The idea that pro football players are simple dumb jocks is a common misconception. However, there’s nothing dumb about what NFL players do. Skill and physical talent only go so far; these athletes also need a special level of intelligence in order to study NFL playbooks and incorporate the strategies into games.
What do NFL playbooks involve?
A team’s playbook is its Bible, the word on high from coaches. The playbook contains all of the offensive plays, defensive sets, special teams strategies, and everything else. The manual describes how the team competes, from their overall offensive philosophy to the basic defensive look, as Bleacher Report explains.
This literature isn’t small though. Even the most conservative NFL playbooks give War and Peace a run for its money. A playbook is a gigantic document detailing complex situations and all the variables. It offers an answer to just about any in-game scenario you could think of.
What it’s like to memorize a playbook
Memorizing the team’s playbook is no easy feat. The sheer number of complex variables it contains makes it a daunting task that’s more complicated than just memorization. Three mental processes must occur all at once, as David Redish, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, told Sports Illustrated.
For starters, each team’s playbook has its own language. While some common terms exist between all NFL teams, players must absorb the rhythm, syntax, and semantics of the specific franchise’s playbook before they can actually digest the contents.
Once the playbook’s language is out of the way, two separate but equally important memorization processes begin. Players must approach the material in the playbook in an academic way, seeking to understand and absorb all of the plays. This task is similar to studying for college midterms. To be successful, the athlete must encode a lot of information quickly and efficiently.
That’s only one side of the coin. Players must be able to translate playbook knowledge into real-world practices. They have to understand how plays on the page look and feel in terms of position and responsibility during in-game situations. Accomplishing both can be difficult to pull off.
Secrets top players use to learn a playbook
Given the immense difficulty involved in learning an entire playbook, smart players like Patrick Mahomes use certain strategies to learn it all.
1. Enlist a study partner
The best NFL players don’t try to learn the whole thing on their own. They enlist a teammate to help them stay accountable, practice concepts, and discuss ideas. Studying the playbook with a partner helps athletes to examine their understanding of key concepts.
2. Watch the film
Reading isn’t for everyone. Some people are visual learners, and film provides a visual example of plays in motion. Studying game tapes can be an excellent way to learn the team’s basic routines while translating written info from the playbook into action.
3. Focus on the playbook’s language
Playbooks contain a mountain of context-specific info, but successful players will tell you the game itself is more fluid and dynamic. On the field, players have to adapt to the situation rather than use an academic approach. Therefore, it’s more important to learn the language of play-calling than the nuance of individual plays.
4. Learn only the essential plays
This goes hand-in-hand with learning the language. No matter your strategy for memorization, it’s essential to learn at least the basic offensive and defensive sets, explains Stack. An NFL star is able to adapt on the field. Smart players focus on the basics, not the what-ifs.
5. Listen to your coach
Learning the playbook involves translating what’s on the page into real-world situations. That’s the coach’s most vital role, illustrating how the franchise’s style of play looks in motion.
Leaders bring experience and knowledge to the locker room. And the franchise’s playbook is simply the sum of that experience. If nothing else, a smart player works hand-in-hand with the coach to adopt the team’s play-calling strategies.
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