Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Succeeding Through the Practice of Scripting in a Competitive Setting ( An Old S.F. 49ers Tradition)

Updated on 12/28/2016  8:38 hr pst  (formerly 082813 18:38 hrs)

"I was always consumed with the X's and O's of football. It was like a chess game to me. I could see 22 people in my mind when I closed my eyes. I can see exactly where they are, exactly where they are going. If it's not part of your nature, you're never going to make it big. " - Bill Walsh's, three-time World Champion Football Coach for an AIM's Investment Funds commercial (a part of Investco Funds Group) in 2002

This unique skill set of visualizing the multiplicity of moving components within a play is one of the many reasons why Bill Walsh, the late head coach of the San Francisco Forty Niners, was considered one of the greatest NFL football coaches and game innovators.

Beside being the innovator of the West Coast Offense, he created the practice of scripting and running a opening plays (or starter plays) script of 25 that served various purposes during the game.

Note from a Previous Post

"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 Public Perception of Scripted Opening Plays
A Walsh innovation was scripting the first 15 offensive plays of the game. Walsh went as far as to script the first 25 plays but most teams stop at 15. Since the offensive team knew that the first 15 plays would be run as scripted no matter what, they could practice those plays to perfection, minimizing mistakes and penalties. By ignoring situational play-calling and increasing the game tempo, scripted plays also served to confuse the defense and induce early penalties. Executing these plays successfully could establish momentum and dictate the flow of the game. It also gave the coaching staff an opportunity to run test plays against the defense to gauge their reactions in game situations. Later in the game, an observed tendency in a certain situation by the opposing defense could be exploited.      

The Tangibility Behind 
The Opening Plays 
(Starter) Script 

The Purpose
"In planning, never a useless move.  
In strategy, no step is in vain. " - Chen Hao

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 "feedback-based" 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 instructed  to stay with 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 certain particulars of this approach.

Building the Script Before the Game

The team's chief scout would report to the offensive coordinator on the strategic and tactical tendencies of the next competitor by viewing their previous game films.

The offensive coordinator would build his play list based on their technical strengths, the competitor's base defensive responses and their competitor's weaknesses and then decides on the preliminary script. 

Idealistically, the offensive coordinator informs the players "the particular plays behind the script" one to three practices before the 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 certain plays.

Conclusively, the implementation of the script requires a great deal of game experience, sound and solid preparation, numerous practices, discipline and emotional intelligence for the offensive coordinator and the quarterback  to run the script.

Side note: Our research tells us that each team performs the process of building of the play list and the script and the practicing of the starter's script quite differently.  What we are doing is merely stating the basic fundamentals behind this unique process.

Preparation Precedes Performance

In the field of observation, fortune favors the prepared.  - Louis Pasteur

Once a play (from the starter list) is implemented, the chief observer/decision makers must perform the following:
  • Recognize the counter-response for that situation (the called play, the down, the yard markage, the field position, the type of players on the field, the formation  and the counter response) 
  • Examine the patterns of data that support the analysis
  • Analyze the quality of data on the possibilities of a deception.
  • Decide on what would the next play be when this situation occurs again.. 
The above diagram is a layout that organizes a great number of different tactical plays for different situations.

The Walsh's View
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 utilized a 15 play starter script. Why did Walsh utilized a 25 play starter script?
A: 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 categories of plays were in Walsh's starter script?
A: An assortment of pass plays and run plays that has never appeared in previous games. The players, the blocking scheme,  the shifting and the motion of certain players would change while the base formation rarely changes. Walsh would occasionally throw in a few gadget plays that their opposition has never seen before (i.e, the no huddle, hurry up approach with a no audio signal play call, the reverse,  the end-around, the flex flicker off the reverse, the "Halfback option" pass, the play action pass off the medium draw, the "Statue of Liberty " play, etc. )

The 25 Plays starter script was a subset of his master script that also consisted of many other categories of situational plays.  We will discuss more about that topic in a future post.

Some amateurs believed that they know what "The Script" is about and how it works. (Finding information on the web or asking your drinking buddies could only go so far.)  However there are a few experts who understand its true range and the reason why it works.

Many years ago, we have heard that a 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.
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.

We remembered that there was a stat about Walsh's success with the script that his team would have already won the game whenever they possessed a "10 to 14 points" lead by half time. . One could only presumed that his superb ability to script plays, calling the right plays or instructing his quarterback to make the right adjustment call were the cause for Niners success. A great amount of credit also goes to his coaching staff for preparing the team.

The Compass Solution

Compass Principle: The time that it takes to assess, and to position is inversely proportionally to that the time it takes to influence.

Walsh (and others) have successfully used the play script to assessed the motives, the methods and the modes of the competition. Then he positions his team by deciding on the counter response plays that are based on the competitor's move. The influence stage begins when those implemented plays exploit the strategic weaknesses of their competitor. 

The success of one scripted play usually leads to another "positioned" play.

More Notes on Scripting and the Next Hot Trend   

Regardless that this unique practice is commonly 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 required to run "The Script" during a no-huddle situation. It is quite rare that they are running a set of scripted plays.

Their foremost objective is to score first, score fast and score often.  This hurry-up approach presses the competition to play "catch up"  by creating immediate tactical mismatches.

By studying the videos. analyzing the specific stats and knowing the competition's individual weaknesses and tendencies, immediate exploitation becomes a higher priority.  Revealing their tendencies through base scripting have become a lower priority.   We will touch more on this approach in a future post.

