Mike Pettine’s Secret Weapon: Hand-written notes, history lessons

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Barkevious Mingo may not be the world’s next award-winning long-form scribe, but it won’t be for lack of note taking and tutelage. The second-year linebacker, along with 88 0ther Cleveland Browns teammates, were the recent subjects in a Wall Street Journal article that focused on the team’s use of pen and paper—as opposed to more tech-friendly mediums—under new head coach Mike Pettine.

The NFL has become an iPad-driven world, but Pettine may be singlehandedly keeping Mead and Bic in business.

Armed with science and a little common sense, first-year Browns coach Mike Pettine is stressing to his players the old-school notion of writing things down. The strategy is backed up by new academic studies that say writing by hand instead of typing improves your chances of learning something.

For an NFL team, which spends hours upon hours explaining plays in team meetings, this can be crucial. A coach, giving a broad directive about a play, must run through numerous small tasks the players must do on a single play—like watching the right guard’s left arm at the snap. Good memory is crucial.

Pettine said the players’ notebooks feature countless “graduate-level” details about the team’s plays in their basic, Browns-themed notebooks, which are something of a secret weapon. [...]

‘To write is to learn,'” Pettine said. “When you write stuff down, you have a much higher chance of it getting imprinted on your brain. We leave it up to them—their job is to write down all the intricate things, and hopefully they get out the pen and get going.”

Rookies carrying around notepads is nothing new—every member of a rookie camp can be seen in Berea toting around spiral notebooks with a pen harnessed above their ear, waiting for the next nugget of wisdom to come from coaches or teammates. For an entire team—one littered with countless veterans—to adhere to similar practice, however,  appears to be rare. The 47-year-old Pettine is old school through and through, gaining the majority of his knowledge (and how to learn) from his father. It should come as little surprise that Kyle Shanahan, despite being just 37, also prefers the handwritten ways, having utilized such a medium for years.

This “secret weapon” goes beyond just the plays themselves. When teaching a goal-line defense, for instance, Pettine will start with the history of the tactic. Then, after he tells the players all the history of the play, Pettine will reveal the changes he has made and help the players understand their role. Mingo, still a rookie in many ways, speaks highly of the practice, but so do veteran teammates Karlos Dansby and Desmond Bryant (who, as the WSJ made sure to mention, went to Harvard). “They’ll say, ‘But if you tweak this person’s responsibilities just a little bit, you’ll be able to run [the play] more effectively,'” said Bryant. What sort of fruit these history lessons bear will be seen as early as September 7.

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    I must admit that I’m quite impressed by Pettine as HC and as a person to this point. He strikes me as the sort of guy I’d like to play for myself. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I felt this positive about all three head coaches in Cleveland. Now I can only hope that the feeling translates into wins.

  • Guest

    TIL this man went to a better school than me

  • mgbode

    (1) I love the idea behind this strategy. While players utilize tech-devices much more often in their daily lives, the pure act of doing something different could very well help them remember better. I’d be interested to see if the studies show the exact opposite in cultures where people predominantly still use the written word.

    (2) I think, in general, people learn and think in different ways. Some people are better auditory learners. Sitting and listening is more conducive to their learning than writing while doing it. Others are more visual learners and will not learn anything unless they also see it (that’s me: just ask my wife when she asks me to do something simple and it flees from my mind. but, I hardly have to look at a long grocery list once I have read it).

    (3) I do wonder how the coaches feel on the security of their method. Doing everything on secured websites that require dynamic access keys is incredibly secure and seamless. Having hard copies in players hands is much easier to wind up in other team’s hands once that player is cut and signed elsewhere.

  • bossman09

    I doubt security is a real concern. I don’t hear any stories of stolen playbooks for the last 80 years being a big deal. IPads/secure web sites are only really the last 5-8 years.

  • mgbode

    there are plenty of stories. heck, this past offseason there was talk about how Rex’s defensive playbook ended up in the hands of the Patriots.

    now, how big of a deal that actually ends up being is for a matter of discussion, sure.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I don’t know that the actual playbook isn’t digital (Johnny’s picture on the plane had an iPad or the like). I think that they just want people to take handwritten notes, and that Shanahan may originally use a drawing.