Mission Control Part 4: Harnessing Live Analytics

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By Keith Grabowski, Offensive Coordinator And Offensive Line Coach, Oberlin College | Twitter: @CoachKGrabowski | Website: http://thecoachesedge.com/

In this last part of Mission Control, we will look at how live analytics can aid a coach in calling a play that has a higher likelihood of success on the field. In 1970 the late Homer Smith, former college offensive coordinator, envisioned a time when computers would aid in calling plays. His vision including having 11 observers inputting data on who was winning the match-up they were watching. The data would be analyzed by a computer and the the computer would suggest a play based on what was happening on the field.

Recent rule changes in high school and college now allow technology use in the game, so how close did Smith come to predicting the future? Based on what I have been able to develop and test this off season, a coach can accomplish that right now.

The basis of a program I developed is the Coaches Edge Game Planning System. Harnessing the principles of game planning that Bill Walsh and Brian Bullock laid out years ago, I developed a system that allows a coach to enter his game plan and the defenses he wishes to practice against one time and his scripts for the week, call sheets, and player wristbands are autofilled and finished for the week. All the coach needs to do is hit print and the minutia of scripting a practice is finished. Depending on the detail a coach puts into a script, anywhere from 8 to 12 hours are saved on each side of the ball. The benefit of using technology to aid in workflow and efficiency is realized immediately.

I saw the rule change as an opportunity to harness the power of analytics and technology. I wanted to be able to utilize my call sheets on a computer screen to help workflow in the press box on game day. I called one of my former assistant coaches who is well-versed in Excel and we created a program much like Smith envisioned. With an observer and a coach entering data during and after a series, the plays planned for the down and distance, field position and hash immediately show up in front of the the play caller. He isn’t left to search across a 11×17 call sheet to find the play he is looking for. It’s right there in front of his eyes on the monitor.

The addition of another data entry person allows for live analytics on both offensive and defensive tendencies to be viewed on the play caller’s monitor as well. Knowing manpower is limited on some staffs, we also created the flexibility to enter that data after a series and get updates between series.

Because the game is dynamic and what is planned for doesn’t always carry through the course of the game, we developed a play confidence rating system that allows the staff to adjust between series and optimize the call sheet. In this way, in-game adjustments are accounted for and the best plays for the situation go to the top of the list.

While Smith saw the play being called by the computer, the coach still has discretion in making his calls. The human side of play calling is not removed, but now data and technology are used to help a coach make the best decisions and keep his play calls organized.

We are continuing our testing and development of our game planning system and game day call optimization and we plan on utilizing it in the coaches booth this fall. The Coaches Edge Game Planning System will be released in the late spring. The new release includes a course on customizing our pre-formatted templates to fit a program’s exact needs. Templates include game plans for uptempo offense, two-platoon and two-way player offense, two platoon defense and two-way player defense. Release of the Coaches Edge Game Day Module is planned for late summer.

With video replay, live analytics, and play calling software, the coaches booth is now truly transformed into Mission Control. The future of football is here.

Keith Grabowski is currently the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Oberlin College. He has 26 years of coaching experience. Grabowski has written five digitally enhanced books on football. In addition, he has developed his own coaching education company, Coaches Edge Technologies, which creates and publishes multimedia books for coaches professional development.

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