Never before has health been more at the forefront of football culture, and coaches across the country are looking for ways to make the game safer. Earlier this spring the NCAA banned two-a-day practices, and more teams are embracing advances in equipment. Some are even experimenting with robot tackling dummies.
Jay Johnson has another suggestion—use more video.
The head coach at Penfield High School (N.Y.) has cut down on the physical reps his team takes on the field by incorporating more video, allowing his players to experience what transpired on the turf without pounding their bodies.
“I think it’s really important, especially for the old-school coaches that have been around forever, that they can use Hudl in general for the safety of their athletes,” Johnson said. “It gives you a huge advantage. In today’s society, with all the research that’s going against football, we have to adapt to the times as well.”
Here are the three reasons coaches should consider video as a way to protect their players.
Mental Reps Reduce Wear and Tear
Every time a player makes a cut, throws a block or makes a tackle, there’s a chance something in his body will falter. Athletes obviously need physical practice to improve, but cutting down on those opportunities for disaster can prolong their careers.
“The most important thing for me is, with Hudl I don’t have to get a kid to pound his head into another kid 80 times to get 80 reps,” Johnson said. “I can have them do it 10-20 times, and then they can watch it and create muscle memory through that. With all the research about the impact with the head and neck and spine, it reduces a ton of that. It reduces the hits and creates muscle memory.”
Penfield records every practice and marks the video with comments and drawings after, which helps athletes to quickly review. And as instant replay evolves, coaches can even teach athletes in the moment, to reinforce lessons just seconds after the play or drill concluded.
“What I’ve found is that having the athletes actually see what they’re doing as opposed to you telling them what they did, they’re a lot more receptive,” Johnson said.
Shorter, More Efficient Practices
Every coach wishes he had more of one of life’s most valuable resources—time. While there’s no way to create more time, it’s possible to reinvest it wisely.
Instead of a three-hour marathon, Penfield practices are a series of sprints. The Patriots don’t stop at all during team reps. They try to run three plays each minute, resulting in around 60 reps in a quick 20-minute span. The players are then required to watch at least 20 minutes of video sometime after practice.
“What we try to do is emphasize, ‘Let’s not be out at practice for three hours,’” Johnson said. “Let’s practice for an hour and a half, two hours max, then you’re responsible for the next 20-30 minutes.
“It takes away from having to do a ton of the conditioning after practice because we’re going at game speed or even faster, so we’re conditioning our athletes.”
It's How the Pros Do It
Johnson served a brief stint with the Steelers in the early 1990s and distinctly remembers coach Bill Cowher’s emphasis on the importance of video. In an effort to reduce wear and tear on star running back Jerome Bettis, the Steelers would only run a few plays, then watch it back.
“We would do 4-5 zone reads and then let him see it on film, and that really resonated with me because professional football players can’t beat up their bodies all week long and then be expected to perform on Sunday,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to beat up our kids’ bodies either, and I want them to have a healthy adult life as opposed to taking these repeated blows over and over again. They can get the same stuff that they do in the NFL that I’m trying to do here.
“I want them to have a healthy lifestyle. I got that as an athlete and that’s what I’m trying to get our kids to do too.”
Johnson does caution that coaches can’t take this philosophy too far and it does require some work. On-field reps are still vitally important and can’t be completely replaced by video.
But the major key is teaching your players how to watch. If they don’t know what to look for or view games as an average spectator would, this strategy will do little for them. Johnson made sure to set time for his coaches to sit down with their position groups and truly teach them what to look for.
“Getting them to understand how to actually watch film as opposed to just turning on the TV and watching-the-movie-type watch, it’s completely different,” he said. “Once you can train the kids to do that, a half hour of really watching themselves or their position, they get way more out of it.”
We’d love to hear more ways coaches find to make the game safer. If you have any interesting innovations, tweet them at @HudlUSFootball. And if you want to really see the value of video firsthand, click here.