Hudl gives football coaches, players 24-7 film access [The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)]
(Morning Call (Allentown, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 08--As his team went through its final preparations before a game last season, Liberty High School football coach Dave Brown realized the Hurricanes did not have the punting average for its opponent.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. Within a few minutes, he had watched video of the opposing punter and computed the numbers he needed.
This year, every Lehigh Valley Conference football coach has had the same opportunities for a last-minute film session that Brown took advantage of last year. For the first time, all 10 teams in the league are using Hudl, a web-based software program that gives players and coaches round-the-clock access to game film. Eight of the Colonial League's 12 programs also are using Hudl this season.
Hudl has revolutionized the way area coaches break down film and filter game plans to their players. The program has also streamlined the process of making highlight videos for recruiters and trading film with opponents.
"I think the biggest thing is it just helps you work more efficiently," Brown said during a recent interview.
Whitehall coach Brian Gilbert said the widespread use of Hudl, along with access to quality film, has helped put people on equal footing when preparing for games. The majority of teams in the LVC and Colonial League use Schaf's Video Productions, a company run by Parkland High graduate Todd Schaffer, to record their games, giving coaches dependable quality for video. Easton, Liberty and Nazareth are the only football teams in the LVC or Colonial League who do not use Schaffer's business.
Once coaches upload those videos to Hudl, they can be viewed and edited anywhere a player or coach has an Internet connection.
"I know there are some coaches who would still rather put it on the TV screen and pause it and rewind it," Gilbert said. "That's just what they prefer. This is just awesome." An ever-changing job Parkland's Jim Morgans knows as well as any coach in the Lehigh Valley how much the technology involved with breaking down game film has evolved. He remembers watching black-and-white film in his playing days and the later move to VHS tapes and DVDs.
Hudl's web-based services are the latest innovation to transform how coaches like Morgans view film.
"It's so far advanced," Morgans said. "I never would have thought when I first started that these things were possible." Hudl started in 2006 when three students at the University of Nebraska -- David Graff, John Wirtz and Brian Kaiser -- wondered why major college football teams spent time burning DVD copies of games when the Internet could allow them to distribute the same information securely and quickly. The company's software has since become the premier way for football teams at the high school and college level to view and distribute game film. In the last 18 months Hudl has bought out two other companies, Digital Sports Video and APEX Sports Software, that some Lehigh Valley high school programs used in the past.
With every LVC team and most of the Colonial League programs using Hudl this season, coaches have never had an easier time exchanging game films. Rather than arrange a drop-off point between schools to swap a stack of DVDs, coaches can log onto their laptops and exchange film online.
"The days of waking up at 8 in the morning on a Saturday to do the film exchange are over," said Nazareth coach Rob Melosky, who is in his third year using Hudl.
Breaking down film has also become easier because Hudl allows coaches to access film from multiple places simultaneously. In the past, a team's coaches had to meet to complete the film breakdown from a tape or DVD. Now coaches can watch film at home, inputting information such as play type (offense, defense, special teams), down and distance, hash-mark location, offensive formation, defensive front, blitz package and defensive coverage.
Once that information is logged, coaches have endless possibilities of how to view opponents' plays and discover tendencies.
"You can have it tell me how many times they're in 'pro' and you're getting this coverage,' " said Gilbert, who spent 30 minutes walking a reporter through some of Hudl's features several weeks ago. "You can have it tell me how many times they're in pro and on the left hash. So you can have a good idea, you hope, about what teams are doing." Involving players Coaches having constant access to film is one advantage teams using Hudl have. The greater benefit may be the ability to give players the same access.
"I know, whether when I was at Allen or with Brian [Gilbert] here, I always complained that we just didn't have enough time to watch video with the kids," Palisades coach Kevin Ronalds said. "Now we do, even though we're not watching it with them." Hudl's software allows coaches a variety of ways to communicate with their players. Ronalds, for instance, said any time he completes a game edit, Hudl sends email and text alerts to his players. A couple of coaches last week said they used Hudl as another way to try to reach players to keep them updated on practice and game schedules in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Coaches can also tailor film for their players. The Hudl software allows them to highlight a player and add text to a play to indicate where mistakes were made.
Gilbert showed a video example of an offensive lineman who made a mistake in his blocking technique, with text running during the play to indicate the lineman did wrong. If a coach prefers, he could transmit the same message with a voice memo in the video rather than text.
Hudl even tracks how much time players spend watching film. While running through the system at Palisades several weeks ago, Gilbert could see the last time his players logged onto Hudl and how much video work they had done in the last week.
"When we go on and see this, no activity, we put in a lot of time doing the teaching tapes or making corrections from the prior game, and then when they don't go on it, it drives us nuts," Gilbert said. "It doesn't come out until practice. Say a check doesn't happen on defense or offense at practice. That's when you hear a coach go, 'You know what, it's because you're not watching your teach tape.' " One area where coaches see plenty of engagement from players is compiling highlights. Once footage of a game is available to them on Hudl, players can go through film and file plays they want to add to a personal highlight playlist. If they have an iPhone or Android phone with a Hudl app, they can watch film while on the bus to or from a game.
"After a game, we get the video card out of the camera and we start putting it on Hudl," Ronalds said. "If we have a home game, by 10 o'clock it's on. If not, by 10:15 players start texting me asking me where the game is, because they want to watch it already. I don't have any information on it by that time, but it's up so they can watch it." With players compiling their own highlight packages, coaches can disperse them to college recruiters within a few minutes of a request. Many college football programs also use Hudl, so a high school coach only needs an email address to send out footage of a player's top two games or 20 best plays. The days of a high school coach needing to make 15-20 copies of a top prospect's highlights and mailing them out are gone.
"I probably sent out stuff to about 20 different colleges in a 10-15 minute period," Melosky said during a recent interview. "That's the one big thing, is that it helps sell your kids in an easy way." For all the positives Hudl has delivered for coaches and players, it has its shortcomings. The software doesn't track when players watch video on their phones, something Gilbert would like to see added.
Using a web-based system also leads to times where video may not be available. That happened a few weeks ago, when Hudl's servers went down and forced Whitehall to juggle its schedule. The Zephyrs usually watch film Monday before heading to the practice field, but reversed that plan because of Hudl's server problems.
Most coaches will trade the occasional technological hiccup for the ease of film access Hudl delivers most of the time.
"We haven't burned a DVD here for 3 years," Brown said. "[The potential is] unlimited. But to me, the best part of it is now your assistant coaches, your players have access to film all the time.
"To me, the other thing with all of it, it used to be hard to get films on other teams. Now, half the teams in the league, you can pull it up on YouTube and look at a kid's highlight film. There's really no secrets to anything." [email protected], 610-820-6750 Twitter: @mcall_smiller Staff writer Tom Housenick contributed to this story.
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