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Teaching with Tech: How a 150-Year-Old School Innovates Player Education

Saint Ignatius College Prep has a long tradition of academic excellence. By becoming a Hudl franchise partner, the school is investing in the technology to help its athletic programs thrive. 

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In the heart of Chicago, one ornate building stands out among office spaces, eateries and apartments. Founded in 1869 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Saint Ignatius College Prep is a high school filled with history—it even houses an extensive archive of the city and school’s past.

Its interior is filled with carved bookshelves, grand staircases and architectural artifacts. Small signs of the building’s age can be seen in the elegant but footprint-faded carpet, or felt in the wintry Chicago chill emanating from the school’s arched windows that’s kept at bay with fireplaces throughout the school.

Despite what the school’s appearance may indicate, Saint Ignatius is embracing new technology to remain competitive academically and athletically, an evolution athletic director and assistant principal Tony Harris has seen unfold throughout his 17-year-tenure.

“One of the things we’ve learned is how they learn, and how they learn best.”

Tony Harris, Athletic Director

Saint Ignatius went one-to-one with iPads in the classroom several years ago. In 2018, the school became a Hudl franchise school, bringing Hudl’s cutting-edge products to each of its 37 athletic teams.

“When we first started, our students knew more about the technology than our teachers did,” Harris said. “One of the things we’ve learned is how they learn, and how they learn best. Hudl gives us the opportunity to bring this home to them in a way that they are familiar with, that they know, that they embrace. If you go through our dining hall during the day, during football season, on those off periods, you’ll see members of the team looking at film and talking with one another, which is exactly what you want as a coach.”

Girls’ basketball coach Cara Doyle has seen that engagement firsthand. “It’s really cool because you can see who’s looked at [video on Hudl]. And you start to see whose interest is piqued a little bit in improving their game outside the face-to-face time you have with them,” she said.

Doyle is one of several coaches at Saint Ignatius who used Hudl prior to the school becoming a franchise partner. Football coach Matt Miller is another. After being introduced to the platform in 2011—his final year playing in college—Miller has used Hudl at every program he’s coached for.

“It’s evolved over the years—for the first couple years, it was simply a way to watch opponents’ video, raw tape, clip after clip,” Miller recalled. “Then as more tools came along, we used the upload feature where we would film practice on an iPad, get it uploaded and watch that film after practice. And now it’s evolved to where we are filming practice on the spot with the app and it goes directly up. We’ll watch that tape that same day. I’ll use the illustrations to leave notes for players and share it with the team. We’ll use the playbook features, we’ll use Hudl Assist, we will tag a ton of data, save that in a playlist and use those playlists to make decisions. We use Hudl Sideline during the games and now we are watching replay. As more and more tools become available we get more ingrained with it.”

As recently as 10 years ago, many high school teams still used VHS tapes to review their games—if they used video at all. But it’s a different world for today’s athletes.

“As a player, when I broke down film, it was in a classroom, on a projector, pretty basic,” Doyle said. “Now these kids are using iPads in their regular learning environments. It’s individualized in a way that Hudl is made for.”

“Film is absolutely essential to everything we do, whether it’s preparing for an upcoming opponent, or simply trying to make our team better,” Matt Monroe, boys’ basketball coach, said. “When tools like Hudl have come along, it’s not only made the experience a lot easier, it’s saved coaches a lot of time. As a coaching staff, we spend hours upon hours watching film, breaking it down, discussing it and taking notes. We do a ton of different film reels that we show our kids. Then obviously we use it for scouting as well. Our kids have bought into the culture of watching film and they really get into it.”

Monroe is one of the few coaches who also teaches at the school. Doyle, Miller and boys’ lacrosse coach Kyle McGuire are all out-of-house and depend on technology like Hudl to help them maximize time with their players.

“I think video is one of the best ways to teach kids, because we’re not on campus together all the time. Video is nice because it goes home with them,” McGuire said.

“You don’t ever feel like you’re taking away from homework or a study hall,” Doyle said. “They can really prioritize it on their own time. And you’re also not using your own practice time to do all the prep work for watching film. You can come right into your film session and say, ‘I know that we looked at this playlist on our own. Let’s go right to it.’ It’s sort of like homework.”

“Film is absolutely essential to everything we do, whether it’s preparing for an upcoming opponent, or simply trying to make our team better.”

Matt Monroe, Boys’ Basketball Coach

Students at Saint Ignatius are just as driven in their Hudl “homework” as they are with their academic work.

“The player response to Hudl was excellent. A number of them have made film reels that they wanted to share with college coaches, some of them just watch our game film or watch the opponents’ film,” Monroe said. “Regardless of what their situation or usage is, all of our players love using the program and it’s something that they spend a lot of time doing. After they finish their homework, of course.”

In any given year, between eight and 12 Saint Ignatius seniors go on to play in college. Assistant athletic director and volleyball coach Erik Eastman hopes Hudl will increase those numbers and draw more students to Saint Ignatius.

“It’s a recruiting tool,” Eastman said. “We just had an open house. We bring kids in during that day and they get to learn more about our programs. And to be able to tell them that we are a school that now has this kind of statistical access, this kind of video footage, and how that’s going to help you, the student-athlete, is a major recruiting tool to hopefully get more kids interested in our school.”

There are 1,400 students enrolled at Saint Ignatius. 66 percent of them participate in one of the school’s many athletic teams—a much higher rate than the national average of 54 percent. The athletics offered range from those you’d find at most American high schools to lesser-known sports like crew, sailing, rowing and field hockey (which happens to be Saint Ignatius’s fastest-growing sport). All of them will benefit from Hudl’s video capture, analysis and sharing tools.

“The Hudl franchise partnership is going to have a big impact on our entire athletic department,” Monroe said. “A number of our teams already use Hudl, but I think the partnership is giving programs that might not have otherwise used film or might not have had access to statistical breakdown access to it.”

Athletic success is already on the rise at Saint Ignatius. Case in point: The school’s football team has won more games in the past four years than it did in the 10 years prior, despite having such a small team that varsity athletes play both sides of the ball. 

Other teams that used Hudl prior to the franchise partnership have seen a similar upswing. The girls’ and boys’ volleyball teams have both won regional championships the last two years, with the boys’ team going on to win conference. Girls’ basketball won regionals last year, and the boys’ and girls’ water polo teams have both been sectional champions in the last two years. 

However, the staff at Saint Ignatius sees value in athletics beyond a winning season.

“The easiest measure [of success], which I think is the most false, is the win-loss,” Harris said. “If at the end of the day, if at the end of the season, if at the end of an athlete’s career here, they are more self-assured, they know what it means to work, they understand there are no shortcuts, that’s success—because ultimately, sports should inform the way we live our lives in some ways.”

“Losing teaches you about life just as much as winning does, probably even more,” Eastman pointed out.

Part of Saint Ignatius’s mission is cura personalis—care for the individual. Whether it’s in the classroom or on the court or field, Saint Ignatius changes with the times to help its students do their best.

“The school is willing to adapt to the way that these kids now communicate to one another,” Eastman said. “We’re not somebody who’s sitting back and saying, ‘Well, we’re gonna just keep doing things the way we’ve always done.’ I think the openness of our administration to bringing in Hudl as an overall program shows that the school cares about what the kids are involved in.”

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