It's pretty obvious that technology is increasingly being used in sport to aid officials and enhance television coverage, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes too. Here is a look at tech that the AFL's Adelaide Crows are using to improve their on-ground performance.
The Crows developed their own software called Video Coach for use as a self-teaching tool. It uses Adobe Flash and Flex to present selected video clips, which can be stopped at critical points to display a graphics overlay. This can highlight the gameplay of one or more players, or deliver notes about the game situation. The software can also pose questions, such as "Is it better to pass the ball to player A or B?". This helps players assess what they should do in particular circumstances and checks that the coaching messages are getting through.
During the off-season, the club began putting even more training video clips online for players to review. After a session finishes, coaching staff select relevant segments and upload them. Thanks to a relationship with Internode and a microwave link to the ground, this is usually done within two or three hours, depending on the coach's schedule. "The quicker they [the players] get feedback, the more they relate it to the experience," said Mark Upton, specialist coach — offence and skills acquisition.
The club previously used Adobe Connect and its training module, but as 70 per cent of players owned iPhones, it was no longer appropriate to use Flash as the delivery technology. Upton describes the lack of Flash support on the iPhone as "frustrating".
The coaching staff now uses Captivate to generate quizzes that are embedded into a private WordPress blog, and to capture and report on players' scores without the need for a learning management system. The content selected by the coaching staff also has video hosted by Bits on the Run. Upton said that according to one player, "it's just like YouTube". It is left to players to keep up with the content and Upton admitted that it can be a challenge to get them involved with the blog. "We don't force it on them — it's there to help them," he said, and some are more interested than others.
Team meetings have changed since the system was introduced. The previous practice was for coaches to present a video and then talk about it. Now, players are expected to review the relevant clips the night before so there are more informed and constructive discussions of the actual issues. "It's a better way of doing it," said Upton.
Video from games will be included in the process once the season starts. In addition to side-on footage from broadcasts, clubs pay for a high-angle view from behind the goals to get complete coverage. Like most AFL clubs — and teams in many other sports — the Adelaide Crows use the SportsCode software from Sportstec for video analysis. The team has key performance indicators covering various aspects of the game and coaches can quickly hone in on areas where the team is falling short, such as losing too many midfield stoppages. Upton noted that watching a series of similar clips means "you get a much clearer picture" and can therefore work out what's going wrong.
During the game, the Adelaide Crows staff use Adobe LiveCycle Collaboration Services (a hosted, pay-per-use service) to link the coaches' box with the bench. This improves communication and reduces errors compared with the old practice of trying to keep two whiteboards synchronised by talking on the phone. It also allows an extra person to record what happens without having to travel to away games. Noise in the coaches' box should be further reduced by the club's plan to make additional use of the LiveCycle's text chat facility. For instance, the club doctor could use it to report how long it will take him to evaluate a player's injury.
The club's opposition scouts, who have the task of reporting on the performance of other teams and on away ground conditions for upcoming matches, use another in-house application to send and store information. Upton said this is a far more satisfactory system than the previous practice of transmitting handwritten reports by fax, as the information is much more easily retrieved.
So how does the club compare on the technology front with others in the competition? "It's hard to say," admitted Upton. "We're up there, but all clubs have access to the technology." The advantage comes from how you use it and "we'd like to think we're doing that reasonably well".