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What is a Playbook?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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In most cases, playbooks are notebooks or documents that outline and describe a strategy for a certain sport, organization or activity. For example, video game playbooks may contain tricks and tips for passing through certain levels of each game. In the theater arts, a playbook is a book containing the scripts for one or more plays. The term playbook is particularly associated with football.

In football, a playbook is traditionally a spiral-bound notebook with techniques and vocabulary relating to game plays as well as information about team formations. Different formations require different combinations of players depending on whether the play is an offensive or defensive one. Football playbooks are given to each team member at the start of the season's training period.

A play in football is loosely defined as what players do after the kickoff. The term playmaker refers to a teammate able to implement plays in a way that hopefully creates a winning game. In running plays, the team member runs with the football rather than passing it to other teammates to get closer to the opponent's goal. In passing plays, the objective is for team members to pass the football to other players so that the ball gets up to team members located near the other team's goal line.

In the theater, a playbook may simply have the script of at least one play, but many playbooks also contain suggestions for acting strategies for playing the characters. For instance, the playbook may include a discussion about how famous actors played the roles and/or may have suggestions for how to handle a character's foreign accent. Theater playbooks for actors are meant to be read out loud so the actor can practice each script. A playbook may contain one play or several plays by the same playwright or by multiple playwrights.

In business management, the term playbook is often used informally and abstractly as a way of indicating how a company handles a certain activity such as a merger. For example, a business manager may say that a certain strategy used was straight from the company's playbook, meaning that this is the way the firm traditionally handles that particular kind of situation. Author Brandon Steiner wrote a book that compares business strategy with strategic techniques used in football. His book is The Business Playbook: Leadership Lessons from the World of Sports, published in 2003 by Entrepreneur Media.

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Discussion Comments
By cardsfan27 — On May 13, 2012

@JimmyT - I absolutely agree. I remember when I was a young lad watching American football in the late 90's and how simple the offenses looked compared to today.

The game has changed so much in the last ten years and it has become something that makes a lot of people believe that the playbook creators must have been certified geniuses to concoct such complicated schemes.

I know watching an old football game that even players at highly established high school programs would laugh at the simplicity of the plays that were run in the 1980's and that they would never work nowadays.

That is how the game has changed and the playbook's in everyone's locker has expanded and become thicker and thicker with new state of the art plays and the next big thing.

By JimmyT — On May 12, 2012

@jmc88 - I will say this concept is catching on and I have a feeling it has some impact on why the game of football is evolving into a higher scoring affair.

I feel like these games and their playbooks allow for people to learn faster and learn more complicated offenses and defenses and eliminates the time it takes to learn them in practice.

Despite this, I know that there are some old school coaches that do not let their players do this and feel that it is best to learn everything on the field.

However, I will say that with the way the game of football is changing the players need ever advantage they can get, due to the complexity of the changes in the game's playbook.

By jmc88 — On May 11, 2012

@stl156 - That is a very interesting story. At my college the coach did the same thing and they had back to back undefeated regular seasons, that coincided with the first two years that people could put their own plays into the game.

Now I will say I do not believe that this is a concept that could work at say the high school level, because for the most part high schools cannot run complicated plays, let alone very complicated passing ones.

This is why I believe it is something that can be used by up and coming college players or highly skilled high school players to simply take away their problems learning the play book and be able to focus more on the repetition aspect and improving their skills.

Also, it keeps them busy and out of trouble as well as having fun and learning in the process.

By stl156 — On May 11, 2012

@ZsaZsa56 - I will tell you that I truly believe there is some truth to that and I was a skeptic before I worked for a college football team.

When I was in college I worked for the football team and lived in the dorms with most of the players. A lot of the time they would be playing the latest NCAA Football game where not only did they get to run plays right out of college playbooks, they could also create their own plays!

I know for a fact that the guy in the room next to me had trouble remembering all the plays, so his roommate programmed the plays into the game and by simply playing each other over and over he got better.

The head coach, who was very old school, learned about this, but when I explained to him that it was helping the kids learn the plays quicker he started to encourage it and even had the captains set up some tournaments, of course encouraging that both teams used the playbook.

By ZsaZsa56 — On May 10, 2012

I heard someone on a sports talk radio station recently say that he thought that Madden and other video game football games had made kids better at picking up playbooks. I think there is some logic to that. If a kid grows up playing Madden and picking plays out of a virtual play book, that has to create skills that transfer over into the real game.

I know that my kids understand the strategy of the game a lot better than I ever did and I played through college. I can only think we have video game football to thank.

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