Whether meeting in the parking lot of a K-Mart store in New Lenox, Illinois, or at halfway points throughout The Land of Lincoln, Mike Maloney has covered many miles exchanging game film with opposing football coaches. Maloney’s situation isn’t unique, not as a young assistant high school football coach fresh out of college in 2005, or as he rose to lead his own programs in the years that followed.
For high school coaches, there simply wasn’t another option. The advent of online film exchange capabilities has changed that, however, and while saying it is as significant as the addition of the forward pass to the game of football might be overkill, there is no denying that this technology has been a game-changer for high school coaches and players.
“It’s amazing to me how quickly things have changed,” Maloney said. “Not only do we save the physical time in the car to travel to get film, but also the three or four hours it can take to process the film. Now it’s literally one-click and you tag the film however you want. It shifts the focus from labor to coaching, strategy and player development.”
Computer-based football coaching software began popping up around 2000, but the cost to purchase resources required to run it confined the market mostly to pro and college teams. As more companies got involved and drove the price down, the software began to filter into the high school game, but the progression was not without its kinks.
Initially, most football software was geared only toward internal team usage, not sharing with opponents. After a game, schools would digitize their game film and edit it on computers with the software to more efficiently provide players with study tape – initially on DVDs and then online. However, a single-game upload time could take four hours or more and file formats were often non-compatible or easily corrupted, adding layers of time and trouble-shooting.
The evolution of technology addressed many of these issues throughout the 2000s, and by 2010 the breakdown software was the norm at the high school level, with more and more schools trading film online as well. The last major hurdle to be cleared with football lied within schools using different software partners, as they were generally unable to exchange with one another across different company platforms. That all changed when HUDL, the 2006 brainchild of a University of Nebraska football graduate assistant and two computer science classmates, acquired competitors Digital Sports Video and APEX Sports Software in 2011 and 2012, respectively. As a result, HUDL became the mainstream online film exchange product for high school football, making conference-wide agreements for all schools in a league to purchase it and move all exchange online the norm.
“Most of our coaches are just hoping to save time when breaking down their video, doing it from home instead of staying at school all hours of the night,” said HUDL Brand Manager Alli Pane. “Others are fully committed to the statistical analysis and finding tendencies in their plan, as well as the opponent’s.” (Editor’s Note: Five online film exchange companies were contacted for interviews, but only HUDL responded.)
Now at Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, Illinois, and 34 years of age, Maloney is below the median head coaching age, but makes it clear that online film exchange doesn’t have a dividing line set by age or technical expertise.
“You can be an old-school football coach and still recognize the competitive advantage you have using online film exchange,” said Maloney. “When you see teams developing a preparation strategy quicker and more efficiently, you have no choice but to change. It doesn’t mean the head coach has to do it personally if they aren’t comfortable. It’s a chance to delegate and give more opportunities for young coaches to impact their programs.”
HUDL estimates it now works with more than 50 sports at all levels around the world, but still fields a variety of competitors that include Krossover, TeamXStream, RightPlay and EZchanges. Some specialize in the exchange process only, while Krossover – like HUDL – utilizes game breakdown software that also has expanded to offer solutions for elements like recruiting tape for college coaches and end-of-the-season highlight videos.
The value that these online exchange programs offer to high school coaches and players is undeniable, but the benefit of this technology continues to be utilized more and more by state high school associations and officials as well.
“Online film exchange has been incredible for us at the UHSAA,” said Ryan Bishop, assistant director and football administrator of the Utah High School Activities Association. “We have been lucky that all stakeholders – coaches, officials, our office and athletic administrators – have worked together to come up with a plan and program for film exchange. It benefits everyone in our efforts to train, evaluate, connect and be able to have a better understanding of what current issues every day within sports we administer.”
In addition to meeting needs of coaches, online film exchange offers officials a chance to review their own game, just like coaches and players.
“Online film exchange has helped me have easy and timely access to games I have worked,” said Bob McKinney of the Broward County Football Officials Association in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The ability to review my football crew’s game within days of the contest enables me to provide timely feedback to my crew. It has helped me see what I have done incorrectly as a crew chief.”
Not to mention that the ability to receive and edit game film and edit it into teaching materials helps to train and mentor young officials.
“Having the group watch others is a great learning tool,” said Stan Brown, vice president of the Shelby Football Officials Association in Birmingham, Alabama. “Especially for our new and less-experienced
officials. We watch the officials, their zones and players’ actions on the film, not necessarily the ball. It helps each of us to reflect and discuss what was right, what was wrong and how to improve.”
In 2013, the NFHS passed new rules to allow coaches to film games in real-time from the sidelines on device-like tablets and use them as teaching aids during games. Bishop recognizes that technology
will likely continue to have an impact the NFHS rules writing process.
“It will be interesting if the technology goes faster than what the games rules committee is willing to implement,” said Bishop. “It seems we are almost at that point now. It’s hard to imagine film getting even more advanced, but I’m sure there is more out there.”
Needless to say that if a high school coach is making a trip over to the local K-Mart these days, he or she won’t be there for a parking lot film exchange.
Matt Troha is assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.