10 Tips To Avoid Sideline Communication Problems On Game Day

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By Mike Podoll, Associate Publisher, This Is AFCA Magazine & AFCA Weekly

As a football coach, this is the time of year where you begin to champ at the bit to become more hands-on with all manner of football-related activities.

You may even be preparing a checklist of things to get accomplished so that you can hit-the-ground-running when pre-season practices begin. One area that far too many coaches and football programs as a whole ignore until it’s almost too late – and often with dire results – is in regard to sideline technology and communication systems.

Many programs are right on top of things, but we’ve all heard the horror stories of football-coaching staffs that pull headsets out of their cases prior to the start of the first game, only to find that the older equipment either doesn’t work or that they have no battery power.

Or even worse, when you get that dreaded “Ooooh yeah…” realization where everyone forgot that someone was going to order a few more headsets this year (only that specific task wasn’t allocated to any one particular individual).

Let’s face it, when it comes to technology and the game-day tech equipment you utilize within your football program, much of it is stored away and not thought about for months on end – unfortunately, not until right before you need it most – during your first game of the season.

NOW Is The Time To Inspect Your Communication System

While you and your staff may be excited to install that new offensive package or defensive wrinkle into your scheme, or to see the fruits of your weight-room program when the returning players show up in the summer, now is the perfect time to take a few moments to think about your technology needs for next year.

Do you have an assistant coach or equipment manager who is dedicated to this particular area? If so, it certainly can’t hurt to have an early July meeting with this individual and go over all your technology equipment needs for next season.

In this meeting, you can get a status report on the working condition and functionality of your stored equipment, a complete inventory of what equipment you have on hand and an overview of the number of coaches you want “wired in” during games next year.

AFCA Weekly worked with Adam Frank, the Product Manager – Sports Communications with CoachComm, LLC, a leading technology and equipment company based out of Auburn, Ala., to ascertain the common problem areas and pitfalls that football programs can avoid through preparation.

CoachComm, a company that began in 1991, specializes in solving the communications and technology needs for football programs at all levels of competition, in virtually all areas dealing with technology: sideline-communications systems, practice-management systems, event-management systems, and more.

“Preparation is absolutely critical when it comes to utilizing technology and communication systems to help your football team win more games,” says Frank. “Being prepared eliminates problems – and no football coach wants problems on game day.”

Frank provided a terrific checklist of 10 tips and key strategies to avoid communication gaffes during critical in-season contests. He says that each of the following tips are not only specific to an area that can help your team from a practical standpoint, but that they also carry a common thread – a central theme of preparation.

TIP NO. 1: Educate Yourself On the Headset Systems Available and Make the Right Investment. There are several options available on the market when it comes to coaches’ communications and headsets. Be sure to research each option to determine which system is the best fit for your program.

As coaches, we all know that budget can play a big part in your decision-making, but because headsets play such a vital role in your team’s on-the-field success, it is important to view this decision as an investment in the program.

The technological jargon and physical appearance of some sideline communication equipment that’s available from the various manufacturers can appear similar in many ways, but it’s the differences that truly set the best systems apart from the others.

Ask questions and evaluate system features, system set-up, antenna options and seek references from fellow coaches.

The right investment in your sideline communication system can give you a competitive edge on game day.

TIP NO. 2: Educate Yourself AND Your Staff on Operating Your Headset System. Now that you’ve done your due diligence and invested in the best system for your program – you obviously want to make sure the system performs to the best of its ability on game day.

Part of that success is up to you and your staff to learn the basic operations of the system. Depending on the type of system or the provider, system training may be offered.

It is critical, however, that as a coaching staff, you continue to spend time setting up and operating the new system following any official training. Don’t rely on someone else and then get left “helpless” on game day when you can’t figure something out with the system.

Doing so helps to ensure proper operation of your communication equipment on game day and prepares you to better understand a problem that occurs during a game.

TIP NO. 3: Avoid Surprises – Know Your Surroundings. As a coach, you ask your players to be prepared on game day. You demand that they know their in-game assignments and know their opponent. Much of the same can be said when it comes to your coaches communication system and the stadium where you’ll be playing.

Knowing and understanding as much as you can about your upcoming venue ensures that you’ll have no surprises when you get there.

In some cases, you’ve traveled to an opponent’s facility and already know what to expect. But in venues or stadiums that you are unfamiliar with, it is never a bad idea to touch base with the opposing staff or facility staff and even take a site-visit prior to game day.

This way you can learn key things of interest, such as the size of the coach’s booth, the availability of power (if needed), window access for antenna placement, etc.

TIP NO. 4: Charge Your Batteries Prior To Game Day. This may seem like a very simple task, but it’s an area that surprisingly gets overlooked too often.

