Using Everyday Tech to Lighten Your Workload & Become a Better Coach

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By Bill Shepard, Head Football Coach, Christian Life High School, Rockford, Ill.

No matter how “old-school” a coach you think you are, whether you realize it or not, technology is affecting the culture of coaching sports. And that’s not a bad thing.

Tech-based tools, such as using tablet computer devices, cloud-based game-film and file-sharing systems, email, smart phones, and even social-media platforms like Twitter or Snapchat, have all infiltrated a football coach’s daily life.

Over time, this has created a “culture of technology” that today’s coaches MUST have a handle on. Coaches need to become acquainted with each of these technologies to maintain control of the team and not feel left behind.

Coaches are much better served by embracing these wonderful electronic tools and develop practical ways to use these technologies to effectively and productively take back the coaching of football.

In the NFL, pro football coaches and players use Microsoft Surface Pro tablets to capture data, statistical information, display photos (no video replays on tablets are currently allowed on NFL sidelines) and other visual cues to relate what just happen recently on the field in any given situation.

Having instant access to real-time data and information is becoming so popular that it has made its way down to the high-school level. (Where there are NO sideline video restrictions.) As such, seeing some manner of in game, sideline replay-system is now a common occurrence on Friday nights at high school football stadiums across the nation.

While real-time, in-game data is a wonderful coaching tool – most football coaches haven’t even scratched the surface yet as to the real potential impact that technology can have on your program.

Coaches can significantly improve their coaching and their player’s on-field performance by utilizing technology effectively and doing so when it really counts – during practice.

Best of all, if used properly, these technologies help you become a more efficient coach, saving you the most-precious coaching commodity of all – TIME.

To many coaches reading this, I am preaching to the choir and many of you use technology constantly and understand its importance much more so than I do. In fact, I am always interested in learning how to expand my usage of technology more effectively to become a better coach.

But to those coaches who are NOT embracing technology and NOT diving in to learn more, so that you can take advantage of today’s wide-array of common tech tools that would help you every day, and for those of you who are uncomfortable with your tech knowledge and need a few tips and pointers – then this article is for you.

Practical Examples: Using Coaching Technology

Many coaches simply do not have enough time in the day to sift through all of the footage filmed of each day’s football practice. And not everyone can devote time every day to watching and reviewing opponent’s film or self-scouting video from your last game.

Most head coaches divide the responsibility of using film and technology among their coaching staff. Or at a minimum, they have at least one-person on staff who is considered to be the “technology guy” and that coach (or coaches) are usually assigned to handle all the responsibility and breakdowns of film.

Outside of breaking down film, there are other ways that coaches can utilize technology to do a better job on a daily basis.

Below are a handful of real-world examples of simple, yet effective technology-related items our football program has utilized in recent seasons.

These strategies may seem simple, or even sound like common-sense advice in some instances, but hopefully, one or more of these tips may trigger a light-bulb idea in your head that you can use within your own program. Either way, these tips have helped my football program immensely, while also broadening my appreciation for technology.

Tech Tip No. 1: Find A Student Who Is Good With Technology To Help You.

No matter how technologically proficient you or you assistant coaches may be, you should always search out a student in your school who is savvy and proficient with technology. Ask him or her to play a vital role in the school football program and solicit this student’s help at least twice a week.

As a work-around, some teams mistakenly assign the team manager to handling all things technology-related – but many times, this is not a good idea and causes the team manager to become pulled away from his core team responsibilities (and usually, that sort of thing occurs right when you need them done most).

The bottom line is that any tried and true technology freak loves to use it and knows the best advantages of using it. Write a brief script of what you want and then let him or her get to it.

Set the length of any video editing you want done to clips of between 15- to 20-seconds, emphasizing that the video clip show examples of what you want a player to know and achieve.

Tech Tip No. 2: Develop an Information-Sharing System Making Use of a Student-Athlete’s Smart Phone.

Two characteristics of today’s young student athletes make this a viable and appealing coaching strategy.

·      The vast majority of players use smart phones to share and receive files.
·      Many young people today are visual learners.

Smart phones are literally personal computing devices. As such, why not take advantage of these to send video clips, messages, notes, diagrams and other coaching points? (Which I call “quick shots.”)

Using this system, your players will have instant, portable access to information that they can review at any time, for multiple viewings that will help them improve.

We’ve had success sending these “quick shots” to players during a break or at the end of practice.

As a by-product, you’ll also find that using this system on a daily basis helps to improve coach-player communications and personal rapport.

Tech Tip No. 3: Send Specific Instructional Video Clips Directly to Players’ Smart Phones.

Taking Tech Tip 2 one step further, you can take advantage of the video capabilities of today’s smart phones to send short, specific instructional-coaching video clips to individual players or position groups.

In Video Clip A, (seen below) as an example, I had been working with our team’s kicker to help him develop a solid pooch kick that we could utilize on kickoffs in specific situations.

To help him learn the proper technique and execute pooch-kicks consistently when called upon in live-game situations, I had him perform repetitions seen in a 6-second video clip we put together of a pooch-kick drill where the idea was to focus on the proper technique for how to contact the ball correctly, and getting the ball into the air at the proper height.

 

To begin the drill, we had the kicker set the ball about 5 yards from the goal line and told him that the concept of the drill was to work on driving the ball over the goal post and as high as the goal post.

Before the kicker began the drill, I showed him the video clip of the pooch-kick drill (Video Clip A) and we watched it together while discussing coaching points. After viewing the clip a few times together, I sent the video to the kicker’s Smart Phone (via our Hudl account) and followed up with another “quick shot” of more pooch-kick video tips later in the week.

