Each player is allowed a one-minute time-out during a tournament or league match. (Often a coach calls the time-out, but the player can waive that off if he doesn’t want one at that time, except in a team match.) When should you call a time-out? Here are some scenarios where you should call a time-out—but remember, you are only allowed one, so choose carefully. I’ve put them in order of priority. There are also times you shouldn’t call a time-out, such as when you are in the zone (i.e. focused and playing well), and a time-out might only disturb your concentration. If a coach calls a time-out and you really, really don’t think you need one (and want to save it for later), then waive him off. (You might want to let him know in advance you might do this.)
When to Call a Time-out
When losing focus before a key point. This is the most important time to call a time-out. A time-out is a good way to get your concentration back.
To think about or discuss tactics at a key point. Generally do this when you are about to serve, since you have complete control over choosing your two serves. If you have a coach, he might be able to help choose two serves to use. Call it when you are receiving mostly if you have a good idea what the opponent will serve, and are debating how you should return that serve. Or call it to think or discuss any other tactical plans. It’s also valuable to call a time-out when you are winning a relatively close game (especially late in a match), such as at 10-8 or 9-7, so as to clear your mind, think tactically, and close out that game. This is often when the Chinese team calls time-outs.
When falling behind in a key game. It’s useful to call a time-out if you lose the first game and are falling behind in the second (since you absolutely do not want to fall behind 0-2), or if you have already lost two games and will lose the match if you lose another. The key is not to wait until you are way behind; instead, call the time-out when you are still relatively close and can still find a way to come back. The time-out allows you to make sure you are focused and to rethink your tactics. It’s also a good way to give your opponent a chance to cool off if he’s playing well—there’s nothing wrong with calling a time-out in hopes of disturbing his concentration or throwing off his rhythm.
Desperation tactic. Far too many players call time-outs as a desperation tactic near the end of a match when they are way behind and are pretty much out of it, but this rarely leads to a win. If you are losing badly, why wait until you are way down in the last game? It’s far better to call the time-out earlier in the hope of not being in this situation, where the time-out will rarely help.