Due to the find-any-information-in-seconds abilities of Internet search engines, it’s common to hear how kids these days just have it so easy.
When put in terms of breaking down game film and scouting other teams, this generation of football coaches has found its Google.
Hudl, a software company based in Lincoln, Neb., made up largely of tech-savvy 20-somethings, got its start in 2006 as a new way for football coaches to look at game film. Originally geared toward the highest levels of play the sport had to offer — the University of Nebraska and the New York Jets were among Hudl’s first clients — a market for high school football soon emerged and the software as it’s known today hit the market a year later. It only recently began to gain steam in Ohio (at the end of September, 63 percent of Ohio high schools used Hudl, and that number is rising).
And after its discovery, like Google is to finding information, coaches can’t imagine how they functioned without it.
“This program has everything,” Walsh Jesuit coach Gerry Rardin said. “It’s one of the biggest revolutions in a long time.”
Hudl allows schools to exchange game film instantly online, which means no driving to opposing schools to trade tapes. That saves time and money. The software then breaks down the film — formations, situations, play types, tendencies, everything normally done by a coaching staff of a dozen — and submits a written report in minutes. What used to take hours of manpower is now done in the time it takes to log onto a computer.
“The reports we get tendency-wise are so good and so thorough,” St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dan Boarman said. “These guys know what they’re doing. But I don’t want to compliment them too much to where they blow up the price.”
Hudl is even mobile, changing the way teams look at film and how they practice during a given week. The software can be used on any laptop or smart phone. A student-athlete can watch game film while walking from class to class or at home in bed.
For instance, a secondary coach wants his defensive backs to see how their next opponent uses three-receiver sets in third-and-long situations. He can send a group of plays with written or voiced notes attached to all his defensive backs and the players then can look at the plays while at home and put what they learned to practice the next day. The system even sends a report to the coaching staff detailing how long each player looked at what was sent. Many coaches have even toyed with the idea of bringing it out onto the practice field with their iPhones and looking at film between plays.
Hudl comes in three price tiers. The first, Silver, is what most schools are using and is $800 a year. Gold is $1,400 and Platinum is $3,000. There’s also an “exchange” option for $200 a year which allows schools to trade film without the functionality of Hudl breaking it down. Hudl can also be applied to other sports — anything from basketball to lacrosse — for an extra $400 a sport for two additional sports and any other sports are free. A chunk of the money spent to have the software is offset by savings in gas money, first by not having to trade game film in person and second by not having to send coaches to scout as often.
“If we’re playing a team in Week 4, we’d normally get tape from them for Weeks 1 and 2,” Rardin said. “So you would send an entire scouting staff to do Week 3 because you knew you wouldn’t get it. Now, a lot of schools don’t send out a scouting team. That’s another big savings.”
The main difference between each price level is how much practice and scout video can be uploaded onto the software (actual game film, the main hook, is unlimited for each tier). The important thing, several coaches say, isn’t what level you have, but just that you’re a part of the movement. Kenmore coach Ed Peltz says you can only digest so much information in a short period of time anyway, so the extra practice space isn’t really needed. And money aside, the time saved for $800 is “invaluable in itself.”
This isn’t just a nice convenience for many teams, either. So much time is saved that it’s fundamentally changing the way many programs operate during the week and becoming a competitive advantage for those who have it. Instead of driving an hour to exchange a film and taking one to two days to completely break it down, coaches have it all done by Saturday morning after a Friday night game and can start applying a game plan that much sooner. Schemes are implemented a couple of days earlier. Players can have practice, and by the time they’ve gotten home and eaten dinner, they can review what they just did on the field and make instant corrections.
“It’s all the things that would take you forever to do it by hand not too many years ago,” Peltz said. “And what’s nice is that kids these days are so computer-literate. You can really raise their football IQ.”
And since just about every major college subscribes to Hudl (from Division III to Ohio State), making highlight films to help a player’s recruitment is much easier. Coaches can select plays in minutes and send the film through Hudl instead of taking hours going through 10 weeks of film and burning dozens of DVDs. Players can also make their own highlight tapes and send those in on their own.
“I used to spend hours trying to make highlight tapes for kids,” Rardin said. “It’s instantaneous now. It takes minutes. And if a college wants to see film on a certain game we can send it right away. It’s great for them.”
There are some drawbacks and some coaches — such as Manchester’s Jim France — say they would just rather do it the old-fashioned way. Hudl is so quick and so easy to use, coaches aren’t meeting as a group as much, and it’s taking time to accept that as the norm. Like texting, it’s making communicating more efficient but less personal.
“It’s changed how you function as a staff,” Rardin said. “There are some aspects I don’t like as much. Before, we had to be together, had to look at the same film at the same time, and there was more interaction. Now I’m having trouble adjusting in that everyone is getting their job done, but there’s not the same interaction.”
It certainly is an adjustment period, especially for coaches who have been around longer. When asked about Hudl’s functions and abilities and the changing times, many couldn’t help but reminisce about the old days when “film” actually meant real film. The science of it all has come a long way, and this is the next big step.
“I remember 16-millimeter film,” said Firestone coach Tim Flossie, who signed up for Hudl this week after a one-month trial period. “We went from 16 to 8 millimeters to video tape to disk and now we’ve got this. It’s kind of like your grandparents saying ‘I was there for World War I, World War II or the Great Depression.’ ”
For more on Hudl and a list of area teams that use it, visit the Varsity Letters blog on ohio.com
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.