Learning the script process is not that difficult. It just requires someone who possessed  a basic understanding of the scientific method of trial and error and the skill to assess a situation. Patience is also a requirement. He or she must also understand what are his priorities for that macro situation  and have the fortitude to stay with the approach.

If you need a new approach to gain a competitive lead, read the strategic configuration of your terrain and script your tactical plays. This strategic approach will not guarantee you an automatic win. However, it would offer you the psychological feeling of knowing what are your chances of succeeding.

An New Update For This Post
The San Francisco Forty Niners team has updated the number of plays in their "starting plays" script somewhere between 30 to 38 plays.  

We presumed that you know the reasoning behind this updated quantity of scripted plays. 

The Psychology of Strategy
The macro key to developing the script is to have properly assessed one's competition and the strategic factors that are behind the grand situation, It begins by collecting sound and solid data Then, visualize how certain data are connected 

Through visualizing  the specifics of each tactical situation, one could successfully build the list of plays and develop the starter play script with minimum difficulty.  

In our competitive economy, time line is usually short  and resources are occasionally  limited. The successful strategist knows that every advantage counts. 

The Will to Prepare is Usually Greater than the Will to Win  

Successful competitors have always understood the specifics of why one prepares. Through the practice of the script, they are focused on the process of preparing themselves of gaining strategic momentum. While reviewing the script, one could mindfully see the continuous execution of the plays or the worst case scenario occurring.  

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

The Compass View: The Urge to Improvise
Regardless of the circumstances, many people preferred to operate from the seat of their pants.  Due to their love to improvise and invent, they usually go with their gut instinct.  This specific feeling enthralls them. It is a basic human nature.

Most of these people do not like to spend anytime, assessing their competition.  Some of them feel that they are men or women 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 visionaries-thinkers would get "lucky" and prevail.  ... In most cases, their operation teams are usually the ones who saved their vision-driven employers.

The worst case scenario from of this uniquely-efficient practice is a competitor who knows the tendencies of the bold thinkers and understands their concealed motive for each play. The projected outcome should be quite obvious.

In an extreme competitive situation,  the amateurs regularly lose their motivation and begin to ad-lib. In most cases, they never return to their script.   We have seen it repeatedly. The successful implementers of the script usually have the experience and the fortitude to persist and persevere.

Remember that the will to prepare (a script and the team) is greater than the will to win.  In a future post or our future book project, we will explain more about the psychology and the planning and preparation process behind the act of scripting

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

Click here for an example on how Coach Walsh utilized it in a non-football situation and click here for how a current Niners kicker assesses, positions and influences from the field level.

Random Comments From The Compass Desk
In complex times, one cannot properly assess and plan without collecting the right amount of tangible data.

The complexity of our society has influenced us into thinking about the need for a pragmatic solution. Building a script is the first step. ...  Learning how to to focus on one's grand objectives while being mindful of the influences that impact their grand settings and beyond is the key.

Those who constantly prevail in some of their competitive endeavors, usually have the superior skills in the areas of strategic assessment, operational planning and tactical adjustment.  ... Sometimes, they just succeed because of the predictability of their situation (i.e., poorly skilled competition, etc.) 

Occasionally, the probability of chance (aka. random luck) plays a heavy role. ...  It never hurts to have a specific script for all predictable worst case scenarios.

To succeed in an antagonistic endeavor, the successful strategists must have already collected the proper data on their targeted opponent. before studying their "strategic efficiency" state. 

Since, many modern head coaches of all sorts are scripting their plays. It tells us that the scripting tool works quite well.  This modus operandi should enable anyone to ascend above the plateau of competitive equilibrium  by preparing him or her to set the pace of the situation and to learn something unique about the competition.

Our understanding of how the strategy game works, has enabled us to integrate certain technicalities of "the starter script" into our proprietary strategic process model.  This overview allows the implementer could see the connectivity of their Big Tangible Picture (BTP) at a glance before deciding on the script-based tactics.

We at Compass360 Consulting have always applied our own version of the script in the operational side of our projects. If you are interested in seeing our presentation of this pragmatic process, please send us a note

We are currently contemplating on publishing a white paper or a book on our unique approach on scripting and staging a competitive situation.  

To secure your winning edge, center your attention on the script. 

Assess the Big Tangible Picture of your competitive setting and build plays that enables you to capitalize on tactical imbalances that offers a totality of advantages.

Choose the favorable situation and decide the right play (aka. the solution) that offers you the best probability of succeeding. 

Know when to adjust from the script  and when to return to it. Conclusively, the score will take care of itself.   ... 

Focus on one situation at a time while be mindful of one's own terrain and beyond.  No script development and implementation is perfect in the beginning stage of the process.   This exercise is a practice toward perfection.

Additional Side Notes 
For the Niners Faithful, we recommended this great book by Daniel Brown- 100 Things 49ers fans should know and do before they die  and Bill Walsh, Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh's book -  The Score Takes Care of Itself.  

Our associates at Cook Ding's Kitchen have always reminded the novices and the neophytes that one cannot successfully strategize if he or she is not able to stay focused on their immediate objective. They also reminded them that the reading of the Art of War does not help either.  

Click here to know the differences between a script and a list.

Click here on someone who does not think much of Walsh.  Our response is that a good strategist is someone who knows the "Anticipation.  Adjustment . Advancement" game. 

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