Is your digital playbook “collecting dust?”

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The post below was written by my coaching buddy, Keith Grabowski.  He is a D-3 college offensive coordinator and writes the best football blogs in the country at  You should also follow him on Twitter @CoachKGrabowski.

The post below is from 2 years ago.  I felt it was appropriate to post again because as coaches we sometimes mistake some things that are meaningful and useful to us as conveying the same meaning and usefulness to our players.  One of our most important teaching tools is the playbook, yet often we take for granted how that is presented to the learner.  I use the term “learner” instead of “player” because our primary function in the beginning of the installation process is to teach.  We coach and refine technique  later in the process.  We utilized a free app in iBooks Author to teach our players in 2015.  With a new staff, new system,  and plenty of freshmen and sophomore starters, teaching was critical.

My concern in teaching our systems is that players are engaged, especially in terms of their learning style.  Simply saying, “well this is what our system does” was not a good answer for me.  Static images did not have the same power as animated slides.  Film clips were good, but telestrating with our notes and voice over was better.  The focus was to teach our material in the most engaging and dynamic way to create the understanding the learner needed so he could be a player on the field.  While we can monitor how long a player is on a system watching film, we can not expect that monitoring gives us a measure of understanding.  When we do not put the information in a format that is useful and engaging, our play books are at the bottom of the locker collecting dust.

Why add this work when you already have an expensive editing system?

Adding another piece to your technology may not make sense on the surface, but at the end of the day, it is truly about the players.  Just as a diagram may carry a lot more in meaning to a coach, so can hundreds of video clips stored in your editing system.  Players need concise communication.  They watch film differently that coaches do.  They need to get the exact coaching points with the best examples.  Putting the most critical information together in one place and utilizing more dynamic presentation tools does make a difference in your players’ learning.

I put together a step by step how-to manual to utilize iBooks Author which is very useful idea for a 1-to-1 Mac or iPad school.  We also utilized this process for weekly game plan presentation and review tools/exercises.  It shares ideas for presenting your systems dynamically as well as instruction on how to put together a powerful playbook. Get it here

However, I can say that a big issue in utilizing iBooks author was time.  It was not the most efficient method.  If only a product existed that addressed the needs of the player as well as the coach.  The second issue was interactivity (between player and coach) and analytics for the coach.  Luckily, I have found that product.  Just Play Solutions bridges the gap between the editing system and player learning.  Check them out here.

There are too many features to share in one post, but here’s the one’s I like the most:

Interactive Learning

Just Play gives players a more active learning platform on the devices they use every day. You can control each player’s access to your playbook, gameplans, scouting reports, video quizzes and more. Players can even ask questions as they study helping them be more prepared the next time you step onto the field.

Video Quizzes

Just Play has built an extension of the film room right into our player app, allowing coaches to create video assignments for their team. Simply upload or choose clips from your system, add questions to stop-points, and send assignments to players or position groups. The analytics provided let you know exactly what you need to cover with your players to ensure they are prepared.

Player Analytics

Just Play believes that accountability is a big part of a team’s success. Our system allows coaches to track player usage showing every page visited, the time spent on each page, and player quiz performance. Our Advanced Analytics provides customizable metrics so you can compare usage among players and position groups to help you understand exactly how your team is using your system. No other system does this.  While others show you time spent, you can really drill down into that time and see exactly where it was spent.  Why did Johnny run the wrong route on a play?  Well, you can easily identify that he didn’t even look at it.  This is the ultimate tool for player accountability in their learning!


No software is needed for Just Play. All you need is an internet connection and your system can be accessed from any platform or device. Players can study on their personal computer or on any iOS/Android tablet or smartphone.

The last time I was in SanAntonio I saw a similar system for about $30,000 a year.  I loved what it could do, but it was something so far out of reach for 99% of the football world.  Just play provides what most high school programs need for $799/yr and what most small colleges need for $1,200/yr.

Supplemental Materials

As coaches we have Word documents, Powerpoint, images and more that we utilize to teach the play.  We find work arounds to try to get all of that in one place for our players.  Just Play allows you to put everything you need into the system with its “Supporting Files” feature.  Now your PowerPoint explaining key coaching points can be uploaded right to a specific play.

Why I am I so excited about this?

While the technology has improved over the years, I have found still had to find many work arounds to give my players the best tools for their own learning.  Time saved and the feedback and interaction I can get as a coach is exactly what Just Play provides.  We only have so many hours in the day and we don’t need to be a slave to putting together materials to ensure learning.  Just Play gives me all the tools I need and allows me to be efficient from creating my playbook all the way through presenting weekly scouting reports and game plans.

If you are going to be at the AFCA stop by and see exactly what I am talking about at their booth #3028.  I will be there.

The Playbook of the Future (originally posted May 11, 2013)

I stopped using paper playbooks after my second year as a head coach in 2002.  I spent a whole summer putting our playbook together, and used a nice chunk of our budget printing it and putting it in binders.  Many of them were returned in mint condition.  In fact some players admitted to not using them because they really didn’t learn that way.  The truth is a paper playbook only tailors to one type of learning style.

