Core Training

(EDITORIAL) 2019 Summer Reflections: Technology

The technology that is available for the development of softball across all ages and levels of play is truly incredible. Being able to see it all again first hand this summer was exciting! Let’s talk about it all including GoPros, the role of different software, TV, and the impact on the game in this 2019 Summer Reflection. You can find my first two articles here:

Strengths and Weakness in the Game

1) The GoPro

Awww, the GoPro. The source of many online jokes and memes, the phenomenon that has swept the country, and the piece of “tech” that is attached to very backstop near you. I personally have a GoPro as well and I love it! It’s a fun piece of tech with many uses that has helped me capture many great memories. Though we need to talk about, what I believe is the over or misuse of them, in the athletic setting.

First and foremost, many people utilize the footage as part of their recruiting e-mails or skills video. From conversations I’ve had and Tweets or quotes I’ve seen, this generally isn’t a great idea. Why? Because you can’t really see anything; not what the coaches are most interested in, anyway. One coach shared that the value they get out of seeing those clips is the ability to watch an athlete somewhat compete. Another coach shared they don’t really enjoy the footage at all. Yet another coach on Twitter shared that prospective student-athletes have to get away from including this type of footage on their skill tapes earlier this summer.

You cannot see anything when it really comes down to it!

So, I want to pose this question to everyone who utilizes a GoPro every single game. Can we spend some time thinking about the “why”? Why are you using this piece of tech? How are you using it? And what are your goals? Does this help you achieve those goals as effectively as possible?

If you are filming so you can keep the memories of your child’s playing days, that is cool! My family has tons of home videos (back on good ol’ VHS tapes) from my various games, band performances, theater, etc. I’ve also seen some programs use it to stream back to families and friends not in attendance which is also a great use of a GoPro.

But when it comes down to usage for recruiting there are better avenues and options to help give collegiate coaches what they want and need.

As I’ve stressed, the GoPro behind the plate doesn’t show what it needs to from the sample of coaches I was able to speak with. Your best bet? Go get a handheld camera as well as a tripod and put that thing in center field, zoomed in on home plate. That provides a much better “recruiting look” for coaches evaluating film. Many college programs set up a camera in this position during their contests as they utilize this view for both offensive and pitching film review. There are many very inexpensive handheld cameras with great zoom on the market.

Outside of that, when GoPros litter the backstop it can get very distracting and even block the view of the game. It is crazy to watch the race to the backstop when there is a game change. People shuffling around to take their piece of equipment down while others rush up to secure the perfect place for theirs. I would love to challenge people to take a break sometimes with all this hustle, bustle, and to-do. Does it have to be every game? What are you actually doing with the footage after the fact? Is it adding to your experience or honestly, life? Can we just live in and enjoy the movement, technology free?

2) Blast, Rapsodo, Diamond Kinetics Pitchtracker, etc.

I’ll say it again, the advanced technology we have at our finger tips is incredible. The different options, the general affordability of it all …just incredible.

However I believe there needs to be a balance. First and foremost, we have to implement this technology properly and correctly. If you invest and introduce anything into your program or team make sure you are doing the work on the front end to fully understand what is in front of you. If you don’t, find someone who does! There is no shame in this. Reach out to the company, contact a colleague who is familiar with the tech, search out forums online, anything! You are risking causing more harm to your athletes by using tech you either don’t know how to use or are using incorrectly. Your athletes also have to be SOLID in their understand of what they are seeing presented to them. There is no point if they do not understand. Now, there is a trial and error process, obviously, but the groundwork needs to be there on the front end.

When we talk about properly utilizing the tech offerings out there you also really need to do your research. Don’t simply buy something because everyone is using it! Is it appropriate for the level and age group you are coaching? Personally, I don’t feel like 8 and 10U’s need Blast for example, it’s too early and they don’t need to be bombarded by that kind of information and data yet.

You also don’t need to buy every single device and program out there. Again, it is about finding what works best for your program and team, what your needs are, and what your athletes respond to.

There’s no question, we are in an era dominated by screens and tech. Many of our youth have developed to learning best through or with the help of these mediums. Which makes this tech boom so amazing for the growth of the game. But we have to remember there are still kids out there where this isn’t the best route or can cause more stress. We also have to remember in this great game there is still a place for “feeling things out”; there’s also the factor that sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall your way.

Example for you, when I was part of a collegiate program we had a student-athlete who the coaches intentionally limited film time for. She would over analyze, she’d get too much in her head, she’d spend too much time picking apart every little thing instead of hitting or feeling through “it”. Oh! And she was an All-American. So while she benefited from the technology we used, it had to be in moderation.

The point is, technology is great. It can be a fantastic tool, there is zero debate about that. But it also has its limits and one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Coaches, parents, instructors, etc. must approach each student-athlete as an individual to find what makes them tick, what makes it click, and how they learn best.

3) TV and streaming

It’s a golden age of coverage for the game of softball that is only getting better! From university run streams, to conferences expanding their coverage, to ESPN upping their coverage each and every year this is an incredibly exciting time for softball.

NCAA Softball is killing it in the TV ratings and audience numbers. It seems like every year we are rewriting records set just the year before. This not only aids in our growth and the betterment and advancement at the sport; especially collegiately. When the demand is there, more resources are directed to these programs resulting in better facilities, better training and care, and better experiences for student-athletes. And do you know the best part? We are just getting started!

4) How it’s impacted the game

Technology has morphed and elevated the game of softball, no one can really dispute that; especially on the offensive side of the ball. That is where the technology has heavily been focused though pitching is catching up.

Then there are services like RVP, Dartfish, Bats, etc. These take it to another level. Example, with enough data, some of these services are able to spit out strong predictive data that can provide you a probable first 10 pitches for an opposing ace you are facing. That is insane.

Programs can swap hours of opponent film with each other in seconds. They can also share uncharted imperial data on opponents: spray charts, tendencies, performance in every situation imaginable, and so much more.

All of this can only lead to the elevation of the game, it demands it.

I often find myself having an interesting internal conversation I enjoy posing to others. What do people deem more impressive? The pre-tech era or present day?

There is something special about the days when two teams showed up on the field – maybe they had a scouting report from another team, maybe they had played them before, or maybe they were coming in cold – and duked it out. These players had to learn on the fly, and the level of adjustment was just different. It was truly a completely different game.

On the flip side, there is something incredible about athletes and programs that continue to dominate and win even when an insurmountable of data and footage is available to opponents. While it can make a student-athlete’s job easier, it also can make it much more difficult.

So which one is “more impressive”? Or is it even fair to make that claim?

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