I quickly realized after signing with the Denver Broncos that there had to be a better way to study and learn than staring at static images in a 4-inch thick binder with more than a thousand plays. Being the only quarterback in the meeting room that hadn’t been in the offense for at least one year, I was far behind. Even as an graduate with an engineering degree, who had to develop good study skills to get through the Colorado School of Mines, I struggled to get onboard quickly. I could sling the football with the best of them. It was not the physical part of the game I was worried about. It was difficult enough to say the correct play call in the huddle, let alone know where to throw the football.
Some players draw all of the plays on their own flash cards. Some have parents, wives, or girlfriends quiz them. Some go to the park and have their wife read a play, and then they go run the correct route. For me, I was pen to paper. Reading the play name off a list, and then drawing out the play. This was too time consuming. Drawing out every single player and his responsibility – which as a quarterback you must know everyone’s responsibility – and then checking your work with the actual playbook was not efficient.
Some would say I have a photographic memory. Since as long as I can remember, when taking tests at school, I would read a question and know where the answer was in my notes or in the textbook. That is fine and dandy as a visual learner, but I struggled tremendously when having to hear the information. This was not ideal when Coach Kubiak would give me a play call a mile long, and then I must regurgitate it back in the huddle to the rest of the players. “Exit Ace Solo Right Zoom F Right Outside 3 Jet U Shallow Cross Y Wheel.” Huh? Any which way, you can screw it up – switch left and rights, 2 and 3’s, leave out words or maybe add a few of my own. To practice this during two-a-days, I would fax my mom a list of plays after meetings, and from 11:00 pm to midnight every night, she would read them to me over the phone. I would practice repeating them back to her.
Every day I would dread the idea of being called on by a coach and asked a responsibility of a play. Even when I would get to a point when I felt somewhat familiar with the playbook, it never failed that the one question they did ask is something I didn’t know. It is a bit ironic. You do want to be called on to the show the coaches that you have been putting in the work studying, but again only if they ask the right questions.
The only thing worse than being asked one question, was being asked four or five pages of questions. We had a few written tests with my time in Denver.
A story about my first playbook test with the Denver Broncos in the summer of 2005:
”Pass your tests to the person on your left, so we can grade them.” That was a terrible feeling. I knew I did not do well. We went over the answers. I glanced over and saw Pro Bowl quarterback Jake Plummer erasing my answers and penciling in the correct answers. I knew Jake was my guy, but he could only help me so much. I still think my grade on that test was in the 40% range. It was defeating. I had put so much time and effort into studying and a 40% is what I had to show for it. This isn’t an Advanced Engineering Math course on Fourier Series, this is football! I hoped the coaches knew I knew more than what that test indicated.
From Denver, I had eight more opportunities to practice learning playbooks on different professional teams. I started taking notes on the best ways I studied. I was attentive to how teammates studied best. I started researching different learning styles in the offseasons. I knew an interactive piece had to be part of the learning process that would allow players to interact with the content. Since the nomenclature in a playbook is similar to a foreign language, I try to compare ReadyList to Rosetta Stone for football.
I finally hung up the cleats. I pitched the concept to Jake, and we went on the road to prove the concept, getting in front of NFL coaches and big-time colleges. After putting our heads together and a little refinement, we started development and ReadyList was born.