When Brianna Rano strikes a high, curving free kick into the back of the net, it is obvious that her technique is the result of years of hard work, on both her and her coaches’ part.
What is less apparent, however, is that Rano also has recent advancements in technology to thank for it.
During the offseason, the Penn women’s soccer team used an iPad to work on individual technique through an app called “Football Coach Plus HD.” The software allows coaches to record several repetitions of a particular action performed by a player and then watch two of the iterations side-by-side and frame-by frame. As a result, players and coaches can review the footage to identify errors in form.
“You’re looking for consistency in technique,” coach Darren Ambrose said. “If your technique is wrong, it will show right there. You’ll be able to see it.”
While similar technology has existed for golfers and other athletes for decades, apps like the one used by the Quakers drastically streamline the process, allowing coaches to provide feedback to players in a matter of minutes.
“I think it’s the future of technical training for individual development,” Ambrose said.
The simplicity and weight of an iPad allows coaches to film activities that could not have been easily recorded in the past.
“Years and years ago, you had to bring out 50 pounds of video equipment, set it all up and then edit it with two VCRs and everything else,” assistant coach Ken Masuhr said. “With the iPad or the iPhone, something that’s pretty handy, I’m doing it within seconds.”
After putting the clips together, either side-by-side or overlaid on top of each other, coaches can slow down and pause video as well as draw on the images.
Coaches can share the footage in person or by email, and the players can view the edited material on their iPhones or other devices.
The women’s soccer players have responded well to this alternative form of feedback and have used the technology to fine-tune a variety of soccer skills.
“Kids at this level and kids that go to a school like Penn, they want instant feedback, and they handle it and process it very well,” Masuhr added.
During the spring, Rano used the software to work on her free kick form. While practicing in the bubble at Penn Park, Ambrose filmed a series of practice free kicks she struck and then demonstrated on the iPad how she could improve her technique.
Among other things, Rano discovered that she maintained better control of her free kicks when she kept her body over the ball, rather than leaning back, which sent the ball soaring high above its intended target. Additionally, she noticed that hitting the ball with the inside of her foot allowed her to loft and curve the ball, making it ideal for a teammate to head the ball into the goal.
It was on precisely that type of shot that Rano scored against Temple on Sept. 2. Taking a free kick from the right side, the junior back shot a dangerous cross toward the far post. The free kick was misplayed by the Owls’ defense and found its way to the back of the net, giving the Red and Blue a 1-0 lead.
For Rano, the software’s ability to provide a “visual aid” helped make clear what a coach usually is forced to communicate verbally.
“When he has video to show us, he can indicate what went wrong and what we have to do to fix it,” Rano said.
While free kicks represent one instance where the iPad software is applicable, the possibilities for its use are nearly endless, from passes to throw-ins to footwork to running form. As Masuhr put it, “For any kind of movement, these kids are now getting the feedback that they’re looking for.”
The software, produced by the Australian-based company Cricket4Evry1, is available for several other sports as well, including baseball, basketball, golf and tennis. In fact, the women’s soccer team first picked up the idea to use the iPad from Penn’s baseball and softball squads.
Impressively, each app costs just $2.99 — though the overall expense is a bit higher when one takes into account the cost of an iPad or iPhone.
That said, it seems likely that similar uses of technology will proliferate in years to come.
“With us competing against the best athletes in the country, these kids are looking for any kind of edge to help them be successful,” Masuhr said.