The word “playbook” isn’t really used in British English, only American, and apparently across sports (esp basketball and American football). The UK presumably has a word of equivalent meaning used in e.g. football (“soccer”) and rugby… but what is it?

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    I am not British, but it looks like for rugby at least, they use the word playbook in the UK too. For example, England should take a leaf out of Ireland’s playbook when it comes to rugby's fame game
    – stangdon
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 15:34
  • @stangdon I think that's a different - metaphorical - usage of the word: Collins's 4th definition: "4. informal any plan or set of strategies, as for outlining a campaign in business or politics." Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 15:40
  • @OldBrixtonian I defer to you, of course, but isn't that what a playbook always is? Or are you saying that the term playbook is not used when referring to an actual book of plays in sports?
    – stangdon
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 15:41
  • @stangdon: I'm scribbling an answer! I don't think we have actual, physical books. The Irish playbook may be their general approach, strategy, the way they buy players... Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 15:47
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    @stangdon That's right: we don't have plays in sports, let alone books of them. Are they like ploys (with an O)? I think that 4th definition above must be derived from those playbooks you have in the US! Do you have that metaphorical usage in the US? That journalist could equally have said, "England should try singing from the same hymn sheet as Ireland..." Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


You're right. Playbooks in the UK contain [the scripts of] plays. I don't think we have a direct equivalent of the US playbook.

According to Collins Dictionary


American Football

a notebook containing descriptions of all the plays and strategies used by a team, often accompanied by diagrams, issued to players for them to study and memorize before the season begins

So it is peculiar to American football. In (English) football we talk about 'periods of play' but we don't have plays. Perhaps that's a significant difference. No plays: no playbooks. [Also, the idea of UK footballers studying doesn't quite ring true!]

The manager decides the best tactics for each game in the days before the match: whether to use a 4 - 5 - 1 formation or a flat back four, who should start and who should be on the bench, how to handle set pieces and so on, all based on his analysis of the opposing team's strengths, weaknesses and usual tactics. If he were to publish all this he would be giving the game away! If that's what a playbook is, how does it work?!

You can buy matchday programmes before the match, but they're really only useful as souvenirs. They do tell you the starting line-up but - by tradition - they get one or two positions wrong. They contain little in the way of strategy, no diagrams and certainly no inside knowledge.

  • This is a fascinating topic, because it's one of those that gets into culture, not just language! A bit of clarification: US-style playbooks aren't published; they're strictly for the internal use of a team.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 17:43
  • True, but the term has been extended beyond sports into many other topics, including many published works. Amazon has “playbooks” for sale covering retail, stock trading, matchmaking, and countless other topics.
    – SegNerd
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 21:19
  • And we Americans also have programs that are sold or given away at stadiums before games, but those are distinct from playbooks. Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 22:43

In soccer (what the British call football), plays are not recorded in a book, but are commonly displayed on a blackboard/chalkboard (two names for the same thing), or possibly a similar thing such as a whiteboard or flipboard.

It's largely due to a difference between sports. In soccer you have a few set pieces, special combinations of moves for free kicks, corners, and other special parts of the game, but you don't learn many variations; but American football is all about multiple combinations of moves which the quarterback tells the team to perform, and there's probably enough different possibilities that they need to be recorded in a book. Soccer teams don't need books to describe set-pieces because there are fewer.

Here is a cartoon picture of a football (soccer) manager pointing at a chalkboard. That's your British equivalent of a literal playbook. As an illustration, it works as a visual metaphor, but it is less common as a verbal metaphor: you would have to say something such as "like a football manager's blackboard".

In a wider sense, a US playbook has a specific metaphorical meaning "a stock of usual tactics or methods". That doesn't work for UK soccer. If you do want to refer to a collection of tactics, you need another word or phrase. A bible is a book containing an authoritative collection of things including rules or procedures. Other phrases like how-to guide, instruction manual, etc, may also work.

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