NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATIONErick Streelman
Hey Guys, Thanks again for reading and subscribing. Today we are going to look at one of the most often addressed topics in your email questions…No Huddle Communication. I have to warn you, this one is a little long 🙂
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If you have read any of my posts or looked my site for even a few minutes, you know that I shun the huddle. Now, I know it’s trendy, and it’s cool, and it’s fun, and everyone on TV does it, and fans love it, and kids love it, and it attracts kids to your school, and it is good for recruiting your own hallways, and it tires out the defense, and it allows you to have the chalk last, and a million other positives. These are perks to be sure, but all no huddle coaches know that these all pale in comparison to the perks of increased practice efficiency. If you want to create muscle memory, exponentially increase playing experience, condition your team during practice, get more reps than your opponent, and get your kids home in time to do their homework, you have to get rid of your huddle. Even if you want to huddle on Friday night because you have a great defense and want to slow the game down, the benefits of going no huddle in practice are too great to ignore. If you are still huddling in practice, you are wasting your time.
So, if we can operate with that premise, then we must address the big question. How do you do it? How do you communicate everything to everyone without huddling? This is one of the most common questions I get asked. Coaches love the offense and they love the idea of going no huddle, but they don’t know where to start. So, today, we are going to look at a variety of ways to go about it and some of the pros and cons of each no huddle communication method.
Disclaimer: When I first started coaching we ran a west coast scheme with a ton of motions and formations and shits and tags and alert calls. A typical call was “Hango Right West Zack 60 Silver Y Post Alert 32 Zone” First of all, teaching all of this to high school kids was an adventure in and of itself. But, trying to convert to a no huddle system was virtually impossible. I learned something very quickly: If you want to go no huddle, keep it simple. That is why our playbook has so few words and so few tags. Simple is faster. Simple is better. The key to effective no huddle communication is simple terminology
USING THE WRISTBAND FOR NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATION
Before we talk about how to implement the wristband, let’s establish the fact that there are lot of ways to go about it and there are a lot of perceived reasons for using a wristband. But, most of these reasons are misunderstood by coaches. The wristband should not be used as a communication tool. It should be used as a coaching tool.
Here is what I mean. If you set up a wristband with 100 plays, each with a color and a number, and create a signaling system to relay that color and number to your players, it is a waste of time unless when your players look at their band, they see something that helps them. Say you want “Red 5” on your band to be “Ace Mesh.” If you signal “Red 5” to your guys and they look at their band, find “Red 5” and see “Ace Mesh,” What have you accomplished? Maybe you kept the defense from picking your signs but this is rarely a problem especially if you use multiple signalers. All you have done is slow yourself down and add an extra step to the process. You should have just signaled “Ace Mesh.”
So, how can you use a wristband effectively? Use it as a coach on the field.
If you signal “Red 5” and your H receiver’s band says “5 yard mesh route” and your Z receiver’s band says “10 yard corner route” and your RB’s band says “Check pro, swing right,” now you have actually accomplished something. You have cured one of the biggest headaches for high school coaches…getting players to remember their plays. They don’t have to remember anything other than the signal. The QB’s band would say the entire play, but everyone else only sees what they need to see.
I’ve used the wristband. I’ve loved it and I’ve hated it. It works really well but there are also some negatives inherent in this style.
1) Instant Install. You only have to teach the whole offense to your QB’s. Everyone else can just read their band and do what it says. With minimal prep and meeting time, you can start running plays.
2) Very Little Memorization. Kids don’t have to learn a playbook. They just need to know what a post route is or what drop back protection means. In fact, when I used the wristband, I didn’t even hand out a playbook. I remember talking to the father of a new Freshman. He came up to me after weights and said, “My son really wants to start learning the offense, can he get the playbook?” I handed him one sheet of paper that contained our formations and our route tree. He looked at me like I was crazy.
3) Kids don’t forget on Friday night. We’ve all been there. Johnny runs a post instead of a corner and the QB throws a pick. The wristband fixes this problem (although, if your print is too small, sometimes Johnny will read the wrong number or color and run the wrong route anyway. Make your bands easy to read).
