Basketball

High school sports: Technology helps coaches teach, save time

Crystal Lake Central boys basketball coach Rich Czeslawski cheers on his team during a Class 4A Huntley Regional game against Prairie Ridge on March 2. Czeslawski uses the Krossover computer program to break down game film and compile statistics.
Crystal Lake Central boys basketball coach Rich Czeslawski cheers on his team during a Class 4A Huntley Regional game against Prairie Ridge on March 2. Czeslawski uses the Krossover computer program to break down game film and compile statistics.

When Rich Czeslawski used to watch film to record his team’s statistics, his coaching instincts often made an already tedious process even more time-consuming.

“You’re looking at it thinking, ‘Those last two possessions, we didn’t run this right. Our defense was terrible. Our closeouts were bad.’” Czeslawski said. “All of a sudden, you’ve got to start all over because you forgot to take stats.”

So when the Crystal Lake Central boys basketball coach heard about an online program that would analyze film and compile stats for him, he was skeptical but gave it a try. Five years later, that program, Krossover, has become an integral part of game preparation for Czeslawski and his staff.

The aggravation of sitting through film – or the need to hire someone else to do it – has been eliminated. Now, Czeslawski simply goes home after a game, uploads his footage to the website and goes to bed. Within 36 hours, the film is returned, broken down clip-by-clip and accompanied by a box score.

“We look at Krossover as another assistant coach,” Czeslawski said. “We spend a lot less money on them than we would on another assistant to do all this stuff for us.”

Krossover is one of several programs that has emerged and given high school programs access to an amount of data normally reserved for professional or college teams.

Basketball players can get instant analysis of the arc of their shots from the Noah Shooting system or keep tabs on their individual workouts using the ShotTracker app. In baseball, coaches get instant advanced stats from the easy-to-use GameChanger online program, while players can get swing analysis from a Zepp device that’s attached to the knob of their bats. Krossover competitors such as Hudl and Gamebreaker provide other avenues for video editing for several sports.

It’s up to coaches to sort through those stats, decide which ones to emphasize and translating that to the players. But such technology has undeniably changed high school sports, cutting down the amount of time spent compiling stats and providing a more thorough set of stats than coaches could compile on their own.

“For a high school coach, you don’t have someone you can hire to do that,” Czeslawski said. “It’s just impossible. To have those kind of numbers, like an NBA team or a major Division I team would get, it’s pretty cool.”

• • •

In his first year coaching basketball at Marengo, Nate Wright would set the tone for practice before he even walked in the gym.

Because Krossover allows coaches to sort each possession in a submitted game film based on its final result, it took Wright only a few clicks to filter out a reel of plays that highlighted a weakness in the Indians’ previous game. With a simple mass text or email, he would instruct his players to log in and watch the reel, thus letting them know what the focus of practice would be.

“We usually talk about those things, and I’ll ask them a few questions about what they saw  at the beginning of practice, when we’re stretching or whatever,” Wright said. “We’ll have a conversation. That way it kind of sets the focus of what your practice is going to be for that game.”

Coaches can use the program to watch their own team’s games or to share and and scout film of other teams, meaning coaches can use it to game plan on either side of the ball.

“I think more than anything else it helped us with what we want to emphasize during practice,” Dundee-Crown boys basketball coach Lance Huber said. “Hey, we’re very deficient in taking care of the ball – we had 20-some turnovers.” How can we improve that area?”

Players, too, can access the information any time they want to. Some utilize it more than others, but Czeslawski points out that last season, Central senior Jason Price averaged 16.3 points, thanks in part to his dedication to watching film.

“I just like how everything is set up, and it’s so easy to access all your plays,” Price said. “You can go through and filter off what kind of plays you want to watch: your missed baskets, your made baskets. You can watch all the other team’s plays where they made baskets, and you can decipher what you need to do in that game.”

Although coaches love the wealth of information, they also realize that part of their job is packaging that information into more digestible chunks.

Don Sutherland has been the Cary-Grove baseball coach since 1987, and he’s seen how much the statistical revolution has trickled down from the professional game. To produce stats with the GameChanger app, he simply needs to find someone who can input information (pitch type, pitch location, hit location) after each pitch.

“You have to have somebody that can do that, but once you do, the amount of information that is generated through this program is overwhelming,” Sutherland said.

