Playoff time is intense! Tight hockey in post-season play is the norm and is characterized by precise execution and purposeful strategy in a high-intensity environment. The often do-or-die stakes mean that every read and react, and every play, requires consistent and ideal execution. In fact, during playoff games, all positional assignments become musts, and risk and reward scenarios on the ice become a narrowed proposition allowing predetermined team strategies to rule the day. Because of this, the strategic use of the timeout becomes vital and more consequential when compared to other seasonal periods.
In its basicness, the timeout is simply a temporary suspension of play. Signalling a timeout allows the coaches of either team to pause, realign and recover. Each team is provided one 30-second timeout per game. As such, this valuable breather can, at its best, allow for team communication, strategic demarcation, physical and mental recuperation, some motivation and confidence adjustments, as well as exercising control over perceived momentum. Of course, the timeout is legally employed during a stoppage of play, but cannot be used after an icing. Analytics suggests the frequency of timeouts increases in the last five minutes of regulation time, and most are taken by the trailing team. Furthermore, the team taking the timeout is typically losing by one goal. In other sports, timeouts are frequently used, and in hockey, the suggestion is that most teams underuse this strategy.
As a Head Coach ask yourself: are your team’s timeouts as effective and productive as they could be? Or are they inefficacious, disorganized affairs chosen randomly? For many teams, the latter is true. And unfortunately, the poor use of the timeout suggests a wasted opportunity and a withdrawal from team confidence. This is because of the unorganized exchanges and confused execution and explanations that an impromptu timeout can create. A panicked and poor timeout is, in fact, at the top of the list of things that erode players’ confidence in their coaches.
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