How to Watch Game Film: what not to do (1 of 4)

Background: Football Rituals

High school varsity football games are played on Friday nights. Thursdays were most guys’ favorite practices–helmets and shorts, half-speed, done in an hour. Fridays were the glory days–suited up and fired up with the spotlights on. Saturdays, though, were dreaded. Every starter knew what to expect when he woke up battered and bruised Saturday morning.

Players piled into different locker rooms, grouped as offense or defense. The coordinator and position coaches were already there, sitting stone-faced in the center of the room around an old projector. A grayscale record of failures shone onto the canvas which hung from the locker room ceiling–the game film. No one knew how early the coaches woke up to journal their criticisms, but they always had notes ready and itchy trigger fingers poised to rewind and replay a starter’s failures innumerable times.

Saturday mornings were film sessions.


Look how close you came to doing what we wanted–
“What the hell were you thinking there–
“See how your defender just pushes you over?
” sessions.


Jeez, am I even meant to play this silly game?” sessions.

Sometimes players learned what to do better. Sometimes coaches appreciated effort and intention, even when execution was off. Mostly, though, film sessions were coaches’ opportunity to fabricate the illusion of control over the game’s outcome–to say, “this specific play set us up to lose field position/possession/momentum/the game.”

If you really want to get better, that is not the best way to watch game film. This series contains suggestions for using your game film to improve your execution. And you don’t have to spend your Saturday mornings inside a musty locker room to put them to use.

Preface: Doing versus Thinking

When reviewing game film, you have to learn writer/editor duality. On one side, you are a player, prone to fits of passion and lapses of judgment. On the other side, you are a spectator, detached from events on the field. When playing, you cannot analyze. When analyzing, you cannot play. During competition, you react and adjust. After competition, you observe and critique.

During the chaos of a game, you still need a rational mind so that you don’t repeat costly mistakes. During the quiet of a film session, you still need compassion for the athlete striving on the field, so that you don’t berate yourself over tiny errors. With those notes in mind, this four-part series will explain how to maximize your game film time.

Next up: How to identify patterns in your playing style and use visualization to become a better teammate.

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