January 13, 2014 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Getting on board with new technology in basketball programs

by Kevin Hoffman, Managing Editor

When Kyle Murphy began working at Hudl nearly seven years ago, it was led by no more than a handful of employees. The staff there today numbers more than 100, and Hudl has grown into one of the leaders in helping coaches analyze game film.

That type of rapid growth illustrates the demand for innovative tools and technology, which are becoming more prominent in high school programs across the nation. Whether it’s keeping team statistics, diagramming plays or improving overall team performance, coaches are consistently finding the answers on their smartphones or tablets. That’s a trend industry experts believe will only grow as technology expands and becomes more intuitive.

“The technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, so you’re getting more computer power per dollar into a smaller package every year that goes by, said Murphy. It’s cheaper, it’s faster and it’s smaller physically when you think about your iPhone and how much power is in that device. That makes it so we can do some pretty sophisticated things with our technology that a coach used to spend 10 hours putting together manually.”

Aaron Makelky, a coach at Big Piney High School in Wyoming, converted his playbook to an all-digital format four years ago. He created a secure website that maintains all the diagrams for his offense and defense. It even includes videos so the students can log in and do film study on their own.

This is the type of luxury that didn’t exist 20 years ago, and though the evolution of the “digital coach” is still in its infancy, many are impressed by how far technology has come. Makelky also uses Hudl and Coach’s Eye with his players, allowing him to breakdown video and almost instantly make adjustments.

Makelky’s school outfits all freshmen with iPads, while sophomores, juniors and seniors receive laptops. Because all students are connected through their devices, it makes it incredibly easy for him to communicate with his student-athletes and transmit information more efficiently.

“We put in a whole new offense and defense two years ago, and I think just in terms of preparing them and getting everything planned out is way easier than doing it on paper, Makelky said. You don’t have to redo it and you don’t lose stuff. Something that you’re going to turn around and use the next year you can basically leave as is and it’s zero maintenance.”

That doesn’t include player instruction, which is made much simpler and allows practices to run smoothly. Makelky no longer has to spend time at practices teaching his kids how to run a certain drill because he can send them videos to watch at home. That way when they get to practice, they’re ready to go without holding up the rest of the group.

“We put the practice plan up on the website and it tells them what’s new for each position, he said. If a kid doesn’t know that, it’s just their homework to watch the video before they come to the first practice.

“Kids can’t read Xs and Os like coaches can, so I think this has been really big for those kids that are visually learners. They can focus a little a better and understand what we’re trying to get them to do.”

The district superintendent at Clinton High School in Missouri made a strong commitment to technology, using it in the classroom and the athletic department. The football program was given three iPad minis, and other sports like basketball received one.

There is no shortage of sports apps or software that have hit the market. Some coaches use apps like Bamboo Paper to draw up instructions for athletes when they need visual aids. They also use Twitter to send out pictures of the athletes working during practices or to provide information for parents and team members. The technology is not only about simplifying things but also connecting the community.

That’s apparent at Big Piney High School, where all students are given their own devices. Makelky has a greater ability to keep in touch with his athletes off campus, and they’re not held back by a lack of technology. He only expects that interaction to grow, and coaches who aren’t yet on board must learn to adapt.

Makelky said adjusting to all the new devices and putting them to work inside his program has created no issues at all, but that might not be the case for veteran coaches accustomed to whiteboards and printed playbooks.

Every program leader must first make sure any technology fits within their philosophy. They then should do everything they can to learn about the systems, how to use them and how to effectively implement them. If you’re having trouble, get help.

“There’s the culture aspect, and I think coaches in general are pretty old-school guys, Makelky said. It’s a great tool, and I think more and more people are going to start using this stuff.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who say we don’t need those devices, but I think it’s good for the sport and I’m all in favor of it.”

Murphy agrees that tablets and smartphones will become necessary coaching tools as more resources continue to be developed. He doesn’t think it will be long before systems are able to use statistics and provide detailed analytics that will weigh one team’s performance against national averages. For example, it could highlight a basketball team’s weakness in the paint or a football team’s inability to score in the red zone.

“What we see in all the numbers that we track is that all signs point toward coaches using tablets like crazy, Murphy said. I think mobile coaching tools are here to stay, and all our data says that mobile will surpass desktop and laptop usage within the next couple of years.

“It’s coming, and the guys that are out ahead of it will have an advantage for awhile.”

Murphy said growing pains are part of the process when making these types of transitions, but developers are constantly working out the kinks while helping to minimize the impact on users.

“All it takes is one time where technology fails and a coach maybe won’t give it a second look, he said. It’s our responsibility to make sure that never happens.”

Technology improves the overall learning experience, and that’s why Smoot thinks coaches and teachers alike are doing themselves a disservice if they’re not exploring their options. Whether it’s player safety or helping kids better understand the game, advanced technology is the future.

“I can tell one of my players to keep their tail down and their eyes up, and with this technology they can see that and make that improvement immediately, Smoot said. Stuff like that, which can keep our kids safer and well-trained is a beautiful thing.”