High-tech scouting comes to high school teams

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 5, 2013 - 6:27 AM

Prep teams are discarding VHS decks and DVD copiers for more efficient scouting methods.

DeLaSalle senior guard Luke Scott leaves it to his own devices to analyze, dissect and prepare for opponents.

Sitting in the comfort of his home, with no teammates or coaches or projectors around, Scott taps on his school-supplied iPad to watch videos of how Blake's offense handles a zone defense and how Providence Academy breaks a full-court press.

"My dining room table is where I normally do it," Scott said. "By myself, so I can focus on it."

Scott is one of many high school athletes in all sports across the metro area who now use mobile devices and personal computers to break down opponents through software with names such as Hudl, Sportstec, DVSport, Krossover and Dropbox.

The new online and digital tools enable teams to upload game footage to the Internet and quickly edit and organize it. Just as quickly, it can be distributed across the Web to be accessed on smart phones and other devices.

No more rewinding and fast-forwarding VHS tapes to find or emphasize key plays. No more handing out DVDs. Film sessions at school have become shorter, leaving players to prepare by watching specific plays on their own time and on their omnipresent smart phones and other devices.

Digitally focused DeLaSalle has made the most of the downtown Minneapolis private school's initiative that requires all students to have iPads for educational purposes. Boys' basketball coach Dave Thorson and his assistants, who are big advocates of film study, break down film into specific situations with Sportstec and deliver it to their players through Dropbox for 24-hour access.

"Technology has this stuff at our fingertips," Thorson said "It's taken the game to the next level."

Thorson has happily parted ways with a dozen VHS tape decks, several DVD copiers and countless hours required to edit film with now-outdated devices.

"Last year we weren't using anything this technologically advanced. Now we have all the games on the iPads. It's quite the difference," Scott said. "It's a giant step to help us understand each individual play and help prepare."

Not like the old VCR days

Within minutes of learning their team would play Rosemount in the first round of the Class 6A football tournament, Edina coaches had footage of their opponent on their computers. The Hornets broke down film of the Irish with the help of Hudl, a web-based program intended to help teams make all their video, play diagrams and coaching presentations securely available to all team members over the Internet.

The Nebraska-based company, founded in 2006, dominates much of the burgeoning high school sports market with its interactive video editing system, which ranges from $29 (per month) to $3,000 (annually). The average high school football team spends $800 a year for access.

Though the fee can be viewed as excessive, coaches believe it's so beneficial that they have shifted their budgets to find room for it. A $200 account, which permits only sharing game footage with other teams, is available to help limit costs.

Teams can go beyond the basics of only watching film with more advanced Hudl accounts and other software such as Sportstec and Kross-over. Footage recorded by a coach or volunteer from the sideline or stands can be enhanced by breaking down by quarter, by offense and defense, by play, by a specific movement and by player. The film can be marked on by coaches and then archived for a quick database search.

"It's just easier and it's time more well-spent, instead of trying to fast forward like back in the old VCR days, trying to find the exact play. Now it's right there for you," Edina football coach Reed Boltmann said. "The kids are so much more prepared."

Scouting through tapping

Hornets incoming captains Mark Bryan, Erik Veker and Kevin Placide said the unlimited web access and in-depth database make preparing for opponents easier to understand.

Placide uses free time at school and home to browse film through the Hudl app on his iPhone. Veker praised Hudl for its "powerful" ability to pinpoint specific situations. Bryan, a defensive lineman, said it's helped him make up for his lack of size by memorizing the formations of an offensive line.

Scott and his DeLaSalle teammates are now calling out opponent's plays before they do. Tapping his iPad a few times, senior guard Trey Shepherd replays the upcoming opponent's offensive plays, allowing him to recognize formations on the court.

At Mounds View girls' hockey practices, it's not uncommon for players to hear Hudl terms like "watch pp2" or "check out goal 3." Using Hudl to prepare for opponents is partially responsible for the Class 2A, No. 2-ranked team's 22-1-1 record.

"The program has become a staple teaching tool for our team and definitely gives us an advantage to look at our positives and mistakes," co-coach Chris Hanson said.

Minnetonka girls' basketball coach Leah Dasovich is thankful for the sharing aspect of Hudl, which enables teams to quickly exchange game footage. This eliminates extra scouting nights away from home for the mother of two young children.

Apple Valley boys' basketball coach Zach Goring got a sneak peek of last weekend's Minnesota-Wisconsin Border Battle opponent Madison Memorial (Wis.) with a few clicks of his computer mouse.

"[Their coach] chose a game of ours and I chose a game of his. We swapped over e-mail in a matter of 15 minutes," Goring said. "This was great. In the past, we would need to send DVDs through the mail."

College coaches also no longer have to wait for DVDs of recruits. They can request access to footage of any player whose game video has been uploaded to Hudl.

The program even offers tools to create highlight videos that can be sent directly to recruiters that use Hudl.

'Overkill' or eventuality?

Keeping tabs on who is studying game video footage has become easier, too. For example, Hudl provides coaches with information on who is logging on, how often and how long.

Constant monitoring by coaches and enhanced film viewing by amateur athletes has some coaches questioning whether such software encourages too much scrutiny.

Walt Weaver, coach of Class 3A volleyball champion Lakeville North, said this sort of analysis is "overkill" in high school and only necessary at elite college levels and in the Olympics.

Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant said if technology hadn't forced him to adopt digital scouting, he would be content building a game plan around a scout's notes.

The Roseville girls' basketball program has been successful with a conventional approach. Though only in his 30s, Jeff Crosby operates under traditional coaching methods and limits his film-watching each year. He turned down the boys' basketball team's offer to split the benefits and cost of a Hudl package.

"A lot of people have been asking me 'Do you use Hudl?' It's the old-school ways I'm used to," said Crosby, who has led his team to 18 consecutive victories and a No. 4 ranking in Class 4A. "I like pencil and paper."

But change is coming, even for Crosby. It won't be long, he said, until he'll be forced to plunge into the digital age of scouting if his Raiders want to keep up.

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