Have you ever wondered how football coaches communicate with their quarterbacks while they are on the field? A lot of times you never see the players running over to the sidelines to talk to the coaches about what plays they should run, or what formations they should line up in, so how do the players know what the coaches want them to do?
The technology involved in football, and sports in general, has come a long way over the years, and some of these improvements have created an easier way for coaches to communicate with their players. But as we know with most technology, as cool or innovative as it may be, it doesn’t always work 100% of the time.
Let’s take a look at some of the different ways that sideline coaches can talk and communicate with their players while they are on the field.
“Old School” or Traditional Method of Play Calling
If you’re not at the college level or the professional level, then there’s a good chance your coaches are limited to using the more traditional methods of play calling during a football game. There may be some high school programs that have updated technology at this point, but in most cases when kids are playing football they are using a combination of play calling methods that were used before the mid-90’s when radio headsets became more normal.
Going into a game, most of the time players and coaches have developed a strategy which is devised by scouting the other team. This gives the team an idea of what sort of plays they are going to run during the game based on weaknesses they may have discovered in their opponents. Knowing the overall strategy will give the players and coaches an advantage in that if a play isn’t properly relayed to the offense, they can still call a play that would, hopefully, work to their advantage.
When it comes to leagues that don’t utilize in-helmet radio communication, plays are typically relayed to the quarterback using hand signals, other players, or even the quarterback himself physically running to the sideline to talk with the coach.
Hand signals can be used to correlate to a “cheat sheet” that the quarterback sometimes holds on his wrist or can be a system built on memorization of the playbook. The sideline coach would then use these hand signals to tell the quarterback which play to run at that time.
If hand signals aren’t working, or a substitution is being made, the sideline coach can also tell the upcoming play to the player entering the game, who will then relay the information to the quarterback when he reaches the huddle.
In the worst-case scenario, the quarterback himself can also run over to the sidelines and get the play from the coach, but this can eat valuable time off of the clock and is not the best in high pressure situations.
Up until the mid-90’s, these are the typical methods that coaches used in order to communicate with the quarterbacks and even their defenses when calling plays.
In-Helmet Radio Communication
In the mid/early-90’s the introduction of in-helmet communication was introduced as a way for sideline coaches to be able to communicate with players without having to use hand signals or physical play calling.
Of course, there are some rules that come along with this sort of communication as there could be some advantages to this that would change the course of how the game is played.
For example, only one player from the defense and one player from the offense are allowed to have in-helmet speakers that allow the sideline coaches to communicate with them.
These radios are also only one-way, meaning that the sideline coaches can talk to the players, but there is no microphone in the football helmet
so the players cannot communicate back to the coaches. If they want to talk with the coach they will need to physically run over to the sideline.
In addition, to keep the game fair, only sideline coaches are allowed to communicate with players. This means that coaches like the offensive and defensive coordinators that may spend most of their time up in the coach’s booth high above the stadium, cannot communicate directly with the players. They must relay their suggestions to a sideline coach and then that coach can communicate with the player.
Sideline coaches can only communicate with their players until there is 15 seconds left on the play clock. Once the play clock hits 15 seconds all communication is turned off and the coaches can no longer talk to their players.
There is also a rule in place that if the communication system for one team goes out, or isn’t working properly, then the other team must also stop using their in-helmet communication as well. This is, again, to keep the playing field as level as possible and not give one team an advantage over the other.
In most cases teams will have a backup plan or revert to the traditional way of play calling, if their communications do go down.
Being able to communicate with your players while they are on the football field is extremely advantageous as it gives your players more time to get set and run their plays faster. This can be crucial when nearing the end of a game when every second counts.
Technology continues to change the way the game of football is played and we’re excited to see what sort of technological advances make their way into the game in the future.