Rob Crews is the owner and founder of Complete Game, a New York-Atlanta-based company which provides objective analysis, skill validation and custom training programs thru the latest and most innovative technology.
He has consulted with MLB teams such as the San Diego Padres and Seattle Marines; NCAA programs in baseball and softball including UCLA, Stanford, Florida, LSU and Auburn and major softball club programs like the Georgia Impact, OC Batbusters, Tennessee Mojo, Empire State Huskies and Carolina Elite to name a few.
Living in White Plains, New York, he specializes in providing assessments and development in the areas of vision, perception and cognition in addition to biomechanics and movement efficiency for hitting and throwing.
As someone who has been at the forefront of technology in sports and consultant to dozens of college programs, tech companies and sports medicine staffs, I would like to share some ideas that could improve how we apply technology in sport and the overall experience for coaches and athletes.
Evolving philosophies and advancement in knowledge has given birth to a tremendous growth in the use of technology, evaluation and player development. Companies like Rapsodo, Trackman, HitTrax, Diamond Kinetics, Blast Motion and others are providing us with so much useful and accurate information.
This technological revolution has moved the player development industry forward in how quickly and accurately we can identify and quantify what is efficient.
Of course, with these advancements comes some changes to the culture of the sport and with those changes comes a few problems.
So, what are these problems and the solutions to these so-called problems?
Adding tech to your program can be a challenge. I have found that the biggest deterrent for implementation is time. Tech can be time-consuming.
Setup and execution can eat away at practice time. And then there's troubleshooting the issues. It's not like you have all day to fiddle around with wires and iPads. Players need their swings. Pitchers need their throws. Often times tech can interrupt the flow of your session and/or minimize reps.
I have found the following solutions or implementation strategies for the following issues to be very effective.
Issue #1: Having the Right Mindset
Most athletes, teams, and coaches do not go into technology with the right mindset or approach. For example, many athletes want to know if their numbers are "good." Most of the time, we don't look at numbers to see if they are "good", but rather "where you are" in order to create a plan for either maintaining that number or improving it.
In so many instances, I have hitters that have a "Hitrax Swing" where they are trying to create an outcome to impress their peers or coaches (with high numbers), but may not be the right swing for their personal in-game success.
For example, someone could very well have the ability to swing the bat at 80 mph, yet have more control and efficiency at a range of 72 to 75 mph.
There is always that Speed Accuracy Trade Off (SATO). SATO is a whole different article. Perhaps I will write that one next.
Nevertheless, let's take a look at the solutions:
- Have a discussion with your players about each form of technology. Educate them about what we want from the technology.
- Whether it is hitting or pitching you should encourage your players to be themselves during the assessments. In order to get a true and accurate reading of where they are, we need natural throws, pitches, and swings.
- Educate your players on what each metric means for their personal success. Try to focus on maybe 2 to 4 metrics. Less is best. If you are jumping around to more than 5 metrics in a session your players may experience some cognitive overload. That is never a good thing.
- Encourage them to pay less attention to the numbers of their peers (hard to do). It is natural to want to compete during the assessments but there is a time for that. Mentally prepping your players for what you want them to get from the experience is important. Sometimes competition can be good. But you as the coach, need to set the tone for that day or portion of the session.
Issue #2: Technology Should Be in the Background
Most people set up technology as the feature of the session or practice. The technology should literally be in the background of the session.
- Set up your practice first. Then figure out where and how the tech should be a part of it. We do this so that if the tech should fail, we don't disrupt our practice session. We just keep it moving.
- Try to appoint a tech person, manager, or injured player to oversee the technology.
- Always conduct a trial run with smaller groups to gain a sense of how the tech will fit into a larger practice session. This also gives you some practice to get it going faster. The more you use the tech, the more proficient you become at it. Those first few times are usually rough and oftentimes discouraging. Hence, most teams have their tech sitting in a closet somewhere. Which brings me to issue number three.
Issue #3: Technology As a “Cool Accessory”
I have spoken to many players and a lot of them have a similar story: "Yeah, we used it once, and then we never saw it again."
The fact that you are utilizing technology is great… I guess. I am assuming you are using it as a tool and not some cool accessory. Having said that, so many athletes that I speak to say they never see the results, and no one ever sits with them to show them what the results actually mean or how those results translate into on-field success or not.
In fact, I have spoken to so many Top 20 college teams who are listed on the websites of some of these tech companies. They regrettably admit that they have purchased the tech and love it but have not used it more than once or twice. This is largely due to factors such as time constraints, lack of support.
- Assign managers or injured players to a "tech team" position. They can troubleshoot issues in the background of a practice session without disrupting the flow of the session.
- Run an ad and employ interns from your school to come in to help "figure out" new tech.
- Early/Optional BP is a thing. Well, at least it used to be. Willing players can show up and take advantage of extra hitting time. That could be a great time to get some data and review the metrics.
- Dedicate some time to have meetings with players in small groups. In the meetings you can address the issues the technology has revealed and create individual plans.
- To save time, create small groups based on players with shared issues. For example, players with poor sequencing issues should spend more time on drills and corrective exercises that are applicable
- Accountability is important. Hold athletes accountable to the information. Hold your assistants, managers, accountable to the information by creating data-driven plans for each athlete in a timely fashion.
Issue #4: Technology Can Fail & Be Time-Consuming
Technology can fail and fail often. Technology has problems and technology sometimes needs to be trouble shot. These surprise issues take away precious practice time.
Sometimes the people who are operating your tech need to be schooled on how to set it up and how early you have to set it up. Having more than one person that's knowledgeable is important.
You don't need to have your limited practice time hindered or disrupted due to poor planning and surprise technical issues.
- Get there early. Setting up early allows you to trouble any unforeseen connectivity issues or spacing problems
- Always have a plan B
- Always have a plan C
- Have extra devices on hand and fully charged. Such as iPads, iPhones, Wi-Fi and hotspots
- Have extra tripods in case one breaks or gets hit
- Have plenty of juice on hand for charging your tech
- Write everything on paper or spreadsheet just in case you lose your data. Audio notes are faster for note taking. Screenshots of app screens and tagging them with players and issues is pretty smart too.
- Go-to Amazon and purchase longer cords. Sometimes Bluetooth enabled tech can die sooner than expected. Longer cords allow you to charge via juice box or power brick during the practice session.
- I recommend turning on a GoPro and filming the entire session for archive purposes.
I will end this article with probably the most common issue: you show up to the session and the tech is not fully charged. This should never happen. Always make sure your stuff is fully charged the night before. If you're not sure, double-check.
Welcome to the future!
--- Rob Crews, Complete Game / OPTOGAZE™