OODA loops in football

Whenever the subject of OODA loops in football comes up, people usually think of a running back shifting direction to confuse tacklers, or a quick-thinking quarterback picking up a blitz, or the coach adjusting tactics to take advantages of defenders’ weaknesses.  These are all good, but they are really examples of “operating inside the OODA loop,” rather than of the “loop” itself.

Those of you with access to today’s Wall St. J. should go check out Kevin Clark’s article, “The Green Bay Packers’ New Workout Plan.”  (paywall)  There you’ll find a good example of the other piece of the OODA “loop,” the actual loop part that goes through the cycle of observe, orient, decide, act, then observe again (and so on).  “Operating inside the OODA loop,” on the other hand, mainly involves the implicit guidance and control link from orientation to action. As I explain in Boyd’s “Real OODA Loop,” both of these processes are working all the time, but depending on what you’re doing, one or the other will take precedence. and it’s worth always keeping in mind that the ability to use implicit guidance and control is not magic but (like real magic) comes from repeated O-to-O-to-D-to-A learning loops.

Anyway, you can download “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop,” as well as all of Boyd’s briefings and lots of other stuff from our Articles page.

Returning to the NFL, here’s what caught my attention:

“Chip [Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles] is doing what Chip always does: He reads the information. He gets the feedback from every player, from all the data he gets, all the different sports science things we do,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. “He adjusts daily, weekly. We’re always moving the target to make sure that the players are at the optimal spot on Sunday.” (Emphasis added)

Does it guarantee victory? Of course not — the Eagles have lost three games this season — but Kelly’s team is on top of the NFC East, so it might be reasonable to think that he’s getting the most out of the players he has. And by the way, of the 32 teams in the NFL, only two have better records than the Eagles (Cards at 9-1 and Pats at 8-2).

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2 thoughts on “OODA loops in football

  1. Thanks for this. And you are right, whenever I think of OODA Loops in football, I really think of this old NYT article on Mike Leach, then coach of the Texas Tech Radiers:


    But that’s really an article on how Coach Leach managed to increase confusion, entropy, and resistance for the other team, while creating a team capable of taking advantage of gaps and holes created by their high-tempo offense.

    To me, though, it seems that a lot of people miss out on the physical-mental-moral hierarchy. The Texas Tech Raiders had a deeper commitment because they deeply believed they were fighting the good fight. They were the underdogs who were going to make it against the big, rich, fat cat teams.\

    What seems to be going on with the Green Bay Packers (and this is pure speculation on my part) is that the other teams are privileging the physical over the mental over the moral. Don’t physically stress yourself before the big game, you want to be at your atheletic peak. The Packers are privileging the moral (or morale) with Feel Good Friday, and they are privileging the mental over the physical by having more realistic and demanding pre-game preparations. Getting the hierarchy right may not be exactly OODA Loop stuff, but it’s closely tied to it, IMHO, and it’s certainly tied to grand strategy.

    But I’m not expert, that’s for sure. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Jeff,

      When he was at Texas Tech, Mike Leach was renowned for operating inside opponent’s OODA loops, and it’s worth noting that TTU beat Eli Manning twice. Speaking of Ole Miss, however, there was also the 2009 Cotton Bowl

      I don’t know enough about pro football to comment on your observation (although it seems reasonable). Thoughts anyone?

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