Wired.com: NFL Teams Embrace iPads

27 12 2011

When I decided to write a story about the effect iPads are having on the NFL, I knew at least four or five articles about the topic would come out in other publications before mine. I was spot-on.

My research on the subject began in early September after I read an article in the St. Petersburg Times about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ use for the tablets. I knew the way I would start it was by contacting each team in the NFL. It was necessary to run team-by-team to see who was putting their playbooks on iPads, who was using them to watched edited video and to see who was and wasn’t using iPads, or other tablets, in the first place. It’s a responsible thing to do when writing a national story, as I intended this to be for Wired.com.

Given that I didn’t have a particular locale to cover, it was better for the story that I cover all my bases. So, I contacted each team. As you might suspect, that is a lengthy process. Some teams respond immediately; others doesn’t. For those who do, it then takes awhile to coordinate interviews with those willing to talk and it takes time to convince other teams to discuss things. But this was just one part of what I knew had to be a well-rounded story.

By October, I noticed the New York Times had a story of their own. In it, they detailed the Bucs and the Baltimore Ravens creating digital playbooks via iPads. The story also incorporated information from the NFL on how the league monitors security issues. Contacting the NFL was a given, but this story made it that much more of a priority that I included it in my story.

I recognized that my goal for the story had to encapsulate as many aspects of the NFL’s relationship to tablets as I could find. That meant embracing teams which use them for more than just playbooks, as the two stories I had seen represented only that part of it. Which led me to contact the software companies which make applications and programs that make it possible for teams to view playbook information, scouting reports, video edits and other stuff on their tablets. (I discovered early on that iPads were the only tablets relevant to this story.)

So, I called and emailed XOS Digital and DV Sport, two software companies I already knew of. Through speaking with people there and with more teams which were getting back to me, I became aware of Hudl and Coach’s Office. Then I found out about Ironworks Sports through an email the founder of that company sent my editor.

Player quotes weren’t a valued asset for this story. They’re in the newspaper stories I mentioned above as well as subsequent stories in the Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times, which each outlined only the Ravens’ incorporation of their playbook into iPads. (A CNN.com story shined a light on how iPads were revolutionizing several sports, including basketball.) While those newspapers likely included player’s quotes on iPads because fans are intrigued by what they have to say, I avoided players for their lack of specificity. I did make an exception when the Bills told me they would rather offer a player to speak with than someone in their front office; I relented.

By and large, I wanted this story conveyed by the several teams I spoke with and then the software companies to explain what they’re focused on developing. The NFL interview would play a supporting role in it. That’s how this story came together.

Click on the link below to read the story:

For NFL Teams, iPad Is Valuable Playbook


NFL players have brains

26 02 2011

You know that theory that football players are empty-headed jocks who have an IQ no higher than a Golden Retriever? Well, it’s not true. Chances are, an NFL player is smarter than you or I — definitely me. As with many other sports, football is perceived as a simple game. Minimize your turnovers, run the ball, create scoring opportunities on defense, prevent the big play. It all seems so simple, so refreshingly lacking complexity. It’s a bunch of b.s., as I found out in a story I wrote for AOL Fanhouse about how NFL players memorize their playbooks.

Football is a very complicated sport, and the level to which coaches and players strategize at the highest level is mind-boggling. I’ve always been impressed at the number of plays coaches can think of, much less the nuances each one contains. That’s to say nothing of the vocabulary of each play. Some NFL coaches and players will say that most teams have similar vocabularies to their playbooks, but that doesn’t mean the verbage is easy to absorb. It’s highly difficult, which is one reason why the average career of an NFL player lasts four seasons. Physical maladies obviously play a role in that, but the mental execution, or lack thereof, is what can doom a player’s career. Teams might take a chance on an injury-prone player who shows potential; not many have the time to waste on a guy who can’t absorb the playbook and execute what’s within it.

The subject of how NFL players memorize their playbooks has always interested me. The same goes with NBA players and their playbooks, or MLB players and the coaching signs they memorize. Hell, even the way some MLB players memorize all those 10-step high-fives with teammates throws me for a loop. How does Jose Reyes pull it off with 24 teammates?

In my research for this story, I was surprised to find that so little had been written about NFL playbook memorization. It seems as though every other aspect of the NFL has been endlessly debated. I found this bothersome.

NFL fans are smart, curious folks. They deserve intelligent subject matters that discuss the intricacies of the game. I pitched the idea for this story to Fanhouse, and they told me to go ahead and do what I do. So, I began e-mailing NFL team PR staffs to ask if any players would be willing to talk about their preferred methods for playbook memorization.

I didn’t have particular players in my mind — I just wanted variety. I wanted to make sure I represented each position, since an offensive lineman studies a different playbook than a cornerback. Yet even an offensive lineman’s playbook responsibilities differ from that of a wide receiver. Receivers don’t really need to know interior blocking responsibilities, while linemen aren’t always aware of every route pattern. And I wanted to make sure I talked to players young, old and in between. A heady vet like Matt Birk might see things differently than a young buck like Josh Johnson.

The teams I spoke with for this story, mostly off-the-record stuff, told me of the software companies they work with who make digital playbooks possible. This is a new territory, and I’ll throw a hint that I have an upcoming story on a different sport which also takes this into account. Digital playbooks are coming on strong in all sports, although the NFL and college football programs have been using them in some facet for nearly 20 years.

Anyway, I’ve written enough. Here’s the NFL playbook piece.

Click on the link below to read the story:

Method Men_ How NFL Players Memorize Dizzying Playbooks