The 40-Second Pre-Snap Thought Cycle for QBs

Aug 4, 2021 | Quarterback, Position Groups

By Gary Harrison
Offensive Coordinator
Scripps Ranch High School (CA)



How does your QB manage the 40 seconds between each play?

As coaches, we spend countless hours ensuring our schemes and execution will be effective.  But how much time do you spend working with your QB on managing the 40-second play cycle?   In my observations and coaches’ discussions, I have surmised that this is an area that does not get a lot of coaching time. I think there is an opportunity to improve your QB play by spending some time training this aspect of the game.

We look at the time between plays in 5 distinct compartments: Tackle made (0:40 sec start) à Receive Play call à Communicate Play à Pre-Snap Analysis à Execution.


Defining the Problem

We have all seen game scenarios when the QB is struggling, and the game gets too fast for him to the layer is struggling to get full control of his mental faculties. This report will examine the cause of these QB distresses and how to mitigate their negative impact on his performance.

The amount of information anyone can simultaneously process has its limits.  Sports psychologists have studied the mental processes) of athletes when they try to perform more than one task at a time and have concluded that there is a steep drop off in physical performance when the brain is overwhelmed.   Other professions study this phenomenon too.   Aviation physiologists studied military pilot’s cockpit multi-tasking methodology after a string of avoidable mishaps and subsequently recommended compartmentalization training to reduce cognitive processing errors and improve performance.

Compartmentalization is the mental checklist used by military pilots to:

  1. Manage the barrage of incoming information, and to
  2. Filter through to the critical information needed
  3. To take immediate actions in the cockpit


When a pilot or QB becomes overwhelmed with too much information, he can suffer from short-circuiting (in the Military, we lightheartedly refer to this as a helmet fire. These cognitive processing errors will result in poor reads and physical mistakes from your QB.  So how can these methods be applied to a young QB?  What are the similarities in a pilot’s load management strategy to that of a young QB trying to manage a game?  The below article explains how we coach our QB's on managing the 40-second play cycle.


The 40-second Play Cycle

We instruct our QB’s to manage this time cycle into five distinct compartments.


This seems to be complicating the play flow, but I have found that QB's in high-pressure situations may jumble these distinct tasks resulting in miscommunication and assignment errors.  When the QB is struggling, the game speeds up and these separate mental activities start to snowball into one big helmet fire. The compartmentalization is a way for QB to maintain or recover his bearing and devote his full mental focus on the most important activities between plays.


Coaching Points for each phase of the 40-second play cycle