Take Your Eye Off The Ball by Pat Kirwan (Shane's book four, 2011)

Pat Kirwan is a former NFL coach whose spells with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Phoenix Cardinals and New York Jets allow him to bring a real expertise to his punditry. His aim with this book is to help NFL fans get more out of watching the game by drawing their attention to some of the less obvious things that happen on the field. [amtap book:isbn=1600783910]

It's not a book for complete novices; Kirwan assumes a fair amount of knowledge of the sport but anyone beyond beginner level will find something useful here. I've been watching American football for 25 years but I still learned a lot from reading this.

Kirwan provides a lot of detail on how coaches prepare for a game, draw up their game plans and how they monitor what's going on during the game. I knew, for example, that teams use different 'packages' of players for different situations but I had no idea that much of the time this is determined by what they've had time to practice.

There are lots of little rules of thumb: the number of steps a quarterback drops is usually half the number of steps a receiver has to work with before receiving the ball; a running back will watch the helmet of the lead blocker to judge where to run - if the helmet is outside the defender, the running back will head outside the blocker; and a star pass rusher can expect to sack the quarterback on fewer than two per cent of attempts.

Some of the most interesting material comes when Kirwan gives his thoughts on where the game is headed. For example: "Someday there will be an NFL team based in London. There may even be two teams in European cities, so that a team from the US could go over for two weeks, play two road games, and come home." I'd love to think that he's right.

The NFL has always been far more open to technological advances than a sport like soccer, which prides itself in being resistant to change, even in situations where technology would bring clear benefits, such as with instant replay. Kirwan has some good ideas for how the NFL could further benefit from technology:

"...the day is coming when every team's playbook will be recreated as an EA Sports-style video game. When players take their playbooks home, they'll interact with it instead of reading it. They'll be able to see themselves in every play and perhaps even enjoy the learning process."

He also talks about having cameras in the locker room, realtime polling so that coaches can see what fans think of the game and the idea of virtual reality simulators so that quarterbacks can practice passing. Some of his ideas seem bizarre but it's his openness to change and to thinking about the structure of the game that makes the ideas so intriguing.

It's a well-written book and easy to follow given the often complex ideas that Kirwan is trying to explain. Obviously it's of value only if you're a fan of the sport but for those that are, it's a treasure trove of information and will enrich your experience of watching the game.