How Do Football Players Memorize Plays? Here’s How!

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Football players are often tasked with memorizing an entire playbook. This playbook is often 100+ pages thick and has all sorts of terminology that may seem like another language to the average fan. So how do football players memorize plays?

Football players memorize plays by breaking down each part of the play. Football plays are often called formation, motion, offensive line protection, and route combination. Football players will memorize each part of the play call that pertains to them.

In this article, we’re going to show you, in-depth, how football players memorize plays and the easiest way to do so.

How To Memorize Football Plays

When it comes to memorizing plays, there is a right and wrong way to go about doing so. Memorizing plays can be broken down by those parts that make up a play call. We’ll cover all of the below:

  • Formation
  • Motion
  • Line Protection
  • Route Combination or Run Play

Each type of play call has specific parts that need to be learned, and you’ll need to understand what that language is for your position and how it correlates with what you’re supposed to do on that play.

Each coach has their own language and terminology when describing formations and plays. To best memorize plays, it’s essential to grasp the terminology the coach uses to call the plays.

Memorizing An Offensive Play Call

Understanding and memorizing an offensive play call is simple once you understand the terminology the coach is using.

For example, let’s look at a West Coast play call, which is rather long.

Green Right X Shift to Viper Right 382 X Stick Lookie

Now this play may seem like a foreign language to someone who doesn’t understand the terminology. It’s also one of the longer play calls that we’ve seen.

The quarterback, lineman, and skill players will break the play down into segments to memorize the play call.


When calling plays, coaches will often have the formation be the first part of the play. This allows the players to get aligned properly.

In the example above, Green Right X is the original formation call.

This means that the offense will line up in the Green Right X formation (whichever the coach determines to be green right).

Motion & Shifts

The next part of the play is Shift to Viper Right.

This means that the offensive is going to shift from Greed Right X to Viper Right.

The offensive will shift to another formation when the quarterback starts his cadence.

When a player is trying to memorize the play call, they will listen to the formation first, then the shift.

Players need to know pre-snap movement because it’s often to put themselves in the best position possible from the coach.

Offensive Line Protection

The next part of the play is often the line protection. This is often a number or whatever the coach uses for protection.

For teams that throw the football, this means slide protection, man protection, or different types of line protection.

In our example above, the 382 represents line protection.

Run Or Pass Play

The last part of the play is often the route combination or a run play called by the coach.

When offensive players listen to the play call come from the coach or the quarterback, this is often the last thing they hear.

In our example above, the X Stick Lookie represents the passing combination.

Typically X Stick means the X runs a stick route (or stick combination) with a lookie concept.

Players will listen to this entire play call and execute it. This is how complicated an NFL play call can be.

Memorizing a Defensive Play Call

Memorizing a defensive play call is a bit easier than an offensive play call. This is because defensive play calls are often much shorter and easier to remember.

For example, often, coaches will signal in play calls to the entire defense or the middle linebacker. The signal will often have three parts:

  • Defensive Front
  • Blitz
  • Coverage

This makes the call easy for the defense to understand, as most fronts and coverages have rules built into it. Coaches can change the front and coverage by simply adjusting their hand signals for the fronts and coverages.

Keep Learning

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  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
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If you liked learning about football, check out our Ultimate Football Guide below.

Offense and defensive players have the task of memorizing their responsibilities on each play. During the play, they also have to receive the ball (or tackle the ball carrier on defense) and their assignment.

If you like learning football, we have plenty of more resources for you! Visit our learning center here to learn more about the game of football.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.