In Preparing for Football Games,
Nothing is Left to Chance

Rick Seaman and Nick Forsberg
Faculty of Education,
University of Regina

The incentive to write 'In Preparing for Football Games, Nothing is Left to Chance' came from an experience I had teaching mathematics to middle years students. It was fall and I also was in the middle of coaching high school football. As a defensive coach, I was looking at the data that I had summarized from the videotapes of my next opponent's offensive plays. It dawned on me that what I was doing would be a practical application of the middle years mathematics data management strand.

So in class, I indicated to my students the different ways I had represented the data so I could get a better understanding of my opponent's offensive tendencies. Then, I went on to show them how I had applied pattern recognition, inductive reasoning and probability to predict what the opponent might do in certain situations. The class was fascinated with the conjectures I had made and could see how videotapes from their football team's other opponents could also be used for further exploration and subsequent conjectures.

Since then I have updated the representations that I use and placed them here in the context of preparing for a championship game. Enjoy the actual preparation as you see how you might apply this example to the data management strand. As an educator you will be able to identify with the multiple representations that are used by coaches (teachers) to help players (students) better understand their opponents' tendencies (concepts). This open-ended activity provides students the opportunity to explore, make conjectures and then verify them when their team plays the opponent they have analyzed. Although, I have used football as an example this activity could also be applied to other sports. Let your imagination be your guide.

Dr. Rick Seaman

In Preparing for Football Games, Nothing is Left to Chance

This article deals with a football team’s weekly defensive preparation for a game on Saturday. The week that will be used as a template is one that led up to the Canadian Junior National Championship in 1998. Junior football players are high school graduates who are at most 22 years of age that my or may not attend university. The game is played on a 65 X 110-yard field with 10-yard deep end zones. The offensive and defensive teams each have 12 players on the field at one time, and the offensive team has only three attempts to gain ten yards in order to make a first down. As the defensive team’s game preparation is discussed, the reader will recognize the different forms of representation used for constructing understanding and for communicating information and understanding between players and/or coaches (Greeno & Hall, 1997). It is helpful for the reader to imagine representation on a concrete-abstract continuum adapted from Hyde and Hyde (1991):

Physical Objects
Bodily Actions & Movements
Spoken Language
Pictures, Diagrams, Charts
Written Language

The defensive game preparation for the week is divided into two parts: Pre-Practice and Practice. The representations, although not complete, illustrate how coaches use them to prepare the team defensively for their game on Saturday.

The Week


After each game, the defensive coaches will look at a video, filmed from both the sideline and end zone, that pictorially represents their game. This video helps the coaches assess how well the team has played and anticipate what their next opponent might believe is a defensive weakness. Subsequently, a defensive meeting is called and the game video is projected onto a big screen. The Defensive Coordinator’s concerns are then discussed with the defensive team. Following the meeting, some players will take home their own copy of the game video to further assess their play.

The next task for the defensive coaches is to look at the game video of the next opponent. In preparation for the National Final, the coaches had two game films for this purpose.

While looking at the game video, information from the game is simultaneously put into the computer by the Defensive Coordinator. One possible way of sorting this information is summarized on the chart entitled: Offensive Tendency Breakdown Sheet (Figure 1).


Down Distance


Field Position

Run Gap








Their 35



Strong Side

Trips Left, 1

38 Pitch

23 yards



Our 52



Strong Side

Balance, 1

37 Lead Play Ac.




Our 52


Deep Seam


Ace Right

Back Up Seam


Figure 1
Offensive Tendency Breakdown Sheet

The chart above is but one possible sort for the defensive coaches to get some idea of what the opponent is attempting to do on certain downs and distances, position on the field, and formations. One’s imagination is the only constraint for what information might be analyzed. The Defensive Coordinator then summarizes the information that he believes is important to prepare for the game on Saturday on a Scout Sheet. A partial example of the Scout Sheet is illustrated in figure 2.

This information is Xeroxed and passed out to all the defensive coaches and players and then discussed when they meet to watch the film of their upcoming opponent. Pass/run tendencies and the number of times they run certain plays versus the opponent’s formations are discussed. Some players at this time will also obtain a copy of the video and scout the player that they will play against.