Batteries and charge times can vary per system, so be sure that you leave yourself ample time to charge your system’s batteries (and any back-up batteries) each week. It is also important to understand any battery management guidelines with your system (i.e. overcharging risks, off-season charging, etc).

TIP NO. 5: Be Aware of Power Availability in the Press Box. This tip ties in to knowing your venue. Whether your system uses battery, AC power or both, you’ll want to know the availability of power in the coach’s box.

It is always good to keep extra extension cords in your accessory case in the event you need to access power in another room, hallway or outside the press box.

TIP NO. 6: Give Yourself Enough Set-Up and Test Time. Be sure to give yourself ample time to get your equipment set up and tested properly. System set-up times can vary and some systems take 5 minutes, but you still want to allow yourself time to test the system’s functionality.

This is often easier said than done, and can be challenging because you’re both a coach and a “headset tech” (in this scenario) and you also need to tend to the preparation of your players.

One relatively inexpensive solution is to hire a student manager to assist with the headsets each game.

Regardless of who it is, testing should be conducted with at least one person in the press box talking to at least one person on the field. Refrain from having too many people on the headsets during testing.

TIP NO. 7: Study Proper Antenna Set-Up Procedures and Proper Antenna Locations. Your antenna is the most vital part of system set-up. Improper set up or location of your antenna(s) can result in poor performance or even system failure. Systems vary, but if you’re using an antenna that screws directly onto the system’s base unit (in the coaches box), then the antenna placement is restricted to where the base unit must reside (in front of your press box coaches).

If this is the case, be sure you position the base unit (w/antenna) in the best available location to see the field (in the window). Most headset systems today require good “line-of-sight” to the belt-packs on the field.  Therefore, always make sure there are no obstructions between the antenna and the field.

The most common obstructions are windows. Even though you can see through windows, these windows may still serve as an obstruction for wireless signals to pass through due to either their thickness or any tinting that is present.

Whenever possible, ALWAYS open the windows (tinted or not) to remove obstruction between the antenna and the field.  This provides the best possible scenario for optimal performance.

If the press box windows do not open, then there could be an impact on performance depending on the type of window and system. Some headset providers offer “remote” antenna options that provide added flexibility whenever antenna-location becomes an issue.

This option can often allow an antenna to be remotely located on the outside of the press box, thus circumventing the window obstruction. Not all systems offer this option, so when researching a new headset system, be sure to find out which headset systems offer remote antenna options.

TIP NO. 8:  Coordinate With Others at the Game. Guess what? You’re not the only one on game day that is using wireless. If and when possible, check with other game-day personnel such as scoreboard operators, radio stations, or other media to see what types of wireless equipment they will be using and exactly where they’ll be using it.

In most cases (with some coordination) equipment and technology can co-exist. However, you do not necessarily want someone else’s antenna mounted too close to your antenna. This can cause interference due to proximity.

TIP NO. 9: Cable & Cord Management in the Press Box. Even though we are discussing “wireless” headset systems, there are some cables and wires involved in the operational functions of the wireless system. Whether it is a headset cable or a wired belt-pack cable involved, a simple, yet effective way to avoid user-errors, or even worse “user-injury,” is to tidy up in the press box during set up.

Run and tape down any cables along the baseboard or under the desktop. Use twist ties to tie-up and safely secure excess headset cables, and make sure any antenna cables are protected from being damaged.

Taking extra time to clean and secure the environment makes for a better game day experience for your coaches in the press box and prevents inadvertent damage or preventable issues with the system.

TIP NO. 10: General Care and Maintenance (Post-Game Breakdown, Clean Up). One of the best things you can do to ensure consistent, long-lasting performance from your headset system is to take care of it.

Just as important as “system set-up” is the system breakdown and clean-up procedures. Be sure that the system is powered-down properly, cables are tended to neatly, and that everything is placed properly and securely within its designated storage place.

NEVER pack up or store headsets, belt-packs or any electronic items when moisture is present on them.

Dry the equipment off properly or even let them air dry, whenever possible. Being in a rush to get home after a game and shoving items into cases can lead to damaged headsets, belt-packs, antennas and so on. Proper care and maintenance of your investment helps avoid issues on game day.

Be sure to check with your provider on annual off-season maintenance of your equipment as well.

Special Thanks to Adam Frank of CoachComm, LLC for providing us with the Top 10 list. For questions or to contact Adam, e-mail adam.frank@coachcomm.com or call (334) 321-2300 ext. 204

CoachComm, LLC

Address: 205 Technology Parkway Auburn, AL 36830
Phone: (800) 749-2761 (Toll-Free) or Phone: (334) 321-2300
E-Mail: sales@coachcomm.com

CoachComm, LLC

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