Over time, coaching staffs have figured out how to boil down the information to tell players simply what they need to know. Sutherland, for example, says he tries to teach his players visually and keep information general due to relatively small sample sizes.

At Prairie Ridge, Glen Pecoraro has boiled down his postgame speech to three key statistical areas that he can pull up immediately on GameChanger. Before he streamlined the focus, “kids would be there for an hour, because we’d talk about everything,” he said.

Now, he simply asks a few key questions after each game: Were 60 percent of our plate appearances quality at-bats? Did our pitchers throw two strikes in the first three pitches of each at-bat? Did we score first?

“The first time that my guys really see batting average or their ERA or win-loss record is when I give them the stat sheet at awards night,” Pecoraro said. “We want to make sure our kids understand, we’re not looking at batting average. We’re not looking at how many hits you’ve got. We’re looking at your process of having a good at-bat versus the outcome of that at-bat. We talk about process over outcome all the time.”

• • •

When a player asks Czeslawski why he’s not getting more minutes on the court, the coach goes straight to Krossover.

“Kids tend to understand and rationalize a little bit better when you can show them on paper, ‘Here’s your shot chart from the last five games. this is not the area you want to be shooting from,’” Czeslawski. “It’s just a tool in accomplishing a larger goal, which is to build a family and have players trust you and understand where you’re coming from.”

The in-game benefits to all this technology may seem obvious, but counterintuitively, coaches say the film and numbers can help strengthen their relationships with players.

Because the work is being done either by a computer or an unbiased third party, players and parents can’t accuse coaches of fudging the numbers.

Wright said Krossover’s work is generally accurate – he estimates he makes one correction to the box score every other game – and consistent. It helps immensely, he said to have film at his fingertips to demonstrate his points.

“I can go with a player or parent and if they have questions, I can bring up specific plays and say, ‘Look at your footwork on these six shots that you made and these six that you missed,” Wright said. “‘What’s the difference? What do you need to improve on or concentrate on?’”

Czeslaswki points to the program if he’s accused of compiling inaccurate numbers. Sutherland cites the stats to comfort pitchers after tough-luck losses. Pecoraro said he makes his lineup card based on the team’s quality at-bat chart and refers any protesters to that.

For the most part, coaches said, athletes get on board once they understand the objectives.

“The awesome thing is when we hear the guys at practice and in our dugout talking about (the stats),”Pecoraro said. “You know there’s buy in when those kids are repeating the same thing.”

• • •

The maintenance Pecoraro does on the team’s GameChanger site – entering the roster and schedule at the beginning of the year, and then finding someone to put stats in during games – is minimal compared to the hours he used to spend poring over the numbers.

“All that stuff, I used to compile on my own,” Pecoraro said. “There were stat programs out there, but it never had everything. GameChanger, for coaches, has limited our workload times 10 – times a hundred.”

The time saved, coaches say, is what really makes the programs worthwhile. While Gamechanger is free to coaches (fans can pay to access the information), programs such as Krossover can come with a hefty price tag. Krossover’s most popular package is $1,400 for a season.

Czeslawski, for example, says it would take four hours per game to do stats himself. Multiply that by 30, and Krossover saves him 120 hours of work over the course of a season, hours that can be spent in the gym or with his family.

“One of the biggest things an athletic director wants, I think, is less turnover,” Czeslawski said. “If I’m an athletic director, I’m looking at this and saying, ‘This is a way I can help coaches stick around longer.’ I do think it’s going to become more and more prevalent as we move along.”

It might not be fair to say coaches who don’t use cutting-edge technology are falling behind – there’s much more to coaching than numbers, and a stat sheet can’t always help make in-game decisions.

But there’s no question that advanced analysis is becoming more and more widespread, and with it, the quality of local high school sports is improving.

“Our school is investing in our players,” Wright said. “I think that helps them in their mentality of wanting to play and wanting to work hard and wanting to improve, because they see that investment that they don’t expect to get at the high school level.”

NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly estimated the number of games a team plays over a season, which should be 30. 

Loading more

Digital Access

Digital Access
Access nwherald.com from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more! News you use every day! Daily, weekend and Sunday packages.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Stay connected to us wherever you are! Get breaking news updates along with other area information sent to you as a text message to your wireless device.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Plan your weekend and catch up on the news with our newsletters.