Coaching: Using Pattern Recognition To Read The Defense

Coaching: Using Pattern Recognition To Read The Defense

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

Do team sports require brains as well as physical ability?

You bet they do. Success in sports such as hockey requires the ability to recognize and react to hundreds of patterns created by teammates, defensive players, the boards and the goals.

What makes this even more difficult is that these patterns constantly change.

Learning to recognize these patterns is a career-long task. For example, it's estimated that it would take 10,000 hours of practice to train the average athlete to recognize all the patterns that might occur during a hockey game!

Pattern Recognition Is Like Reading
Developing this ability is not unlike learning how to read. For example, once we've learned to read, we don't actually focus on each individual letter - we recognize the patterns formed by whole words and phrases. This enables us to read faster.

Experienced team-sport athletes like Sidney Crosby, Dwayne Wade, David Beckham or Tom Brady operate in a similar way. They don't necessarily follow the position of each individual player - they recognize the pattern or arrangement of players and have learned how best to react to these patterns. This pattern-recognition allows them to instantly make the correct play.

Using Video to Improve Pattern Recognition
One way to improve your pattern-recognition ability is by watching video tape of your sport.

Select a successful play, then rewind to the origin of that play. Advance the tape, stopping occasionally to observe the position of the players on both offense and defense. Then run through the play in real time, attempting to recognize player positions as a series of patterns, rather than individual player locations on the field.


1. Farrow, D. (ed.), Applied Sport Expertise and Learning Workshop (2005 : Canberra, A.C.T.), Developing sport expertise : researchers and coaches put theory into practice, London, Routledge, 2008, p.137-154. 18p.
2. Carol Gold & Hugh Westrop (Ontario Science Centre), How Sport Works, Toronto: Kids Can Press Ltd., 1988.

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© 2016, Physical Education Update,

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