By having the instructional information readily available on his Smart Phone, the kicker could play it over repeatedly, pausing the video and looking for areas that may help him improve pooch-kick technique (such as: approach, body angle, or even plant-foot placement) and gain an understanding of the coaching points better.

 

Video Clip B was loaded onto our team’s Apple iPad and the team technology manager followed my instructions to edit the clip to show a 6-second example video of how to make proper contact with the ball, while achieving the necessary angle to apply enough force to drive the ball high, without driving it too deep.

Watching this clip together on an iPad device allowed the coach and player to note critical fundamental techniques such as head position, foot placement, contact point on the ball and force of the leg drive.

This method of using technology (via an on-field iPad) helped our kicker improve quickly, and it also allowed me to leave the kicker alone and go work with another position group, which is a prime example of how it saved me valuable practice time.

Using the same strategy, later in practice I could switch things up and work with the kickers while the other position group of players were filmed doing a help blocking drill run by one of the assistant coaches.

Video Clip C (shown below) is a video example of the “Help Blocking Drill” with the same goal in mind to improve players, while getting them to understand the goals of the coach by using the drill.

Again, we sent the video clip to the player’s Smart Phones via our cloud-based Hudl account, giving the players access to information that would help them, and ultimately, help the team to improve.

This doesn’t take a great deal of time on the coach’s part and with the student tech manager can edit and put the clips you need together quickly and easily.

You may be reading this and saying to yourself, “I’ve used versions of this system for years already.” And truth be told, filming players on the big school level has been around for a long time. My point is that all these things examples were implemented using technology that’s now available as a part of everyone’s daily life.

You will be amazed to the speed this can effectively be used.  I have used it to correct major problems with technique in both track-and-field, and football. It works.

 

Tech Tip No. 4: Utilize “Instructional Still-Photos” and Share Them to Players’ Smart Phones.

I began using and looking at photos as a form of helping players many years ago, when one day, as I was looking through old albums of games and players, I began noticing things that needed to be improved with technique, fundamental corrections or coaching points I’d never noticed previously.

Just by looking at old still photos, I noticed things such as…

·      The lean used by the pulling guards
·      A running back’s body position
·      Where a player’s eyes were focused on during a specific play.
·      Poor blocking technique.

The more I studied photos, the more adept I became at identifying fundamental errors in a player’s technique. These were all fixable, correctable mistakes and I used this newfound information to become a better teacher of football.

Make note, however, that studying and analyzing still-photos is a much different thought-process than watching video clips and requires a sort of self-taught way of looking at game action captured in a time-frozen photograph.

As a result, studying still-photos also led to better drills, a greater emphasis on certain techniques and correcting old habits with new ones.

Video Clip D is an example of a Still-Photo Slide Show I put together and used for years when I was an assistant coach. It was built solely of still-photo examples of fundamental mistakes mixed in with examples of proper technique. In watching the video together, we could correct technique in our running backs’ “ball-control ability” in a different drill.

We had fun with the slide show and wanted to make this an enjoyable process, so you’ll notice that we set it to music.

In Video Clip D, you’ll notice that some of the ball position by running backs was good but others needed work. This video was created during a time when we were emphasizing that RBs could still “Protect The Rock” while being a powerful force as a back – to the point of making our own holes. I also used this video to look at blocking form with drive and tackling technique as well.  Again, a still photo can tell so much if you study it.

Freeze Frame Drill

Many years ago, playing off the same concept as looking at Still Photos, I came up with a drill called “Freeze Frame” that we use to this day as a teaching tool.

In Freeze-Frame Drill situations, I would have a play called, (calling it in the huddle or at the line), and the players would set up at the line of scrimmage, and allow the defense to set up, making their calls.

On command, the play would begin and the players would run the play LIVE offense versus defense. At any point in the play, I would blow my coaching whistle, (players were told about this segment before practice), and on the whistle, all players on both side would freeze in exactly the body position and location on the field that they were in.

While “frozen” – the coaches would comment and make corrections. After that, the coaches would move players, placing them in different spots and body positions. When everyone was set, the whistle was blown again and play would continue.

This tactic of changing body position and location, forced players to better recognize and find the next block. For defenders, it taught them the importance of the contact point to tackle better and helped give them a much better overall understanding of pursuit angles and leverage.

We also used the “Frozen” period of the drill to show “second-cut opportunities to running backs” and teach them how to look for them, as well as instructing better ways to run the same play verses varying opponents.

We used the Freeze-Frame Drill as a 10-minute segment, once a week and reinforced it with photos clips and quick shot videos.

This practice actually opened a great deal of dialogue with players and served as a common point of improvement during the week.

Have Fun With It

Technology isn’t going anywhere. In fact, with every passing year, technology is only going to improve. Today’s coaches must embrace the fact that technology is having a greater impact on everyday coaching matters than ever before.

Technology must be looked at as a means to further enhance the development of your student-athletes.

Have fun with it. If you’re not a technologically inclined person, go outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to learn a new technology-based coaching-skill each week.

About the Author:

Bill Shepard is currently the head football coach at Christian Life High School in Rockford, Ill. Shepard has been involved in coaching football for over 25 years and has served as an either an assistant, coordinator, and/or head coach at both the college and high school level. He has written articles, authored a video series and worked many camps during those years.

Email Bill Shepard: billshepard23@gmail.com

Follow Christian Life HS Athletics On Twitter: @CLSAthletics


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