4) It’s easy for kids to change positions. Kids don’t need to memorize everyone’s job. Just give them a different band and let them go to work. This is also a real positive if you have a stud receiver and you want to move him around without making everyone learn all 4 positions. It’s also why you don’t need a million formations. I tell this story in the intro to my playbook but when I was in college we literally had 7 ways to line up in a 2×2 set because sometimes we wanted the Z in the slot and sometimes we wanted the Y matched up on the corner. The bands solve this problem. You don’t need a ton of formations, just give your Y a Z wristband and let him line up at Z.
5) Bands let you focus on the “how” instead of the “what.” Instead of teaching kids what to do on a certain play, you can spend your time teaching technique and skill. The band tells them to run a 3 yard slant, you can just focus on making them the best slant runner in the nation.
6) Easy scripting. To me, this is the best thing about bands. You can give your QB a script on his band. He can run that script or a variation of that script and you can play really fast with very little thinking. When this works well, it is the easiest way to go a super fast speeds. Here’s an example of a 6 play script…maybe we call it “Tiger”
Ace Mesh – “Red 5” Ace Black Lt – “Blue 6” Ace Dart RT – “Yellow 4” Trips Lt Red – “Yellow 5” Ace Option Lt – “Green 2” Trips Rt Black – “Blue 7”
So, at any time in the game, I can say “Tiger” and the QB just initiates that script. He just looks at me before the play and I give him a “Keep Going” or a “Skip To the Next Play” sign. If you build really good scripts and start to get creative, sometimes you don’t even have to call plays. It’s a really fun way to coach. You can run scripts backwards or run every other play on the script. Or, just take your favorite 20 plays and create 4 different scripts out of them in different orders with different formations. All you have to do as a play caller is look at the next play and decide if you like it or not. We often hear about coaches scripting their first fifteen plays. This is the same concept but just takes it to the next level by employing some no huddle concepts.
1) It’s a ton of prep to get your bands ready. This is my number one reason for going away from bands. Creating a specific band for every single position group is very time consuming. Even if you have a spreadsheet that populates cells from a master sheet, it still takes forever to write everything out, make sure it fits, format it, proof read it, and print it. Then, invariably, there is a typo discovered and you have to print an entirely new set for one or two incorrect cells.
2) Changing a band takes a lot of time. You can get the whole playbook, or at least most of the playbook on the band, but if you ever want to add a tag or a motion or anything else, you have to print a new set of bands. There are some ways around this. You can have signals for motions or shifts or special tags that go with your signal for the play. So, maybe you signal “Red 5, Z post” But, this can get cumbersome pretty quickly.
For example, maybe on the backside of all trips running plays you want to be able to tag a screen. So, on the backside of Trips Right Zone Left, you are going to tag, Y bubble, H bubble, and Z Quick. All of a sudden, you have multiplied the amount of running plays on your band by 3, which means that your band is not going to have room for everything you need. So, you choose to only include the H bubble on your band. Then, you play a team that lines up 9 yards off your Z receiver in trips. Man, it sure would be nice to have that Z screen available. You either have to reprint the entire band, or add a signal. But, before long, half of your plays are signals combined with band calls and you have lost the main purpose of the band, which is to simplify communication and tell kids exactly what they are doing.
3) If you aren’t using scripts, bands will slow you down. It’s easy in practice because you can just yell out a color and a number. But in the game you have to find the play on your call sheet and then find the corresponding color and number. Then, you signal it in. Then, kids look down, read the play, and line up in the formation. It takes a lot longer than just getting a signal from the sideline…this is especially true if you have kids changing positions and they have to flip through a 3 sided band in order to find the band to match their position.
