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Volleyball Timeout Rules (And 4 Key Strategies Explained)

There’s nothing more frustrating than your opponent’s coach calling a timeout at 24-15:

So why do they do it? And what are the actual rules behind time-outs in volleyball?

What are the timeout rules in volleyball? Timeout rules in volleyball vary by competition. In USAV and FIVB rules, teams are each allowed 2 timeouts per set of 30 seconds. For NCAA volleyball, this time is extended to 75 seconds, although both teams may enter the court early when ready. In international and FIVB tournaments, teams are also given 2 technical timeouts lasting 60 seconds each.

Ever wondered why timeout rules seem to be different for each competition?

Or wanted to know the strategy behind your coach’s favorite timeout call?

We’re going to cover it all below:

As well as 4 of the Most Common volleyball timeout strategies we’ve come across, and why every coach loves to apply them.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s to come:

  • What is a timeout in volleyball?
  • What are the basic rules for timeouts?
  • What is the official timeout signal?
  • What is a technical timeout in volleyball?
  • What you’re allowed to do during timeouts
  • And a full explanation of 4 Key Timeout Strategies in Volleyball.

First thing’s first though.

What is a timeout in volleyball?

A timeout is an official pause in the game.

It can only be called when the ball is not in play, and before the referee has blown the whistle to signal the next serve.

For all competitions that VolleyPedia has researched, the common number of timeouts in volleyball is 2 per set, per team.

Generally, after each timeout that your team has used, it’s common practice for the second referee to remind you how many timeouts have been used.

Teams that intentionally try to delay the game by calling timeouts when they have already used up the limit can be penalized with a game delay warning, and will most likely receive a yellow card.

Timeouts must be signalled to the second referee by the team captain or by the coach. In international volleyball, timeouts are signalled by coaches on the sideline:

  1. First, they need to press the buzzer during a break in play;
  2. Then they can request a timeout to the second referee (who will relay the message to the head referee).

For more about referees, lines judges and officials in volleyball, I’d recommend reading my full article, here. (Coming soon.)

What are the basic rules for volleyball timeouts?

We’ll break this down by competition.

Volleyball timeout length:

For NCAA volleyball (American college volleyball divisions I-III), teams are allowed two timeouts of 75 seconds each.

This is a fair bit longer than the standard timeouts in FIVB and USAV rules, and it allows coaches to cover a little more ground.

It also serves as a more effective momentum stopper. When one team is getting on a good run of points, an NCAA timeout lets one team gather themselves more effectively than a 30 second timeout.

That being said, on many occasions, the 75 seconds actually proves too long for most timeouts (whether that’s because coaches don’t really have any information to get across, or because players are eager to get out onto the court is another issue).

When both teams are ready to continue play before the 75 seconds is through, teams will whistled onto the court early.

It’s also worth saying that teams will be given a 15 second warning in NCAA volleyball–so if your coach is really spraying you, the referee will come in and save you at the 60 second mark to keep the game moving.

For FIVB and USAV volleyball, timeouts are considerably shorter at just 30 seconds each.

Usually, this is enough time for players to grab a drink, receive some basic information from the coaching staff, and regroup for the next stage of the match.

In international FIVB volleyball, however, there’s another part of the game which makes these 30 second timeouts seem like an added luxury.

What is a technical timeout in volleyball?

Here is the official ruling on technical timeouts by the FIVB:
“ 15.4.2 For FIVB, World and Official Competitions, in sets 1-4, two additional 60-second “Technical Time-Outs” are applied automatically when the leading team reaches the 8th and 16th point. 15.4.3 In the deciding (5th) set, there are no “Technical Time- Outs”; only two time-outs of 30 seconds duration may be requested by each team.”
– FIVB-Volleyball Rules 2017-2020

So when one team reaches 8 points, a buzzer will sound indicating the first technical timeout.

The second technical timeout will come when one team reaches 16 points. It doesn’t matter what the deficit is, who is leading, or which team started the first technical timeout–all that matters is one team’s score reads 16.

The purpose of technical timeouts is mostly for sponsorship.

This is why technical timeouts are also sometimes called TV timeouts.

The FIVB’s official standing on this is slightly more ambiguous:
This special mandatory time out is, in addition to time outs, to allow the promotion of volleyball by analysis of the play and to allow additional commercial opportunities. Technical Time Outs are mandatory for FIVB World and Official competitions.”

And while the promotion of volleyball may be one reason for the introduction of television timeouts, it’s mostly a matter of ‘commercial opportunities’.

For larger stage events, like the World Championships, TV stations (or internet TV services) will purchase the rights to broadcast a particular match.

And while the viewers are there to watch volleyball, broadcasters also want to receive some sponsorship for their efforts.

Technical timeouts, then, provide prime positions for advertisers to speak with an engaged audience:

Think about it:

The score is 15-16 in the fourth set between the U.S. and Italy. You’re on the edge of your seat, wanting to see how the end of this battle will play out.

Why wouldn’t they throw a couple of ads your way in a situation like that?

Okay, so advertising isn’t your biggest concern: And, as it turns out, it isn’t the players’ favorite part of the game.

Many players dislike the technical timeout format. With the addition of two traditional timeouts per team, there can be a total of 6 timeouts per set, slowing down the momentum and speed of a game significantly.

Of course, it depends which side of the coin you find yourself on:

When your team is losing a run of points, a technical timeout might just be your saving grace.

