I was watching Remember the Titans over the weekend. I’m not gonna lie, it’s one of my favourite all time football-films.
Now for those who’ve not seen the film it’s based on a true story; about Coach Herman Boone‘s time at T.C Williams High school in Washington DC in 1971 when he first introduced a racially diverse football team within the school. It’s also got a bunch of star actors in the cast as well, check it out!
I mean, some girls love Ryan Gosling, but don’t know that he was an absolute liability at Cornerback!
One phrase in the film really stood out for me, and it’s something that I believe is a core part of my coaching philosophy.
“I run 6 plays, split veer. like novocaine. Just give it time, it always works.”
The idea is that keeping it simple; believing in your system and creating maximum opportunities for the offense to get quality repetitions of the base plays, means they don’t have to trick defenses to win. They just do what they’re supposed to do, the correct way, every time; they Execute.
For those that don’t know- “Veer” is a true triple-option play which forces a defense to be able to cope with 3 potential runners on any given snap. It also allows a coach to draw defenders in on the run, and use play-action to disguise passing patterns.
How many plays do you run? 10? 20..?
In the book Outliers; author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in your field.
Obviously in football, we’re not going to have ten thousand hours, so let’s count it as quality repetitions at training.
If you’ve got 20 plays in your playbook, that means you’re going to have to carry out 10,000 reps of the same play, 20 times- that’s 200,000 reps!
“But coach, it’s actually 10 plays flipped”
I love that phrase; “10 plays, flipped“. I personally think it’s an excuse for over-complicating things.
In the UK, particularly in university football, we have a high turn-over of students each year- to graduation and internships. We also have a very short period of time to install plays. This means we have to create a “Base” play for everything to build upon.
The coach who has 20 plays, and wants to master all 20 before the season starts, will normally have 1-2 on-field training sessions per week. In these sessions he’ll have maybe 30 minutes in each; roughly an hour a week- for install.
From a timing point of view, let’s use a game clock as a judge- in IFAF rules, which we use in the UK it’s 25 seconds to set up the huddle, call the play and run it.
If you’re going to run one play 10,000 times that’s 250,000 seconds, or 69.444 hours.
If you’re efficient, and everyone knows what they’re doing, you could probably do it in 10 seconds without a defense there, but that’s still 27.777 hours!
If you’re trying to get 20 plays repped to perfection, you’re not going to have a good time trying to fit that into an hour a week right?
Side note: I worked it out, it’s 555.554 hours, or 23.15 days!
TL;DR- If you’ve got 20 plays, it’ll take you a very long time to get the reps needed to perfect your offense- over 3 weeks of constant reps to be exact.
Keep It Simple… Stupid!
A phrase that’s used time and time again; it’s actually a phrase that I live by, both in and outside of football.
The idea is that if you can simplify things so it’s possible to teach it in very basic, easy terms, your players will spend less time thinking, and more time doing. The more time they spend doing the things they’ve learned, the better they understand it.
Once they understand it; they play faster, fast players win football games.
Now, I’ve talked about the coach with 20 plays, but not so much about the coach with 6.
I believe that within a system, 6 plays, especially at the start of a season is a very manageable number. Using Coach Boone’s example of “Split Veer”, here’s list 6 plays that might be used:
- Veer Right/Left
- Lead Right/Left
- Counter Right/Left
- Short Pass- e.g. Slants
- Medium Pass e.g. Sail
- Deep Pass e.g. Go’s
Now I’m not a football “expert” by any means, but I can tell you this, if you’re going to execute Veer, Leads, Counters, and attack a secondary at different levels effectively. You’re going to cause issues for defensive coaches across the country.
Execute to Dominate
Execution, as an offense is key to success; a successful offensive play in my books is when everyone carries out their assignment correctly.
It might be that they get beat by the guy in front of them on the snap, or a defender makes a play, or it’s the wrong play call! (more often than not)
I tell my guys if they align correctly, and carry out the assignment they are given, they’ve succeeded. There’s always room to get bigger, stronger or faster, but sometimes the defense makes a play.
The most powerful offenses are the ones who get the basics right, nearly every time
I believe that limiting the number of plays you run, allows you to execute each of them more effectively, as the number of high quality reps are increased in practice.
However, the limitations you place on the scale of your playbook should not stop you from attacking the opposition in different ways, so develop a scheme with plays that complement each other. It’s quality not quantity
I heard a story from a coach; Neil O’Hare- Head Coach at the Colchester Gladiators, who back in his playing days, was against a team where the starting running back for the opposition was so confident in his offense’s ability that he was telling the defense where the ball was going and they’d gain over 10 yards per play; they couldn’t be stopped.
Imagine if your team was able to do that!
Yours in Football