Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Dao of Strategy: The Script

Football season is here. Armchair quarterbacks and sideline spectators rejoice.

Notes on the Script Beside the utilization of Chinese strategy principles as a process, "The Script" is one of our favorite tools.

"The Script" is a game preparation and implementation tool that was invented by Bill Walsh, an American head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford University, during which time he popularized the West Coast offense. 

Walsh went 102–63–1 with the 49ers, winning ten of his fourteen postseason games along with six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls. He was named the NFL's Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984.   


The purpose of The Script is to evaluate how the other team reacts to each offensive play at the opening stage of the game. The strategist uses this intelligence to plan his  offensive strategy for the remainder of the game.

Regardless of the game situation, the disciples of the West Coast Offense are trained to stick to The Script regardless of the down, the distance and the defensive alignment, except for the fourth down.  However, circumstances have changed the practice of this rule.  It is up to the practitioner to decide on the approach.

Applying the Script Before the Game

Idealistically, the offensive coordinator informs the players "The Script" one or two practices before game day. On the last practice, the team rehearses "The Script."

Beside eliminating anxiety (rather than creating anxiety) among the players. the offense coordinator discovers whether the players are able to master those plays and then decides whether to adjust the technicalities of the play.

Overall, it requires a great deal of experience, discipline and emotional intelligence to run "The Script" tool.
The Master of the Game Plan
Preparation and Execution Perfected

Bill Walsh, ever the innovator, conceived a plan, now routine in the NFL, to "script" in advance the offensive plays he would call early in a game.

Walsh still remembers the criticism and skepticism from the NFL coaching establishment that greeted him in the 1970s when, as an offensive assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, he started scripting plays. All the planning could be done in the office during the week instead of on the sidelines during the frenzy of a game.

With a script, the offensive players could devote more study time to plays that definitely would be used in the game, as opposed to studying an entire game plan that invariably included a bunch of plays that would not be called.

"It got to the point where our offensive team really wanted to know those plays," Walsh recalled. "The players really appreciate the idea that you're giving them a (head) start on the game. You can sleep easier, you have more confidence going into the game, and you're more at ease.

For the coaches, you can feel comfortable that the game is almost on automatic pilot when it starts."
"You know what's going to be called and there's no reason to make a mistake," veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe said of the system in Denver, where coach Mike Shanahan scripts the first 15 offensive plays every week. "You already know if (the defense does) this, who we're going to. So that makes your job a lot easier."

Just about every team in the NFL now uses some form of scripting. Walsh used to do 25 plays, but most teams now script about 15 plays.
There are, of course, some misconceptions about scripting. While there might be a long script of plays, they are not called blindly in order. "Would you run 25 in order? No," Walsh said. "Let's say, of the 25, you'd run 18 or 19 sort of in order. If something really worked or you saw something in the defense, you'd go back to (a play).

To me, it was just sort of a safety net because there's so much emotion to start the game, you want to think clearly, and this, in a sense, forces you to stay with a regimen that you clinically planned prior to the game."
"The scripting saved us because I couldn't think," he said. "It was minus-35 wind chill, and there was no way I could look at a game plan or pull something out of my head. All I wanted to do was run for cover, go in where it was warm, for survival. So in that case, the plan was what saved us."

Excerpts are from NFL Insider/ article from 2002 by Ira Miller.

The Compass View
Q: Most coaches run a 15 play script. Why did Walsh utilized a 25 play script?
The aim of the 15 play script is to immediately attack the tendencies and the physical weaknesses of the opposition's defense. In the case of the 25 play script, the intent was to reveal the entire opposition's defensive arsenal in certain situations while pinpointing their true weaknesses. 

Q: What was in Walsh's script?
A: An assortment of pass plays and run plays that has never appeared in previous games. Walsh would o
ccasionally throw in a few gadget plays that the opposition has never seen before.

Many years ago, we have heard that one former Niners player referred "The 25 Plays" as "The 25 Lies." The story behind that statement is based on that the opposition would become so focused on stopping Walsh's 25 play script that they forgot to focus on the rest of the game. 
Retrospectively, it is also a psychological gaming tool and an "informational feedback strategy" tool.

The implementation of a 25 play starter script requires a person with great patience, control and strategic insight.Rarely does anyone ever talk about the keys for the following:
  • when to stay with the script;
  • when to leave the script; and
  • when to return to it.
The amateurs believed that they know what "The Script" is about. However there are a few who understand its true range and the reason why it works.

Regardless that The Script is now being used by many football coaches, our research tells us that many of them do not possess the mindfulness and the strategic training to use it properly. Concurrently, some of their  quarterbacks are not properly instructed to run "The Script" during a no-huddle situation.

Their foremost objective is to score first and often.  Revealing the opposition's tendencies have become a lower priority.

The most difficult challenge for most football teams is to run "The Script" from a no-huddle mode. We will touch on that topic in a future post.

An Update to the Script
The San Francisco Forty Niners team has updated the # of plays in their "starting plays" script somewhere between 30 to 38 plays.

Retrospectively, Coach Walsh was literally running a real time experiment for the purpose of identifying their tendencies in certain situations. At a later stage of the game, he would then exploit them with various deceptive plays.

Learning the Script is not that difficult. It just requires someone with a basic understanding of the scientific method of trial and error.  He or she must have the fortitude to stay with the approach.

If a new approach to gain a competitive lead is needed, you should try assessing your competition before scripting your tactical plays.

Other Thoughts
In our information economy, the key to developing The Script is to properly assess one's  competition and the grand situation. 

Most people do not like to spend anytime, assessing their competition.  Some of them feel that they are men of action.  With the urgency of "making something happen now", these leaders believed that "the will to make the event happen" will give them the victory.
... In some rare situations, these bold thinkers would get "lucky" and prevail.  As long as a very good operational team is available to help him, the probability of surviving is good. 

The Will to Prepare is Usually Greater than the Will to Win  
Successful competitors understand this specific principle. Through the practice of the script, one focuses on the process of preparing.  

To those who are interested in achieving best performance, we recommended the practice of scripting one's operational activities as a daily task.

The Question of The Day
How do you apply this protocol to modern day business?  (We will touch on this topic in our future book project.) 

Side note
We at Compass360 Consulting usually apply our own version of the script in the operational side of our projects. If you are interested in securing an abridged version of our Compass Script, please send us a request at  

We are still contemplating on publishing a book on how to script and stage a situation.

/// Click here for a updated post on the script.

1 comment:

mondal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.