I keep getting this question quite often from young coaches looking to progress in this profession. I also hear it from players and students I coach and teach.
Recently I read an article titled “How Relearning Old Concepts Alongside New Ones Makes It All Stick” by Samara Freemark and Stephen Smith. It is a great article about the concept of “variable practice” or “interleaving”, a method of practicing or learning by doing several different new things in succession. And that is when it hit me.
The best way to learn football, for me, was completely breaking down film. Thorough, detailed breakdowns of many columns of information. Old concepts like Down, Distance, Hash, and Yard Line mixed in with Formations, Plays, Blocking Schemes, Tags, Combinations, Concepts, Defensive Fronts, Stunts, Blitzes, and Coverages. The perfect place for me to go as in depth as I wanted.
I could set goals for myself. I could break it down in different methods and paces. I could get up and leave when I needed a break, and I would still be thinking about plays or formations that baffled me or challenged my breakdown system. I could simplify…make connections…compare and contrast…seek out new information…make it more complex and break it down again. It gave me feedback on areas I didn’t understand. And it also gave me feedback on areas I had mastered. I could draw them up and teach them to others. I could practice the installation of these concepts. The lists of learning tasks I could do are endless.
The goal of learning any content is to go from a surface-level understanding of something to deep-level thinking about that concept to the ultimate: the transfer of that knowledge to others.
That is the definition of coaching: transferring skills and knowledge to others so they can execute them to be successful. To help others learn at that deep level of understanding and application.
So to answer that question: start breaking games down repeatedly and thoroughly. Don’t ever stop doing it. You will be amazed at how much you can learn.