High tech: How technology is changing football

The Conway coaching staff breaks down the opening possession for the offense using Hudl, a software company that is changing football, in the Wampus Cats 37-30 loss to Springdale on Sept. 2 in Conway.

In the era of the no-huddle offense, Hudl is revolutionizing football.

 

There are iPads and high-definition televisions along the sidelines. Practice, game video and analysis are only a thumb drive and email away from any coach or any player at any time. Coaches and players and parents can put together their own video highlights.

Every high school and college team in Faulkner County uses Hudl, a multi-layer subscription service. Every high school in Arkansas, large to small, either uses it during games or will use it as soon as they can make the investment in the television and accompanying technical equipment.

“You’ve got to do it or you’ll be behind,” said Vilonia coach Ron Young.

“Technology pretty much has taken over our sport,” said Conway Christian coach Michael Carter.

Every practice, sometimes every drill, is digitally videoed. It is uploaded to Hudl, which is a nationwide digital analysis company that was founded in 2006 and is currently rated one of the fastest growing and most innovative businesses in America. It is the equivalent of YouTube with a sports niche.

“We film everything we do,” said Conway coach Clint Ashcraft. “We upload the video to Hudl and email it to our players who, when they put in a code, can watch themselves on computer, slow things down. We can make comments on the video, such as ‘look at play 10, 11 or 12.’ This is what you should be doing on each of these plays. The players can pause it, make notes or make comments and message us back things like they don’t understand what we were saying on play 18. The feedback is instant.”

“During the last five or six years, it has changed what we do for the better,” said Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble. “You can upload video easily, break it down easily. It gives our players more accountability. We have our players grade themselves on every play and make a comment. After a game they are supposed to turn their grades in by Monday’s practice. Now, at first, some players grade themselves higher and less critically than we do but as the season goes on, they start to understand what we are looking for and it gets pretty close. It helps them analyze themselves.”

Virtual feedback

Instead of sending assistant coaches with legal pads and index cards to scout opponents every week, teams upload their game videos and rival coaches can analyze it via the internet.

“Players can make their own highlight films for recruiting purposes,” Tribble said. “I got a call in preseason from coach (Todd) Langrell at Mayflower (a former Greenbrier offensive coordinator). He asked me about something we did a couple of years ago that he wanted to take a look at to implement on something he wanted to do. My son, who coaches in Alabama, can access our games.”

During games, chairs are arranged in front of a large, high-definition television along the sideline. A coach, with an iPad, will project formations, plays and alignment — downloaded immediately from Hudl via digital equipment in the press box — onto the television. The coaches are able to instruct players on alignment and positioning similar to how professional teams have done with instant photos taken from the press box. The offensive or defensive units can analyze the formations between series or individual players or players can be shown certain situations when they come off the field.

“You can see images, tendencies. See still images. down and distance; it makes you better coaches,” Langrell said.

“I’ve been asked if you really need coaches in the press box anymore,” Ashcraft said. “We’re doing it so our receivers coach can quickly recognize coverages or other coaches spot personnel groups. But I can see the day that coaches may not put coaches in the press box anymore.”

Digital discussions

Schools that cannot afford the large televisions have coaches along the sideline with tablet computers to show the images to players or groups.

The digital developments are opening a new realm of assistant coaches, often playfully called the “nerd coordinator.”

“It has become almost a coach’s position to get someone on a technological program,” Langrell said. “You’ve got to have someone on your staff with that expertise. You can exchange film at the click of a button. Then, you have to input all information. From that, you get tendencies. And we used to meet coaches halfway, like Marshall, and exchange tapes or DVD. Now we just click on to Hudl and scout all we want.

“And you can scout yourself. I have to do that to keep me not as predictable.”

Tribble added, “We can get various breakdowns. What do you or they run on first down the most? All plays right in a row. You can do it by formation. You can get printouts. It’s video and scouting built into one.

“Every play we run is listed. Every time we run pass route. You can later look at a printout and see we ran this so many times and averaged so many yards, so many completions. You can see what you’re doing good, what you are doing bad and what to get rid of. We used to watch film and try to do this on paper a few years ago.”

“You can do things that used to be unheard of,” said Carter. “You can get two or three games instantly on your computers almost immediately after a game. It has made the game better but more complicated on coaches because we have to spend some time breaking it down. But a good thing is I don’t want our coaches sitting around looking at each other in the office. This allows them to go home and watch practice or game film when they want to while spending time with their families.”

College sideline

NCAA coaches are not yet allowed to project video images on televisions or tablets along the sideline. But all college coaches use the technology.

“Part of it is no different (from what we’ve done) forever with video review, making sure we are at the top of our game,” said Hendrix’s Buck Buchanan. “Hudl has simplified things to make things more readily available. You don’t have to take a VHS tape and make several copies. It’s more instantaneous.”

“We film all practices, put them on Hudl and shoot practice to our players,” said UCA coach Steve Campbell. “They don’t have to watch a 21/2-hour practice. They can watch just their drills.

“Games on Hudl has changed recruiting more than anything else. With 16mm film in the old days, you had to request a canister of tape on a prospect. The high school coach is gonna send that to his buddy, whoever is his buddy. His buddy would get the canister and hold it for two months and you would never get to watch the film of any of the players.

“Now, boom, put a kids’ highlight tape up and I can watch it immediately. I can watch a kid from Maryland or Wisconsin or anywhere else instantly on my phone. No film exchange whatsoever. This saves travel because I can see immediately whether this player is somebody we want to pursue, and we don’t have to waste time and money traveling somewhere to look at a player in person who turns out to be not someone we want. We can narrow down who we want to watch in person without having to spend several days traveling all over the place.”

Young has coached at both the high school and college level, including as an assistant at Carson-Newman.

“The technology has transformed coaching itself,” Young said. “At Carson-Newman (in Tennessee), we’d go to North Carolina to play, then get on a bus and go to another school to exchange film. Now, you turn on your computer and upload that. It has minimized time (you) have to spend in game prep. You put in a chip and watch.”

Buchanan added, “What we like the most is when we’re done with practice, we’re done. Our coaches can go home and be with their families, They can have dinner, family time and be at home lying in bed or on the couch and watch practice or games.

“It has made things more efficient for all of us. Once a video is up, our guys can watch. We can put things up for kids to watch or segments for position groups and tell them to watch that and we can tell who has watched or not watched and make them accountable for that. It helps us maintain a trust with our players because we don’t want them to spend more tme than they need to.”

One downside, Buchanan adds, is the metrics take some strategy out of the game.

“I’m old-school enough that I favor having to make adjustments on the fly,” he said. “Part of me wants guys out there learning to analyze, improvise and overcome on their own. But if everybody else is using the technology, we are sure going to use it.”

Certainly, the players, who have cut their teeth in the era of high tech, are adapting.

“I’ve gone into the cafeteria at lunch and have seen our players sitting there watching plays on their phones,” Ashcraft said.

 

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