4) It creates tunnel vision. This is the counterpoint to the simplicity of installation. Kids always know what they are doing, but they are often unaware of how their job affects the entire play. This can create football players that don’t really have an understanding of concepts or how to attack a defense. They simply know how to do their job. So, as a coach, you won’t be able to have a receiver’s meeting and say, “Guys, this week on Mesh, we really need to keep our corner routes flat because of the way they play their safeties.” Your receivers might not even know what “Mesh” is and even if they do, they won’t be able to distinguish on their bands when they should bend the corner route flat and when they need to keep it skinny.
5) Practice planning takes way more time. This is a caveat to reason #1. Let’s say you have an hour to game plan on Sunday night. You watch film and come to the conclusion that this week you can really exploit the defense with Mesh, Sprint Outs, Levels, Smash, Red, Blue, and Verticals. In the run game you are going to focus on Dart and Speed Option. If I know that is my game plan, I can build a practice plan for the week in about 15 minutes. But, if I am using the band, I have to go to my master sheet and find the color and number that matches every single play that I want to run for the week and copy and paste it into the practice plan. I have to do this for 7 on 7, 9 on 7, and Team for the entire week. That’s a lot of work. Plus, I have to get a call sheet ready for Friday that has all of these plays readily accessible. Once it’s done, it’s great, but it takes a lot of prep to do it well.
MY VERDICT ON WRISTBANDS FOR NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATION:
This is a tough one, because there are so many benefits to using the band. But, I would say no to wristbands. I would rather spend time at the front end of the season teaching the offense instead of constructing wristbands. I would rather our players know what “Levels” is instead of only knowing how to run a dig route. I would rather spend an hour with my wife on Thursday night, instead of cutting and pasting cells into a call sheet. So, despite the many benefits, I am off the wristband train.
SIGNALS, VERBAL CALLS, AND CODE WORDS FOR NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATION
To me a signaling system combined with code words is the best way to go no huddle. I don’t think any of these is perfect on it’s own, but if you can build a combination of signals, verbal calls, and code words, you can communicate to everyone and play fast. Let’s look at how this works.
Every play in your offense should have a signal. These can be as simple or elaborate as you like and you can change them from year to year or even week to week. You can even use the big Oregon-style picture boards with photos of the opposing team’s QB or something like that. It really doesn’t matter what your signal is, as long as the kids can remember what it means. I remember one year the kids were making fun of how white our QB’s arms were, so our signal for White (all stops) was me rubbing my arms together. Another year, our Z receiver was really slow, so our signal for Z motion was me tapping my watch. You can get creative and you can have fun with it. But remember, every thing you do has to be visible from the sideline on Friday night.
Here are a few of our classic signals in our no huddle communication system:
Levels: Wave your hand below your knee
Mesh: Interlock your fingers (Like “this is church this is steeple”)
Smash: Two fists punching each other
Option: Put both hands up in the air like you are weighing your options
Verticals: Draw an imaginary up and down line with your finger
Dart: Mimic the motion for throwing a dart
Stretch: Mimic pulling two sides of a rubber band
Red: Mimic a wrist slitting motion
Blue: Go up and down with your hand, like a dolphin swimming in the sea
You get the idea…I like simple signals that trigger a picture in the kids’ minds.
Remember that simple is the key to effective no huddle communication.
If you are going to install a signaling system, there are a couple other things you need to consider. The first is that you have to be able to tag individual routes. You need this for the base plays in the offense, like Mesh Z post, but you also need it to take advantage of match ups. This is the biggest perk of using signals, it gives you complete flexibility. If they are going to cover your best receiver 1 on 1, you need a signaling system that allows you to take advantage of that match up, so you can call Trips Left, Black Left, Z Corner. You need to have signals for every individual route that you might tag…Slant, hitch, post, corner, dig, shallow, out, sail, etc. Your entire route tree needs to be accessible to you at any moment. This sounds like a lot of work and kind of overwhelming, but if you teach the signal when you are teaching the route, the name of the route and the signal become interchangeable and kids will remember both.
The second key point is that you need to have directional calls for your run game and sprint out pass plays. I’ve used, arm up for right and arm down for left. So, the signal for Dart Right would be “Dart throwing motion, then raise the right arm.” There are some other really good ones too. One that I really like, and is also very discrete, is the position of your feet. Feet together = Right, Feet apart = Left. Just be sure to make it obvious enough so the guys on the other side of the field can see the difference.
