Play calling is not only one of the most difficult tasks in coaching, but also what coaches are most often criticized for. While it may seem easy to those watching at home, the multiple stresses present when calling a game in the heat of the moment make it easy for a coach to make decisions that he will question in hindsight.
The best way to increase the likelihood of calling a good game is – obviously – to have a plan.
The most publicized methods for play calling come from the college and pro ranks. Television cameras usually show a head coach or offensive coordinator with a large, laminated printout, with hundreds of plays on front and back, highlighted and sorted for every situation that the coach can foresee. There is often a script, which is a set list of plays to start the game. And then there are lists of plays for first and 10, second and 10, third and ten, second and medium, second and short, third and medium, third and short, third and long, goal line, two minute, trick plays, etc etc etc.
This is a sound approach. It allows a coach to quickly access plays that he has pre-selected for certain situations. By pre-selecting the plays, he has already thought through what he thinks will work. He will not be frazzled when he faces a 4th and 15 with the game on the line – he has selected the best plays for that situation when he had a clear head, before the game.
But there are other methods that can be just as – if not more – successful. One such method is “if/then playcalling.” In short, if/then playcalling says: “if the defense does this, then we will do this.” This is a great way for a coach to organize his thoughts, as it gives him a set response to whatever adjustments the defense makes.
This is most effective when running a true “system” offense. One of the best articles on the subject details flexbone master Paul Johnson’s if/then methodology: http://footballislifeblog.blogspot.dk/2011/07/paul-johnsons-if-then-methodology-to.html
When running a “system” such as the flexbone, it is often hard to prepare to face a particular defense, because opponents will often create a special defense specifically to face that system, unrelated to their base defense. Determining your if/then methodology makes sure that you will have an answer for whatever the defense throws at you.
This is also beneficial in playbook creation. If, for example, you are a triple option team, but you have no response for heavy blitzing and stunting in the middle of your line that disrupts your timing and mesh points, the defense will seize on that weakness. By creating an if/then methodology for yourself, you force yourself to think like a defensive coach to come up with every possible scheme to stop your offense. Then you must make sure that you have a response for all scenarios. Doing so – much like studying for an exam by taking practice tests – creates an active learning environment, which will lead to greater understanding and mastery of one’s own offensive system.
The if/then methodology and similar methods of planning work in a variety of offensive systems. The if/then methodology is closely related to the “Wing T order of football,” (The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football
) in which a Wing T master knows exactly how to place various defenders in conflict, and how to take advantage of whatever actions the defense takes. Likewise, Mike Leach of Air Raid fame is known for keeping his plays on a small sheet of paper, and using a pen to mark what plays work and what plays don’t work. His goal is to take what the defense gives him – and make note of it – which is another variation of an if/then methodology.
System football – and offensive football in general – is all about taking advantage of the structural weaknesses in a defense. Incorporating an if/then methodology into your play calling will force you to consider how you believe you can best dissect a defense, which is the core of any “system” offense. Even if you find that if/then play calling is not for you during the game, thinking in terms of how to respond (and making sure you have a response) to any defense will help any offense.