Memorizing play-by-play rosters: 11 top tricks

Memorizing play-by-play rosters can be hard. Most of us aren’t Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

For those of us who can’t remember what we ate for breakfast this morning, here are several techniques you can try for memorizing play-by-play rosters. There were initially seven but we’ve updated the post to add more:

1. Video

Watch video of the team’s you’ll be seeing. Everyone has something on YouTube. Look for notable physical characteristics like wristbands, shoes, gait, body type, etc.

2. Flash cards

Write names and numbers on a flash card. Carry it with you in the days leading up to your broadcast. You can study at stoplights, in waiting rooms, before going to bed, whenever.

3. Write by hand

Fill-out your spotting boards by hand. On the rare occasions I made cheat sheets in high school (sorry Mom and Dad, but the time Mr. Williamson busted me wasn’t the only time), it turned out I rarely used them because the process of writing down the info committed it to my memory. Your boards won’t look as neat as something you did on your computer, but you’ll remember the info better.

4. Draw memory parallels

Connect names that you are struggling to remember to something funny. Maybe No.13 is John Baker, so you remember a Baker’s dozen. Not always easy to do but it does work occasionally.

5. The celebrity name game

Draw a parallel between the name of the player and a celebrity who shares that name. For example, your player’s name is Khalil Webster. Draw the “memory parallel” to Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack.

6. One at a time

Memorize one player at a time. Start with No. 1 on the roster. Once you have him committed to memory, then memorize Nos. 1 and 2. Then Nos. 1, 2 and 3 and so on until you have it all stored in your head. For large football rosters, memorize receivers one day, running backs the next, etc.

7. Color code

Complete your spotting charts using ink that corresponds to the color of each team– your Jets chart in green, Chargers in blue.

8. Study the stars

Don’t try to memorize everyone. If memorization isn’t your thing, memorize the offensive skill position guys and the leading tacklers on D. For basketball, memorize the top eight players on each team.

9. One-ear headphones

This tip isn’t related to memorization but it will help you if your memory isn’t great. Only cover one ear with your headphones. Leaving one ear uncovered allows you to hear the public address announcer. He’ll often ID tacklers before you do.

Full credit goes to former NHL broadcaster Chris Madsen for the next two suggestions. Thank you, Chris! . . .

10. Use only numerical rosters

The last thing you want to do is try to identify a player while using an alphabetical order roster. While memorizing rosters, do so in numerical order. The reason being that when you need to glance at your cheat sheet while calling the action, the name of the athlete is so much easier to locate by going directly to their jersey number.

11. Stoplight memorization

This is a method that I (Chris) perfected while the original TV Play-by-play Announcer of the Anaheim Ducks.

Tape the numerical roster to your dashboard. While waiting at every stoplight, memorize at least five names and numbers. Next stop light…five more. And so on…and so on…and so on.

Once you have the names and numbers of players, coaches, assistant coaches, trainers, etc. confidently stored to memory…remove the paper off the dashboard and test yourself. You will be amazed how you can visualize that numerical roster taped to the dashboard and all the details it contains.

Oh, and don’t forget this exercise is to be done, five at a time, while waiting at every stop light.

Otherwise, please keep your eyes on the road!

I will be grateful if you will share your comments and suggestions below. That is, of course, if you remember.

Give it a try

Joining STAA gives you access to a pool of resources to help you polish your play-by-play so you can take the next step in your career.

You might also be interested in these . . .

Play-by-play analyst: make yours sound great

6 resources for football play-by-play broadcasters

Our YouTube football play-by-play playlist featuring Joe Davis, Adam Amin, Wes Durham and Learfield IMG’s Tom Boman.


  1. Chris Davis

    The keeping one ear open for the tackles trick is great, when the PA Announcer isn’t looking at you for the tackler…

  2. Jon

    I used to do the flash cards system when I was on radio and it did work well. I’d also recommend you watch the players (football/basketball especially) during warm ups with your chart. Try to practice spotting them before the whistle.

  3. jorge

    Usually I have to have some kind of “double vision”, I mean, working for tv stations I have besides my desk a monitor or in basketball games right outside the court and have at hand very near my numerical roster with BIG numbers, not alphabetical. It’s much easier, when you don’t know the players to look quickly at his number and in my country (Mexico) is not usual to have last name players’ in their backs.

    • Jon Chelesnik

      Agreed — MUCH easier to look up the names of players numerically vs. alphabetically. Thank you for sharing your comment, Jorge. I appreciate you reading our blog.

  4. 7 tips for broadcasting a new sport - Sportscasters Talent Agency of America

    […] Broadcaster Phil Giubileo wrote about the three things he does to commit players to memory, and I have previously shared tips for memorizing rosters. […]


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