BONNIE VIEW, Texas — At Vault Barn practice, just outside of Woodsboro, pole vault athletes are so accustomed to watching video of their practices that they can break down their mistakes on their own.
In 2018 it is not unusual to see multiple phones and tablets recording every event at track meets and practice.
In fact, it is stranger not to see some device recording every stride, vault, throw and jump.
Technology has taken hold in track and field over the last five-plus years and as smartphones and tablets have become more accessible in the last decade, immediate critique and instruction has changed how the sport is coached.
“How many people are visual? You can’t explain it to me, but if I can see it, I can better understand it,” said Kevin Hall, Vault Barn coach. “I think that sums it up. I’ve been shooting video since the big VHS cameras you had to put on your shoulder.
“Back in the 90s we were dragging those things around with VHS tapes. Of course, it wasn’t immediate and it was so hard to look in those little screens and run it back. Plus it was grainy. Even then, it helped.
“But now technology has made a huge difference.”
Hall has four pole vault athletes competing in the TAPPS and UIL State Track Meets, including his daughter Skylar Hall of Woodsboro and Riley Floerke of Gregory-Portland.
Both girls broke regional records in winning regional titles in the event in their respective classifications.
Victoria St. Joseph’s Alisa Novosad is the defending state champion in TAPPS girls 5A pole vault and Hall and Floerke have each medaled at the state meet before.
Vault Barn athletes retreat to a monitor connected to an iPhone to watch video after most vaults.
Kevin Hall said Skylar Hall has been examining video of her vaults since seventh grade and like many of his other athletes, can self-critique her vaults.
“I have been pole vaulting since the summer before my seventh-grade year,” Skylar Hall said. “I know what I am doing and I’ve watched older kids so much, to the point where I understand what they are doing.
“If I am doing something wrong I can look at the video and see I am doing this and this and this. My dad doesn’t have to come over because he taught me so well.”
Nicc Scott, who coaches the Crimson Flash club track team in Corpus Christi, said when he ran at UT-Arlington in the mid-90s they didn’t utilize video, nor when he was running professionally, but he uses it extensively now.
“You can’t put a dollar amount on the worth of technology right now, especially in sports,” Scott said. “I use video with my kids 80 percent of the time.
“With the onset of social media, kids are more visual these days. To have the ability to utilize a visual resource … it is invaluable.”
Scott said he records the first 30 meters coming out of the block from the front and the side and is able to break down and give his athletes a visualization of everything they are doing to help them improve.
Scott said he can not only use it for immediate instruction, but in creating a plan week-to-week and going into meets.
He said technology has allowed him to be sent and watch video of Tuloso-Midway graduate Azalia Jones, who is running at Jackson State. He can offer advice remotely to help her improve, something that would not have been as instantaneous even six or seven years ago.
Scott gave an example of USA Track & Field practicing before a big meet with with three different cameras rolling, an example of the proliferation of video technology in track.
“Those guys will run through the zone do their hand-offs and the entire time they are running, one camera is taking still frame, the other is doing a 360 video and the first camera is videoing it all the way through the zone,” Scott said. “They walk to a laptop and within seconds, they have video and will sit there for 10-15 minutes seeing what is wrong, checking the strive pattern, (whether) you are not driving out, (if) your head was too low. It is immediate results.”
Rigo Morales, the Carroll boys track coach, and a former thrower at Texas A&M-Kingsville, said that video can pick up things that the naked eye may not, but it still isn’t a substitute for having a coach’s eye.
“Those minute things may be the difference,” Morales said. “I use video more for the kids, so they can see it visually. It is hard to just explain, explain, explain.
“It is a good visual tool to back up the things you are talking about as a coach, and to reinforce them.”
Morales said once athletes get into competition, there are not going to be major overhauls, but rather small tweaks and corrections.
“Once you get to the regional meet, I am not going to try to dissect every throw, but you do want to hit a couple of things here or there,” Morales said. “More than anything, we are using technology to try to get the athletes in rhythm in throws or jumps or whatever it is.”
Morales competed for the Javelinas between 2001-03 and said they were not able to review film until after meets and practices during film sessions.
“As an athlete gets better and better it is harder for a coach to see things with the naked eye,” Morales said. “There is a certain tempo we try to coach and teach and when you become a more advanced thrower it is tough to see it.”
Carroll has been utilizing the video service Hudl in the four years Morales has led the boys track program, and Morales said like football they record a tight and wide angle shot of every race using film to improve starts and exchanges.
Floerke, who qualified for state in pole vault and triple jump, said she uses video in practice for both.
“I definitely like watching the video because I like to critique myself a lot,” Floerke said. “Coach Hall has taught me to coach myself a lot through it.”
The Ladycats junior said she was having trouble trying to catch the bend during the week before regionals and spent time analyzing video watching her vaults.
She eventually set a personal record three times in breaking the Region IV-5A meet record with a clearance of 13-feet, 9 inches, the third-best mark in the nation this season.
“It helps you to visualize how high and what part of the jump you have to do it on,” Floerke said. “I love the video. It is really helpful.”