Coaching: Have Your Athletes Leave Timeouts in Right-Brain Mode

Coaching: Have Your Athletes Leave Timeouts in Right-Brain Mode

Dick Moss, Editor, PE

Coaches who call time-outs often do so to impart technical advice. Unfortunately, they may emphasize technical information so much that their athletes end thinking too much and perform mechanically. Why does this focus on technique result in hesitant play?

Left-Side/Right-Side of the Brain
When athletes play at their absolute best, they are described as being in the “zone,” otherwise known as “flow.” When performing at this elevated level of play, they are usually operating out the right side of their brain. That's the non-analytical, instinctive side: the side that feels emotions but isn't concerned with technique. The right side just acts, it doesn't think of consequences, errors or procedure.

Unfortunately, by emphasizing technique during time-outs, we take our athletes out of right-brain mode, forcing them to play with their left side dominant. Instead of simply acting and reacting, they find themselves thinking about their actions before performing them. The result is mechanical play, slower reactions, and less aggression.

A Better Time-Out Strategy
We can avoid this problem by dealing with technical information at the beginning of time-outs. Focus mainly on one or two corrections—don't confuse your athletes with too much information.

At the end of the time-out, the last words you give them should be right-brain instructions: such as: “Be aggressive,” “Just let it happen!” “Play relaxed,” “Get mad!!”

Your players will already be aware of the technical changes they must make and should automatically incorporate them into their play. This final emotion-related instruction will pop them back into right-brain mode for better flow.


1. Kinda S. Asher (Editor), Lois Mueller (Author) “Effective serve receive techniques.” The Best of Coaching Volleyball, Book 3: The Related Elements of the Game, Masters Press, 1996.

2. Damon Burton, Thomas Raedeke, Sport Psychology for Coaches, Human Kinetics, 2008.

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