Knowing When to Call a Time Out

I received more than my fair share of time outs when I was a kid. I had a hard time sitting still in school and felt bored much of the time. As a result, I was often given a time out and  had to endure the excruciating experience of sitting in the hall with nothing to do. In high school, when I got a time out it meant I had to silent study hall during my lunch hour.   This was clearly a example of cruel and unusual punishment-although I do remember getting a lot of work done in those silent study halls. I’m guessing many of us may have a negative association to time outs as most of us have at some point been asked to sit on a step, or on our bed to think about our being mean to a sibling, being disrespectful, or breaking a rule. We may also remember being grounded as a teenager, which is really just a prolonged time out. It’s too bad that our associations to time outs are negative, as the ability to know when to call a time out in our day, week, or month can be a crucial ingredient to our wellness.

The March Madness of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is in full swing right now and provides the perfect opportunity for us to rethink how we view the role of a time out. In every game there will be at least one stretch of time when a team is starting to lose control. Shots that were going in easily earlier are now missing the mark, passes are not connecting, and mistakes are escalating along with the players stress and anxiety. It is precisely at such a moment that the team’s coach will call a time out.

The purpose of such a time out is positive and proactive. It is a time to help the players take a deep breath and reset their game plan, often with some valuable perspective and input from the coach. There is nothing punitive about the time out, and in fact the players are grateful for the chance to regroup. It is fascinating to see what a positive difference in performance a time out can make for a team.

A positive use of time outs is not just good for basketball players.  Overwhelmed parents have long known about the importance of counting to ten and thereby creating a time out for themselves when they are feeling emotionally flooded. The “power of the pause” is good for any of us when we find ourselves “missing too many of our easy shots” or when seeing our mistakes and anxiety escalating.

I understand that schools are no longer using timeouts the way they used to when I was a child. They are now instead teaching children the value of taking timeouts proactively, much like sports teams do. They are teaching children how to pause and practice mindfulness and that a positive time out can be helpful no matter what the age.

Every basketball team has a limited number of time outs that it can use each game. The rest of us, however, have an unlimited supply and can use them whenever needed, knowing that  a time out, at just the right moment, can enhance our performance and get us back in the flow with renewed focus and energy.