Northfield teams tap into digital tools for a practice edge

Junior Seth Shuster sprinted across the gym floor on Wednesday, stabbing the end of his pole vault into a hole and launching himself into the air. After landing on a mat he walked his way over to volunteers Andrew Boucher and Annie Goetschel, where they sat with an iPad and laptop.

Seconds later Shuster was breaking down film of the jump he had just completed, showing in the procees one of the ways digital tools can help athletes and coaches improve in today’s high school athletics.

“It helps me a lot personally because if I see myself I can adjust to it visually, and know specifically what I’m doing wrong,” Shuster said. “It’s kind of hard when [coaches] tell you a bunch of things and you think, ‘What exactly am I doing?’ But then when you see it, it helps a lot.”

A few feet away long-time track and field coach Jerry Larson watched with approval as his technologically-savvy assistants gave his athletes the tools they needed to learn in a different way.

“I wish we would have had this years ago,” Larson said. “I coached diving for many years, coached track and field for many years, and in the field events this would have been huge. Huge.”

Larson and Northfield High School’s pole vault crew is far from the only group using digital tools to enhance teaching and learning experiences. Raiders in multiple sports are picking up on the idea that digital resources — relatively cheap ones — are available right at their fingertips.

“There’s only going to be more as technology continues to move along. There have been great uses of it,” NHS activities director Tom Graupmann said. “We definitely promote it. If it’s there and there’s a use for it, let’s go get it.”

New school approaches

For Larson the key was Goetschel, who volunteers with the team and raised the idea of using technology for the Raiders. She brought Boucher — the “brains behind this operation” — who said he enjoys making websites in his free time and set one up for the pole vault team.

Goetschel films a Raider on an iPad as they make a jump, and by connecting to Boucher’s laptop the video can instantly be transferred. Once there, Boucher can convert the film and plug it into his website, where athletes can view it at any time, from anywhere.

“If you have some editing software you could slap all this together really quickly,” he said.

Even in its immediate instant replay function, athletes can view themselves in slow motion, going forward or backward to any point in their clip instantly.

“It’s really straightforward,” Goetschel said. “I could see a lot of teams doing this.”

Some at NHS already have. Coach Melissa Bernhard and the gymnastics team have been using similar iPad technology, in particular a program called “Coach’s Eye,” which allows them to interact with and draw directly onto video footage to show where optimal angles and body placement would be.

“It helps slow everything down so we can see everything a little easier,” Bernhard said. “Vaults, how they’re coming in, happen so fast. They come in with such high speed and force that it’s hard to figure out what’s causing something to go wrong at the end of a skill.”

Bernhard said there is also a voiceover feature of the program, which allows coaches to talk while the film is in regular or slow motion, record it, and then digitally send their instructions and the video to the athlete to watch anywhere.

“It gets exhausting just listening to a coach say something over and over, versus when the athlete can see firsthand what they’re doing,” she said. “You’ll say this is happening…and they’ll say, ‘I can’t feel it.’ Then you show them and they go, ‘Oh.’”

Coach’s Eye — which costs all of $5 to download — is just one of many programs available to teams. Both NHS’s football and girls basketball teams have used “Hudl,” another video software program that allows detailed interaction for the user. Girls basketball coach Tony Mathison said he has even heard of a program, “Noah Select System,” that digitally tracks basketball shot arcs and provides feedback on proper shooting form and optimal angles.

“There are a number of different items out there,” Mathison said. “And just like anything else [with digital tools], it’s really endless.”

While the Noah system falls closer to “state of the art” on the technology scale, there are plenty of useful programs available to teams for free. Any and all of those programs have helped contribute to the transition away from propping up a camcorder and having athletes break things down on tape.

“We had a camera, and that wasn’t always available and wasn’t convenient,” Larson said. “You’ve got this little tiny window to look at and you call kids over to look at it, and they look in the monitor. It’s not quite the same. That’s why I got the iPad. The biggest screen they had.”

Catching on

For teams that have started using technology like this, it has become a part of daily practice and competition. Larson said he plans to film during practice at least once a week and during every track and field meet, and Bernhard said the gymnastics team has already consistently used their newfound digital tools on a weekly basis.

Those two sports in particular have technical aspects that advanced video can help break down, but practically every sport has elements that athletes could benefit from seeing themselves in action.

“This could be a valuable asset to any team to have this footage available to watch,” Boucher said.

In an age where coaches and teams are always looking for a competitive edge, more and more options are becoming available in the digital world.

“This should be used everywhere,” Shuster said. “Pitching in baseball, skiing, wrestling; you can really break down and see specifically what’s going on and what you’re doing. It’s a great tool to use in any sport.”


Kiefer Vaulter Magazine
Kiefer Vaulter Magazine

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