Coaches primarily use headsets to communicate with players on the field to relay play calls or give their observations of the other team’s alignment, or provide options for audibles. They can also use them to talk to each other and give suggestions or updates to coordinators or the head coach.
Growing up my primary position was quarterback so I was usually responsible for getting the play call from the coach. We didn’t have any of the fancy headsets that they have today, but we were able to make it work without too many mistakes. Though when there were, they always seemed to be my fault.
Do headsets make calling plays that much easier? What happens if the headset goes out? What other uses can this technology have on Sunday? We’ll be discussing the many advantages they can provide below.
- The primary purpose of headsets is to relay play calls from the sideline to the players on the field
- One player is allowed to wear a helmet with a speaker to hear the calls. This is usually the quarterback on offense and the middle linebacker on defense
- Head coach Sean McVay of the Rams took this to a whole new level, calling out audibles and making adjustments to the play call even after his team broke the huddle
The primary reason to wear a headset is to transmit play calls from the offensive and defensive coordinators to the players on the field. One player on each side of the ball is permitted to wear a helmet with a speaker connected to the coach either on the sideline or in the coach’s booth above the field. In most cases, the quarterback wears the designated helmet for the offense and the middle linebacker is responsible for the defense. 
After the play is called and the team has broken the huddle, the coach can continue speaking to the linebacker and quarterback until the final 15 seconds of the play clock. This gives the coaches the chance to shout out last-second instructions or observations once they see how the opposing team has lined up. 
Sean McVay utilized this strategy to perfection with Jared Goff during his time in Los Angeles. McVay would hustle his offense to the line, giving him more time to look at the defensive alignment and give his quarterback more instruction and additional opportunities to audible. 
In this link, you can hear McVay calling the audibles to Goff before the snap at the 1:14 mark.
Communicating with Other Staff Members
Coaches can also use headsets to talk with each other. Many teams will have coaches both on the sideline and in the designated coaching boxes above the field, providing them with a different angle of the action. Headsets allow the dozens of coaches involved on gameday to be in touch with suggestions and observations, allowing for a collaborative effort. 
What Happens if a Headset Stops Working?
Technology isn’t always perfect. Sometimes a headset either on the coach or player stops working, and with just 40 seconds between plays, teams need to change their play calling and communication strategies in a hurry. Luckily there are other ways to call plays that aren’t as reliant on technology.
The most common method is a wristband worn by the quarterback with a list of the team’s plays. The coach can call out a number or symbol associated with the play on the wristband and the quarterback can easily relay the call in the huddle.
Playing quarterback in youth leagues and high school, this was the method that we used to relay play calls since we weren’t fancy enough to have helmets hooked up to headsets. In other situations, teams can rotate players into the game and they can carry the play call from the sideline to the huddle.
While teams could relay play calls and other messages to each other without headsets, using them makes communicating between coaches and players more efficient and reliable compared to other traditional methods.
So the next time you’re watching a game, take note of how many headsets you see on the sideline. And if you see a quarterback with his hands pressed on the side of his helmet, chances are he’s trying to hear the play call in a raucous stadium.