High School Sports

Coaches going hi-tech with film study these days

Battery Creek football coach Jim Shuman stood in the dark behind a laptop resting on a black utility cart and schooled his players on Carolina Forest, this week's opponent.

"Have you guys had a chance to go online and watch this?" he asked. "I can tell who has logged on and who hasn't."

Team video sessions are a part of the Dolphins' weekly routine, but with time and attention spans scarce, Shuman solicited the help of an online football video service. He uploads videos from his team's games and those of its opponents once DVDs are exchanged on Saturdays. With a user name and password, players can access the videos any time -- even at 10 p.m. with Facebook active in another window. Players can then come to coaches with questions.

Area coaches expect services like Victory Swap, which Battery Creek uses, and editing software with similar functions to become the future of film study. Remote access to video is only part.

Coaches using the same software can share videos online, eliminating the need for the Saturday morning drive and DVD exchange. When college coaches come calling, high school coaches can allow them access to a players' highlight video with one click. Games can be broadcast online, allowing the possibility of a pay-per-view ticket. Even away games would bring in a gate.

The company offering the online goodies might also provide the software to break apart video into single plays, allowing them to be sorted, highlight videos easily created and opponents' tendencies discovered.

But the services have a ways to go to attain widespread use and reach their full potential. Too few coaches use the same software. The software packages can be cost prohibitive, depending on the size and support of the football program. And some coaches are content with their current system.

At Beaufort High School, assistant coach Bryan Merrick and a video team made up of members of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District boast that their crew is among the best in the state.

The Eagles use Digital Sports Video, recently acquired by competitor Hudl, to process video. The software breaks up game film into separate plays and allows coaches to label offense, defense and special teams and tag formations, down and distance and hash marks. The software can then spit out tendencies of opposing offenses.

A third camera, set up on a tripod cranked as high as the goal post, gives the Eagles a unique perspective. With their remote, coaches can cycle through the same play from a tight angle, wide angle and end zone.

Beaufort High's software includes online capability, the ability to upload and share video with other high school coaches and college recruiters, but Merrick said the team hasn't used the online component since purchasing the software in 2008.

"There's a huge advantage to doing it," Merrick said. "We've got to get ourselves in the next step. So far, it's not to where you have to do it. Not enough programs are out there doing it to where it's a necessity. Right now, it's just kind of a luxury."

Whale Branch coach Rob D'Amato and the Warriors staff use PowerEdit, software made by headset manufacturer CoachComm. Like Digital Sports Video, PowerEdit can tag plays, spit out statistics and create cut-ups.

But the software can be slow, D'Amato said. He received a deal when purchasing the equipment when Whale Branch opened last year.

"When you're breaking down three games, four or even five, which I'm working on right now, it can take just about your entire Saturday," he said.

D'Amato's wish list would include a faster system and ability to remotely access video, which Hudl offers. But for now, PowerEdit works and is a step up from paper and pencil he used to chart plays at previous stops.

Instead of posting video online, D'Amato gives players access to a jump drive and posts files on a universal drive that can be accessed throughout the school.

The issue of granting players access to watching video on their own varies by staff.

Beaufort High coach Mark Clifford said he only sends DVDs home with players he feels will pick up on the correct things. He loaded up former quarterback Beau Brown with video because of the number of checkdowns and audibles required and said current quarterback Alex Gregory would begin bringing home DVDs soon.

"They've really got to be a student of the game in order for you to give a player that," Clifford said.

Bluffton High School coach Ken Cribb doesn't send video home with players. The Bobcats are invited to watch video at the school Sunday afternoons and break down film with coaches throughout the week, he said.

Shuman said he gives the Dolphins access because of limited time during the week. And in the dark room inside Battery Creek's fieldhouse, while players watch film and listen to coaches instructions, the door opens and closes multiple times. Like in a classroom, players might tune out after a certain point, Shuman said. He imagines in the future scheduling times to meet players online at night and answer questions -- a virtual study session.

"I guess we're trying to keep up with the modern times, is what we're trying to do," Shuman said.

He admits it could be years before high school teams are on the same page with technology. Cost is a major factor.

Merrick said the Eagles' video crew recently estimated the cost of its accumulated software and equipment at $30,000, which includes cameras, tripods, remotes, software, DVDs and DVD duplicators.

Shuman uses Victory Swap free on a trial basis -- it normally costs $300 per year -- but said he probably would add software capable of breaking apart and analyzing film, with money coming from the booster club and team fundraisers. He uses Windows Media Player now.

With some smaller football programs, like private Hilton Head Christian Academy, the cost for the latest video technology has proven too much. Christian Academy coach Tommy Lewis said he has researched various services but never pulled the trigger.

He said he has priced cheaper programs from $800 to $2,000 and more extensive services ranging from $6,000 to $20,000.

"If we ever get some big wig who wants to cut us a check for $25,000 and tells us to put it into video hardware and software, we'll gladly take it and invest in those things," Lewis said. "Just on a year-to-year basis, there are just other things that are more important to do with that kind of money."

For some, not fully embracing the technology is a matter of preference. A common complaint is that without the best software, the process can prove more work than it's worth.

Shuman has a program to chart plays but said he and his staff do most of the work by hand. Cribb and the Bobcats use software called Apex to break down video and find tendencies of opposing offenses. But Cribb's job is to find holes in the opposing defense, and the software isn't much help there.

Experience and knowledge of an opposing coach's style are also assets.

"A lot of us still look at the play and draw on manilla folders," he said.

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