After the season I attended a Glazier Clinic in Cincinnati and watched Andrew Coverdale clinic for five hours.  In his clinic he used PowerPoint and it was evident that the slides he was using were coming directly from his playbook.  He did a great job of bringing each point up on the screen one at a time and the lines were animated and moved across the screen.   His playbook was hyper linked with menus and directories so that a player or coach could navigate to exactly where he wanted to go in the playbook.  Sounds were used to emphasize coaching points, and Coverdale’s sounds went beyond the standard sound pre-loaded in PowerPoint and included sound bytes from popular movies and cartoon characters.  He did a great job using animation, sound and text to emphasize coaching points.  I was fortunate enough to get a copy of some of these clinic PowerPoints and they inspired me to create my own PowerPoint playbook.

The reaction from the players the first year we used it (2005 on a full scale basis) was, “Coach this is like a video game.”  The players were much more engaged with the playbook and the coaches had a great tool for running their meetings. Our playbook was nearly 800 slides for offense and a year later we did the same with defense creating another 300 slides.  The best part though was the distribution.  At the time CDs were the technology most used, and I could get a customized printed label, the CD and a case for around $1 per player.  This was much less than printing a playbook for the players.  We included a PowerPoint Viewer program on the disc so those without PowerPoint on their computers could view it.

What we didn’t do was create digital paper.  Our playbooks included plenty of animation and were even set up for our players in a way that they could quiz themselves as they were learning.  The hyperlinks allowed players to easily get to the information they wanted. We further cut down on our printing costs by including our player handbook and other athletic department forms which we were constantly trying to run down on the disc.  The only thing I wished we could incorporate was video.  While video could be embedded in a PowerPoint, the process at the time was not easy, and the quality of the video was not great.

The link below will download an overview of our playbook that I used in an interview. It is a mix of different playbooks from different schools I coached at.  You will see slides from offense, defense, and position manuals. The hyperlinks are disabled since this is only a selection of slides and not an entire playbook.  Hopefully it gives you some ideas of how you can use PowerPoint to teach your players.

Playbook Overview

Jumping forward to 2010 at Baldwin-Wallace College, I began creating screen casts of different sections of the PowerPoint.  These 5-10 minute short videos were then uploaded to a private Facebook page and shared with our players.  They could view the videos throughout the summer and keep our offense fresh in their minds.  Facebook was a great way to reach our players at that time, and we still use it to communicate with them when they are off campus.  Incoming freshmen who we believed would make a contribution to the varsity squad in the first year were included in this private Facebook group.  At the end of each video I included a check for understanding that the players could use as a quiz.

Later that summer, we began using Hudl.  I really like what you can do with Hudl in creating video walk throughs like my screen casts mentioned above.  Hudl also allows you to import your PowerPoint slides very easily.  The only thing I don’t like is that it is imported as an jpeg image, and as of now the animation and sound effects are lost.  Again, it is important to me to try to hit as many learning styles as possible.

I see many apps and programs popping up in which the creators claim to be creating the playbook of the future.  Unfortunately some of them go back to being exactly like a paper playbook but in a digital format.  Multiple learning styles won’t be addressed.  However, iPad is definitely a device you want to think about using.  Projections are that tablet devices will surpass computer sales in late 2013 to early 2014.

The most exciting technological development for me has been iBooks Author.  This program addresses all of the little problems I have previously mentioned in this post.  It perfectly blends text, Keynote (Apple’s version of PowerPoint is Keynote, and is arguably better in some ways) without losing animations, sounds and transitions.  Even hyperlinks that are within the Keynote are active and working.  Video, still shot illustrations, and screen casts (video walk throughs) are easily incorporated.  The program also allows you to create quizzes throughout the iBook.  This is a great way for your players to check their understanding and go back and review what they need.

The result is a product that gives your players the absolute best format for learning your systems.  Like anything, there is a cost in the equipment (must be created on a Mac and delivered on the iPad), and a learning curve with incorporating this technology.  However, if the technology is available to you in your school, you are foolish if you are not finding a way to incorporate it into your coaching.  More and more schools are going to one-to-one iPad based learning for your students.  If you are in one of these schools take advantage of this now.  Distributing an iBook Authors playbook you create can be done without putting it out for the public to see on the iBookstore.

101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays shows off the iBooks Author capability.  The iBook is loaded with video, Keynote presentations, Diagrams, and Still shot illustrations.  It contains 229 pieces of dynamic content. You will be impressed with what can be done with this technology, and the content presented will give you some great ideas for your offense, whether you run the Pistol or not.

Keith Grabowski’s iBook is available for the iPad on the iBookstore at the link below.

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About Me

Coach Stewart has coached football for 27 years, winning championships with 6th graders, 8th graders, high school freshman, and high school varsity. He coached 9 years at the youth and freshman level, always serving as head coach. After completing his college at age of 28 he has coached 21 years at the varsity level, 13 as the varsity head coach.

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