Worst to First in an Instant: How Hudl Vaulted This Florida Girls Hoop Program

Former Division I play­er and coach Yolanda Bronston was look­ing to give this Jacksonville-area girls bas­ket­ball pro­gram a shot in the arm when she took over in 2017. Hudl’s tools gave her rock­et fuel.

Worst to First in an Instant: How Hudl Vaulted This Florida Girls Hoop Program

Former Division I play­er and coach Yolanda Bronston was look­ing to give this Jacksonville-area girls bas­ket­ball pro­gram a shot in the arm when she took over in 2017. Hudl’s tools gave her rock­et fuel.

Yolanda Bronston knew it was going to be an uphill bat­tle when she took over the girls bas­ket­ball pro­gram at Orange Park, Fla.’s Saint Johns Country Day, a small pri­vate school in sub­ur­ban Jacksonville that was strug­gling to com­pete. The Spartans had won just one game the pre­vi­ous sea­son, hadn’t had a win­ning sea­son in near­ly a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry, and the head count was thin. Of the 10 play­ers on the var­si­ty ros­ter, six were middle-schoolers.

Bronston knew she had the chops to whip this pro­gram into shape, based on her expe­ri­ences in Division I col­lege bas­ket­ball as both a play­er (Central Connecticut State, 1991 – 95) and an assis­tant coach (Norfolk State, 1996 – 98). What she didn’t know was how rapid­ly the program’s cul­ture would trans­form through the use of Hudl’s video analy­sis tools.

Basketball used to be some­thing the girls in this pro­gram did most­ly for leisure. Now, the pro­gram is full of play­ers with earnest aspi­ra­tions beyond high school. Three of her seniors are look­ing to play in Canada after grad­u­a­tion. One of those mid­dle-school­ers she inher­it­ed got her first start as a 10-year-old; she’s now on track to be a schol­ar­ship ath­lete” as she begins eighth grade. Another play­er, an incom­ing fresh­man, is seri­ous about want­i­ng to play Division I col­lege basketball. 

She wants to get to the WNBA, so my job is to take her to the next lev­el,” Bronston said.

The Spartans post­ed back-to-back win­ning sea­sons under Bronston’s watch, includ­ing a 16 – 8 cam­paign in 2018 – 19 that fea­tured a 10-game win streak and Conference Player of the Year hon­ors for her top senior, Kendall Sage. 

Without Hudl, I don’t have a con­fer­ence play­er of the year,” Bronston said. I’m not able to show her and her team­mates, This is what we need to work on. This is what I mean by fill­ing the lane, defense in tran­si­tion, defen­sive rota­tions’. Kids learn dif­fer­ent­ly. A lot of them learn by seeing.”

How did this all hap­pen so quickly?

Smarter, more engaged players

First order of busi­ness for Bronston was to instill more pur­pose into these play­ers’ workflows.

These girls were all kin­da play­ing for fun, and didn’t real­ly under­stand the game,” Bronston said. Teaching bas­ket­ball IQ was a huge part of the task, as far as what I need­ed to bring to the table for the pro­gram to turn around.” 

The surest way to build­ing that IQ, Bronston knew, was going to be to invest in some kind of video soft­ware. It was a far cry from her expe­ri­ences at Norfolk State two decades ago, when scout­ing reports relied on word of mouth from a coach’s net­work and game tapes (when avail­able) were on VHS. With so many more advanced video resources read­i­ly avail­able at the grass­roots lev­el in today’s game, putting those tools in the hands of some­one as expe­ri­enced as Bronston was like rock­et fuel.

Without Hudl, I don’t have a con­fer­ence play­er of the year. I’m not able to show her and her team­mates, This is what we need to work on. This is what I mean by fill­ing the lane, defense in tran­si­tion, defen­sive rota­tions’. Kids learn dif­fer­ent­ly. A lot of them learn by seeing.” Yolanda Bronston, Head Girls' Basketball Coach, Saint Johns Country Day (Fla.)

That first sea­son, Bronston had games filmed, and was able to sit down with her play­ers and walk them through where they need­ed improve­ment. The Spartans went 12 – 10 that sea­son, with play­ers as young as 12 years old hav­ing to log crit­i­cal min­utes, for the program’s first win­ning sea­son since the ear­ly 1990s. But there wasn’t enough time in a day to get every­thing she want­ed out of it.

Enter Hudl and Hudl Assist, which fos­tered an even more accel­er­at­ed improve­ment in year two. Players weren’t just watch­ing film — they were watch­ing it on their own before film ses­sions, mak­ing for more engag­ing chalk talks. Film doesn’t lie. Neither, Bronston says, do num­bers and statistics.

And the num­bers at Saint Johns paint­ed a col­or­ful pic­ture. Spartan play­ers lit­tered the top of lead­ing scor­ers, rebound­ers and assists lists in the local media out­lets. All-Conference and All-County hon­ors rolled in. The dif­fer­ence, she says, was lit­er­al­ly night and day.”

Strong efficiencies

Bronston believes strong­ly in hav­ing sound man-to-man defense prin­ci­ples at the foun­da­tion. If you want to play at the next lev­el, she says, you can’t afford to just sit back in a zone defense. Even the most effec­tive zone defens­es in col­lege, such as Syracuse’s cel­e­brat­ed 2 – 3 Zone, require you to first be dis­ci­plined in man-to-man.

Paired with an offen­sive style that con­stant­ly looks to push tem­po, the Spartans are sud­den­ly hard to stop. Bronston uses film study to fine-tune the details that add up to a tough, phys­i­cal defense, from div­ing for loose balls to deflec­tions to rotations. 

With Assist’s line­up effi­cien­cies track­ing, Bronston has been able to learn what line­up to use when a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion calls for a par­tic­u­lar strength on the court. 

I’m used to watch­ing film, but to be able to break down by play­er, the ana­lyt­ics have been amaz­ing,” Bronston said. I know which line­up is my scor­ing line­up. I know the line­up to put in when I need steals. At the end of the game when I need free throws, I know the best line­up for free throw per­cent­age. I use it for everything.” 

More time back

When it comes to game prep and scout­ing, Bronston esti­mates that Hudl Assist has freed up any­where from 17 to 20 hours per week for her dur­ing the sea­son. That’s time she rein­vests else­where in the pro­gram, to touch up on play­er devel­op­ment and game strategy.

This year she’s adding anoth­er assis­tant coach, a for­mer head coach from a famil­iar oppo­nent who works with Bronston in the off­sea­son. And with­out need­ing to assign stat-keep­ing to any coach­es dur­ing the game, she’s chal­leng­ing her­self and her staff to ele­vate their game. That free time is going to allow her to take a deep­er dive at the advanced ana­lyt­ics offered from Assist, using the effi­cien­cy met­rics to cut the fat” with what’s work­ing and what’s not.

I’m plan­ning on doing more this year,” Bronston said. I’ve been reach­ing out to oth­er coach­es in the area about doing film exchanges on Hudl. Just being able to break down that film, that’s huge. It’s lit­er­al­ly a game-changer.”

Bronston’s adop­tion of video analy­sis soft­ware result­ed in a com­plete 180-degree over­haul for her bas­ket­ball pro­gram. Are you putting your play­ers in the best posi­tion to win on the court? See how easy Assist can make your game prep and scout­ing workflows.

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