said laughing. “I can remember the first couple years of coaching and spending an entire week just every 10 minutes thinking, ‘Man, I should have called a timeout.’ Or, ‘I should have warned the kids about the deep pass; I didn’t even think about it at the time.’ But I think when games are close and you’re in the stretch, that’s when you’ve really got to rely on your experience.”

From GameChanger and Greg Bates

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