As a secondary coach, one will look at the video and represent where the ball was thrown from its position on the field on a diagram. The coach is attempting to gain a greater understanding as to what the opponent’s passing tendencies are regarding their position on the field (see Figure 3)

Scout Sheet # ___1__ Opponent: Bulldogs Date: Nov. 14/98

Information: First film — Lions vs. Bulldogs, Oct. 31/98

Number of Offensive Running Plays - 37 Passing Plays 21

  1. Bulldogs are a run oriented team. They will try to get #8 to the outside. He tries to run the sideline and will cut it up if he sees a seam. We must keep our pursuit lanes and keep a green jersey in front of him he will then run to the sideline.
  2. We cannot put our focus on #8 as the fullback #32 is a good runner also. They counter him or dive him off the QB option.
  3. The option is a play to set up the tailback and the fullback. It is to our advantage if the QB runs.
  4. We must play tough TEAM defense with ATTITUDE and we will have a great chance.

Basic Formations

Running Plays

Figure 2
Scout Sheet


From this, the coach can ascertain that the Bulldogs have a tendency to throw to the strong or wide side of the field. Also, when they do go the other way, the ball was thrown to the closest receiver to the quarterback out of the Ace Right formation (see Figure 4).

Figure 4
Back Up Seam Pass from the Ace Right Formation

Also the secondary coach can represent the opponent’s pass plays with a diagram to check where the wide receivers line up widthwise (split) versus the pass play being run. For example, with a narrow split are the wide receivers running outside routes? With a wide split are they running inside routes? In preparation for this particular game, the secondary coach found a tendency from these diagrams that indicated that with a certain split one could expect an outside route. The first time the Bulldogs gave the secondary this read the player adjusted and the Bulldogs were unsuccessful. However, when another player was playing the same position later on in the game, he did not notice, and the Bulldogs had a long pass completion!



At practice, the Bulldog’s pass plays are represented on diagrams and shown to the scout team who then represent the opposition’s passing offense by acting out the plays against the defense. At any time the coaches can stop or repeat a play to help the defensive backs and/or linebackers understand what the opponent is trying to do and communicate how the team is going to defend a certain route. Tendencies from the Scout Sheet and the secondary coach’s diagrams are reviewed with the defensive backs at this time. After practice, these players are asked to use the Scout Sheet running and passing plays to mentally review their defensive assignments and reactions

From the computer analysis the Defensive Coordinator represents running and passing plays that are of concern to him and on what down and distance the defensive team might expect them on diagrams. The Defensive Coordinator also makes up his preliminary Defensive Ready Sheet of defenses he will use in certain situations in the game on Saturday (see Figure 5).



DEFENSIVE READY SHEET vs. Bulldogs Nov. 14/98

Single Blitzes




2/4 —6




Inside Our 20





Load Green

Alberta Red

Alberta Silver

Load Purple

Monster Silver

Sting Purple



Base Bleu

Under Gold

Under Silver

Base Brown

Jumbo Red

Lightning Purple

Crash Brown


Figure 5
Defensive Ready Sheet


Mac, Ox, Flip, Load, Alberta, Monster, Sting, Twist, Loop, Base, Under, Jumbo, Lightning and Crash tell the seven people closest to the ball (linemen and linebackers) where to line up and how to play their position. The colors blue, brown, gold, green, purple, and red tell linebackers and defensive backs what their pass/run responsibilities are for that particular play.

The Defensive Ready sheet is used next to make a Script to be put to use daily at practice during different defensive periods (see Figure 6).



SCRIPT vs. Bulldogs Date: Nov. 12/98





Play No.


Trips left I

38 Pitch

Flip, Red



Ace Right

Back Up Seam Pass

Load, Silver



Balance I

37 Lead Play Action

Load, Green/Slam


Figure 6


The combination of representations, Scripts, and using diagrams of plays maximizes the use of practice time. A scout team can use the play diagrams to act them out against the linebackers and defensive linemen during the scripted inside run period, against the linebackers and defensive halfbacks in the scripted pass skeleton, and also the defense during the scripted team defense period. The Script facilitates the players’ and coaches’ communication and understanding of their opposition.



Each week, the defense has at most four practices of one hour and 45 minutes in duration to get ready for their next opponent. Multiple representations from concrete-abstract like acting out opponent’s plays, meetings, videos, diagrams, charts, symbols and written language are all used to facilitate the coaches’ and players’ communication and understanding. Thus, when it comes to representation and preparing for football games, nothing is left to chance.


Greeno, J. G., & Hall, R. P. (1997). Practicing representation: Learning with and about representational forms. Phi Delta Kappan 78(5), 361-367.

Hyde, A.A., & Hyde, P. R. (1991). Teaching mathematical thinking and problem solving. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.


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