PROS AND CONS OF THE SIGNALING SYSTEM FOR NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATION:
I think the Pros are relatively obvious. All of the negatives associated with the wristbands are solved by a good signaling system. It’s quick, it’s flexible, and it gives you the power to improvise. You can add small wrinkles from week to week or even series to series. It also makes game planning and practice planning a lot quicker.
Installing the system does require a lot of work on the front end. You have to teach concepts and signals to all of your skill guys. You have to commit to practicing the signaling system so that it becomes second nature. (Here is a tip…practice it like sign language. Say the words and and signal at the same time). But, I think you will find that the time you spend on the front end is well worth it when compared to the alternatives.
The most often perceived con of the signaling system is that your opponent might pick your signs. We all have visions of spy gate…an extra camera pointed right at your sidelines the week before you play your league rival or a lone stranger sitting in your bleachers during Tuesday’s practice.
First of all, this is pretty easy to combat. Get 3 or 4 guys to signal plays and just change up who is live. If you have 3 guys giving signals and one guy holding up a picture board and they switch jobs every quarter or half, your opponent will be confused enough to at least second guess their sign-stealing tactics. I love to use injured guys and my JV QB’s as my signalers. Second, if you signal fast enough and get lined up fast enough, the opposing coaches won’t even have time to relay their own defensive calls, let alone tell them what play you are running. Third, if your counterparts are spending weekly practice and meeting time trying to decipher your signals, you win. That’s hours that they are not spending on themselves, their own game plan, and their own kids. Fourth, you can always change some of your more common signals each week. Finally, and most importantly…WHO CARES? Whether they know the play or not, they still have to stop it. I know we have all been in that situation. We know exactly what the other team is going to run and we still can’t stop it.
A couple years ago, we played another Air Raid team who’s head coach had previously employed my WR coach. We ran the same plays. We knew each other backwards and forwards. We both knew each other’s signs and we both knew exactly what the other team was going to do…it didn’t matter we both scored 40 on each other.
CODE WORDS AND VERBALS FOR NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATION
So, if we build a simple and effective signaling system, what is the purpose of verbal calls and code words? Why do we need them and how do we use them?
First, a little walk through my past experience. After 3 years of using the wristband, we transitioned to signals and we loved it, but we started to realize that only a small piece of the signal was intended for the linemen. So, they had to learn the whole system, even though all they needed to know was the running play or the protection call. If we added a new tag or a motion, they would get confused and wonder if it was for them. If we wanted to mess around with run pass option plays, they would get confused as to their responsibility. It all got pretty messy. The solution that we came to, was to have the QB relay the necessary, and only the necessary, information to the lineman via code words. We created a lineman language of sorts, so after receiving the signal, the QB will walk a few steps toward the linemen and tell them the code word that they need to know.
Now remember, a huge piece of this offense is to simplify jobs for the linemen. We really only ask them to do a few things. They have to block 3 or 4 run concepts, sprint protect, quick protect, drop back protect, and run screens. That’s it. This is really important because it let’s your code words evolve and your calls will sound much more complex to the defense than they really are. If you are going to run quick protection 25 times a game, it’s nice to have a few ways to verbalize it. Honestly, I don’t really care if the defense knows what we are doing, but calling the same thing 25 times might get a little obvious so having two or three ways to call quick protection is nice. For your plays that you are only going to run 3 or 4 times, you don’t need to worry about it.
For example, if our code word for quick protection is “Little,” we can also say variations of this word and it means the same thing. So…short, small, kindergarten, DeVito…anything that the QB and linemen come up with that means “little.”
Our code word for Sprint Right is “Rodeo.” But we can also say cowboy and bronco, which can then evolve into Romo or Manning.
Don’t get too complex at the beginning. Start with simple words and then adapt if you think your guys are ready. When they get comfortable, they will start to get creative. By the end of the year, I have no idea what the QB is saying to the linemen. Start with simple words, and give them some freedom to adapt and change as the season goes.
