Athletes use high tech to improve their skills

Coaches also implement components into their game plans

By Andrew de las Alas, Cathedral High School - IN

“The future’s not coming. It’s already here” says a U.S. Air Force ad. And they’re right.

Technology, one of the most obvious indications of this future, has steadily inundated our lives. Packages can be delivered in hours, video calls allow for face to face connection across continents and the internet can provide a virtual library of Alexandria in a few short keystrokes.

Given the techie culture of the 21st century, it makes perfect sense that athletics is utilizing technology, too.

Hudl is one of the most versatile pieces of software that a team can implement and is commonly used across high school sports, as well as in smaller college programs. The video-based app allows for coaches to upload footage from practices, games, or anything else they may wish for.

Head Football Coach Mr. Bill Peebles ‘88 said, “We’ve used it for a few years now. It allows us to break down opponents’ tendencies by yard line, plays, defense, coverage, blitz. Once we put the information in, we’re in good shape and can put a game (plan) together.”

Peebles said, “There’s a saying: the eye in the sky does not lie.”

Hudl’s real benefit is the ability to analyze player movement and position. The coach of the top-ranked Fighting Irish said, “We can see what our kids are doing when they succeed and what they do when they fail.”

The app is integrated into the weekly schedule for the football program. In the beginning of the week, the team will meet to watch film. Through Hudl, coaches can pause and draw on the video to explain mistakes “and show them exactly what to do,” said Peebles.

To prepare for Friday night, players and coaches can review the opponent’s film via Hudl as well, which is much faster than driving hours away to exchange VHS tapes hand to hand. Peebles attributed some success in a recent game against Carmel, a 44-28 Irish win over the defending Class 6A State champions, to this analysis.

“We had their defense broken down, and knew what their post-snaps would be. Our quarterback knew what to read because of that video,” he said.

The app can also help athletes who hope to play in college. Peebles emphasized that the software makes sharing video extremely easy.

“Every kid has access to it on their phone, computer or iPad,” he said. Players are encouraged to make highlights reels, especially since the app can stitch together elements that will specifically catch the eye of collegiate coaches.

We run an offense light years different from when I was here and we were still using VHS or CD.

— Football Head Coach Mr. Bill Peebles '88

Peebles said that players are truly benefiting from this heightened level of analysis, because it “helps people see where they’re at” whether on Friday nights or during practices.

“Technology has improved tremendously and improved our level too,” said Peebles. “We run an offense light years different from when I was here and we were still using VHS or CD.”

Student athletes can relate to this sentiment, too. Baseball player junior Will Mayer said in the three years he’s been able to develop as a player by working with data from various technologies.

“I go to Grant Park every weekend for baseball and they use Trackman, which is a machine that can out the speed and exit velocity of the pitch,” he said.

Mayer also attaches a Blast Motion sensor to his bat to measure bat speed and special baseballs to focus on building velocity.

Mayer said, “You get a number for the speed of the ball or how hard you hit. And if that number isn’t where it needs to be, you know you need to hit the weight room.”

You don’t need a ball in your sport to innovate, either.

Track and field Head Coach Mr. John O’Hara ‘02 said that many of his athletes use a side app called Hudl Technique. The app can take video with a very high amount of frames per second and can then be slowed down. Similarly to how football coaches may look at defensive fronts, track coaches are able to concentrate on a sprinter’s body mechanics.

The app offers a feature that superimposes the angle degree of the knees, back and arms in the image, but then even suggests where they should be. “It gets very technical and mathematical,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara said that the app is able to offer insight for runners who are just starting their events.

“Hurdlers that are new to the sport really struggle with seeing how they hurdle and understanding their knees, ankles, neck and back. It’s a lot of things, but the more experienced ones make it look very smooth,” he said.

Collin O’Dell ‘19 was introduced to hurdles his freshman year and had no prior experience.

“Over four years, he was able to see (through Hudl Technique) where he was so we could focus on the lead and trail leg,” said O’Hara. O’Dell was a State finalist as a senior, and is “a pretty good example of a guy who made the most out of his opportunities,” said O’Hara.

The sheer amount of technology available to every kind of athletic program can be almost overwhelming. Both coaches expressed a degree of caution when examining their options. Peebles said that the “implementation dip” in instruction and performance comes with any technology, but “it’s a part of progress.” O’Hara said “It’s a tool, not an end all be all.”

For O’Hara, one of the most important aspects to keep in mind in a digitizing world is the coach-athlete relationship. “It’s still Number 1,” he said. All the video and pictures can be extremely helpful, but it’s important “not to overstimulate and forget why you got into coaching. Remember to make a better person out of the athlete and the coach,” O’Hara said.

Technology, in all its forms, is shaping the world. It’s often much more subtle than flying cars and robot butlers. It has already revolutionized so many pieces of our society, including athletics.

So really, as Peebles said, “It’s not the future. It’s now.”

This story was originally published on The Megaphone on September 24, 2020.