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Whoa! When to Call Time-out in Table Tennis/Ping-Pong

Do You Deserve a Break Today?


Photo of William Henzell and Piers Carter

Time for Some Timely Advice?

© 2006 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
The time-out, while a familiar part of many other sports such as basketball or American football, is a relative newcomer to the sport of table tennis. As such, many players have not yet learnt how to use the time-out to their best advantage. In this article I'm going to discuss how smart tactical use of your time-out can turn the tide of a ping-pong match in your favor.

What is a Table Tennis Time-out?

According to Section 13 of the ITTF Handbook for Match Officials, a time-out can be called as follows:

In addition to the statutory intervals between games, each player or pair, or their captain or adviser on their behalf, is entitled to claim a time-out period of up to 1 minute during an individual match. Making a T-sign with the hands indicates the request, which can be made only between rallies. Play is resumed when this player or pair is ready to do so or at the end of 1 minute, whichever is the sooner.

During the time-out period, the player or pair calling the time-out, and their opponents, are both free to talk to their captain or adviser or not as they desire.

When to Call a Time-out

You should be thinking of calling a time-out when your match is at a stage where things are beginning to go in your opponent's favor, and you believe that you need to turn things around right there and then. It's usually pretty rare to need a time-out in the first game of a match. Typical situations for calling a time-out include:
  • When you have been on top in a match, but your opponent is starting to gain ground, and you need to win the next couple of points and finish the game or match quickly.

    These sort of situations typically occur when you are leading in games, and winning the current game will give you the win or a large lead, such as a 2-0 lead in games in a best of 5 games match or a 3-0 or 3-1 lead in a best of 7 games match. You have possibly been around 9-3 points in the lead in the current game, and suddenly your opponent is only 9-8 down and he has all the momentum with him.

  • When the match is close, and a win in this current game would give you a much needed lead in games, or make the game score level.

    When you are 0-1 down in games, a win will put you back at 1-all, while a loss gives your opponent a 0-2 cushion. And vice versa, of course!

  • When you are behind in a match, and need something to change or else you are heading for defeat.

    This situation usually occurs when your opponent is about to win the last game he needs to take the match. You need to win this game or else it's all over. It could also happen if your opponent is about to go up 3-0 in a best of 7 match - since there are not many comebacks from 0-3 down.

    Why Would You Call a Time-out?

    Why would you call a time-out, apart from the obvious use of a time-out to get some advice from your adviser, captain or coach? Actually, there are a number of other reasons for calling a time-out, and players who know how to make good use of time-outs may have one or more of these reasons in mind when they decide to call for a break. Here is my current list of reasons for taking a time-out - but if anyone can think of some more feel free to let me know, and I'll add them to the list!

    Reasons to Call for a Time-Out

    • To get advice from your coach or adviser.

    • To break your opponent's rhythm.
      This could be applied in a couple of ways, both if your opponent is well on top in the match and you have to do something fast or the match will be over, or when you have been on top in the current game and your opponent is starting play better and is hauling in your lead. Calling a time-out at this stage may be enough to break your opponent's concentration or flow, and allow you to sneak the last couple of points for the win.

    • To regain your own rhythm.
      Similar to the above reason, but with the difference that your opponent isn't playing better, you are playing worse. A time-out may give you a chance to regroup and get things back on track.

    • To have a rest.
      This is fairly simple in theory, but not always easy to judge. The break for a time-out is only 1 minute long, so you have to weigh up the potential benefit of a brief rest versus the fact that you are losing the chance to use the time-out later, and the fact that you are also giving your opponent a breather as well.

    • To have a think.
      Taking a time-out at a crucial stage can allow you to check whether you have changed tactics when you shouldn't have, or to come up with new tactics if you have realized your current plans aren't working. It also gives you a chance to think a bit about what tactics your opponent has been using and what you might be able to do to counter his strategies.

    • To give your opponent time to think.
      This use of a time-out is only for when you have an opponent who is prone to choking or nervousness. Giving your opponent a full minute to think about the current situation may just be enough to bring on an attack of nerves. Use this with care, because if you are wrong about your opponent, it can easily backfire on you - especially if you are a bit subject to nerves yourself!

    • To relax yourself.
      If you are near the finish line in a match but finding yourself choking or tightening up, a time-out can give you a much needed opportunity to relax your muscles, have a calming chat with an adviser or coach, or just take a minute to deep breathe and get the shakes out of your system. It can also be useful if something has happened on or off-court to upset or distract you - such as a unexpected service fault call from the umpire, or if you have gotten wound up by your opponent hitting several nets or edges at a crucial time.

    • To psyche yourself up.
      If the match is drifting away from you and you can't seem to get fired up about it, a minute's break may give you the chance to rev up and energize your thoughts and actions, and allow you to come out firing on all cylinders again.


    So as you can see, there is much more to the humble time-out than just stopping for a bit of advice from your coach when things get close. By understanding the different ways a time-out can work in your favor, you can not only make better use of your own time-outs, but you can also prevent your opponent's time-outs from having as much effect on you.
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