If you are running our version of the Air Raid, a lot of your work is already done. Once we changed all of our quick game routes to colors, it really streamlined communication. If you teach your linemen that all colors mean quick protection and all code words mean drop back protection, all your QB has to say is “Red” and everyone knows what they are doing.
I love one-word play calls, especially in practice because they let you line up and play as fast as possible. You don’t even need to signal or have the QB verbalize anything. You can just yell, “Red, Red, Red” and run the play in 2 seconds. This allows you to get more reps in during the week and also take advantage of the defense on Friday night by switching up the tempo.
The running game and screen game gets a little more complex because you need a verbal for play and the direction of the play. I’ve done this a couple ways First, you can make up code words that mean Right and Left. My favorite way to do it is to use anything regarding our school to signify we are running the play toward our sideline and no call to signify we are running the play away from our sideline. I like this method for two reasons. First, there are countless words that relate to your school. You can use your mascot, your principal’s name, or the name of the QB’s girlfriend. Anything works. Second, If you are worried about the defense stealing your verbals, then you will love this idea because it changes every quarter when you switch sides of the field. So, if your code word for inside zone is Syracuse (because they play zone defense) and your principal is named Jackson, your verbal for zone toward your sideline would by “Syracuse Jackson.” Or if your mascot is the Tiger, your verbal could also be “Syracuse Tiger.” Your verbal for zone away from your sideline would just be “Syracuse.” Then, at the quarter, the directions change and the defense has to start over. Also, remember, this is not part of the QB’s cadence. He walks up and basically whispers it to the linemen, while the defense is still getting lined up. They are going to have a tough time deciphering the verbal calls in your no huddle communication system.
I like this second method better…because, once again, I love one-word plays calls. Try to find code words that have the directional call built into the word, so one word tell them the play and the direction. Here are some examples.
Zone Right: Zorro Zone Left: Zulu
Stretch Right: Sara Stretch Left: Sally
Dart Right: Drake Dart Left: Daley
Trap Right: Trey Trap Left: Taylor
Option Right: Oscar Option Left: Ollie
Counter Right: Carey Counter Left: Cleveland
Then, like your other verbals, the language can evolve throughout the season. Zorro can become “mask” or “Banderas.” Zulu can become “Warrior.” Sally can become Sally’s best friend “Jackie.” Again, start with simple words and let it build from there.
One side note…I almost always yell a code word right after a big play. It’s the best time to catch the defense off guard. So, if we complete a route for 20 yards, I will probably be running down the sideline yelling Zorro, Zorro, Zorro, Zorro trying to run zone right as fast as possible and get a quick 5 yards or another big play. Use code words to play at lightning fast speeds.
NO HUDDLE COMMUNICATION – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So, I’ve given you a ton of options and a ton of ideas for no huddle communication. My basic prescription is to signal to your skill guys and have your QB verbal to your linemen. Then use code words to change up the tempo and go super fast.
My hope was that this post would take some of the mystery out of no huddle communication. Whether we huddle and call “32 Zone” or yell out “Zorro,” whether we huddle and call “90 X Levels,” or stand on the sideline and wave our hand below our knee, it’s all about creating a language. Football has always been about trying to communicate everyone’s job in as few words as possible.
It may seem daunting at first, but here is the secret: The teams that play really fast have the simplest calls and the most basic signals and verbals. You may have seen the following clip with Cam Newton and John Gruden.
Some people watch this and criticize Cam for not being able to comprehend or run an NFL system. When I see this clip, I fall even more in love with Gus Malzahn and all the no huddle guys in our game! Remember, whether we huddle or not, we have to create a language in order to play this game. Whatever you call your plays, whatever you signal, whatever you teach your guys to remember, that is your football language. My advice: Make that language as simple as possible and communicate it as directly as possible so that you can practice and play faster than everyone! That is the key to no huddle communication.
Thanks again guys. I really appreciate you. Keep Chucking It!