What is the official timeout signal? And who calls it?

The official timeout signal is pretty intuitive.

You simply bring one hand to the middle of the other hands palm, and display this ‘T-shape’ to the second referee.

Like so:

Depending on the level of competition, and if your team has an official coaching staff: who calls the timeout can vary.

For team’s with a coach listed on the scorer’s sheet, it’s the coach’s responsibility to signal timeouts to the referee. In international volleyball, this means pressing the buzzer first, then making the correct ‘T’ signal.

For teams without an official coach, it is the team captain’s responsibility to signal timeouts during the game.

If the team captain is on the bench, it will become the floor captain’s responsibility to signal timeouts directly to the second referee.

For an explanation of the difference between floor captains and team captains, check out my post ‘Can the libero be captain?’.

What are players allowed to do during timeouts in volleyball?

One of the more common questions we get about timeouts in volleyball is about what you’re allowed to do.

Here’s a good example of this:

‘Can you pepper during timeouts in volleyball?’

Depending on the competition, the answer will vary.

For NCAA college volleyball, players are allowed to use balls in the free zone (the space behind the baseline of the court).

This is actually a rare exception.

For FIVB and USAV competitions, ball handling is not allowed during timeouts–and since these are only 30 seconds long, this makes sense.

Players are allowed, however, to run and move through the free zone of the court. That’s why you’ll typically see bench players trying to stay warm during this section of the game–it’s the best chance they have to get some running in!

Timeout Strategies in Volleyball

In this section, we’ll talk about some of the more common timeout strategies, and whether we think they are effective or not.

Let’s just get straight into it.

#1: During a Service Run

One of the most common timeout occasions is to try and stop the other team’s run of points. This could be because the opponent has a strong server at the line, or because your own team is struggling to score in sideout.

When this happens, a coach or team captain is likely to call a timeout as a method of slowing down the play or regrouping.

If the issue is a particularly strong server on the other side of the net, then this timeout can also be used to throw off that player’s serving rhythm.

#2: Icing the Server

Similar to the last point above, this timeout is used to throw off a server on the opposing team.

The difference here is, this timeout is often called before the server goes back to the line.

To pull this off, your coach or captain needs to know which servers on the opponent’s side are their biggest weapons, where they are standing in the rotation, and when they will coming up to serve. Coaches won’t try to hide what they’re doing, either.

Even if a player knows that the timeout has been called to try and stop the damage done by his or her serve, they can still overthink the next play–if this results in an error, you can bet that coach will be patting him or herself on the back for that one.

#3: Make a Tactical Change

The great thing about timeouts is that they can be called between any point in the match.

Often, a team will start a match with a specific strategy:

‘Serve to the front court attacker, let’s put him under pressure all match.’

‘Make sure we block their right-side, she’s killing every ball.’

‘We’re going to play tip cover behind the block.’

Each of these are team strategies that can stop your opponent from being effective.

But what happens when things aren’t going to plan?

The front-court attacker is passing the ball perfectly, the right-side is still scoring every point, and they aren’t tipping any balls this match.

Calling a timeout during the middle of a set can also be a great opportunity for the coach to relay some information from the bench.

Ideally, they will be able to see some tendencies developing as the game goes on.

One quick timeout can be enough to give players the information to needed to make a change, and in some cases a tactical timeout can turn the match around.

#4: ’24’ serving anything

Next to momentum timeouts, this is probably the most common timeout in volleyball.

It’s simple: when your opponent is serving at set point, you call a timeout.

The idea is that you’ll allow your team to calm down and collect themselves, while pressure is building on the other side of the net.

In the heat of the moment, a team that’s winning might not pay too much attention to the score. When the opponent calls a timeout at set or match point, it forces the next server to take stock of the moment:

In some cases, this might be enough to pressure them into making an error, or serving an easy serve.

Generally speaking, however, for margins greater than 3 or 4 points, the 24-x timeout can be seen as a time-wasting move.

Especially when your team is down by 9 or 10 points, calling a timeout at that point–while completely legal–is often less about giving your team the best chance to win, and more about frustrating the other team.

A valid tactic, too, mind you.

Timeout cheers in volleyball

One final thing on volleyball timeouts.

You’ve probably noticed that most teams end timeouts with a signature cheer.

Why do they do this?

In my experience, there are a couple of reasons to cheer after each time out (even when your team is losing badly):

  1. It brings some team spirit back into the huddle, reminding players of the bigger picture they’re competing for; and
  2. It gives an official ending to the timeout.

This second point is more important than in might sound.

I talk a lot about traditions, habits and rituals in sport.

Concluding the timeout with a team cheer might seem like an afterthought, but it actually marks an important structure in your team.

Without anyone saying it verbally, the team cheer after each timeout signals to your team and the opponent that you’re ready for what’s coming next.

Considering the fact that most timeouts come at times when your team is struggling, this transformation is important:

In just 30 seconds, you can show the opponent that you’ve transformed from heads down and shoulders slumped, to a collective ready to work together toward the next point.

Summing Up

Timeouts are a tactical and strategic part of the game, but as we’ve seen they’re also an opportunity for crowd and sponsor engagement.

They can breathe a much needed sigh of relief, or signal a pivotal, high-pressure moment in the game.

Let us know you and your team’s timeout strategies and how they’ve worked for you in the comments below. And if you found this article helpful, we encourage you to share it with friends and help us provide the most accurate volleyball resources available online.

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