'Technology grows and coaches need to grow with [it]': Remote training gives high school athletes a different outlet

Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News-Westchester

In the past year, Stu Singer has closed up his physical office.

Singer, who is a sports psychologist and performance enhancement coach, doesn’t really see local athletes anymore, and the ones he does, they’re good with video calls.

Many athletes have grown accustomed to working with trainers, psychologists and coaches remotely for various aspects of sports. Whether it’s training or counseling in a particular sport, it can be done with FaceTime — on an iPhone or iPad — or Skype with a computer or phone. Many other smart phones also have the ability to do video calls on different apps besides FaceTime and Skype.

“It became ‘Why am I paying this extra rent when that doesn’t need to be?’” Singer told USA TODAY Sports, right after he finished a FaceTime call with a student-athlete. “The generation that these athletes are, are so used to conversations over video that it’s so normal… It’s not an issue.”

Singer got his master’s degree in counseling, and his original plan was to coach and be a counselor at a high school. He started coaching at first, then realized he was utilizing his counseling skills as a coach, so he decided to dig deeper into psychology full time.

In about 2008, he started to focus on sports psychology, part-time at first, working with just a few kids. And it grew from there.

His job has changed since he first started working. He said his day-to-day workload has shifted into mostly video conferences with athletes. Once a month, he’s with Maryland, either on campus or at tournaments or games. With the Washington Mystics, he’s there every other week. He goes to University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rice University once a month.

Singer can work with all those teams because of video calls. He can cut down on travel and see multiple teams from around the country in a single day. In Singer’s opinion, for him and the athlete, the difference between an in-person session and work over FaceTime in a one-on-one setting is none.

Singer said this can help when the athletes he works with go overseas to compete, or he picks up a new client whom he hasn’t been able to meet right away. They can still work together despite being separated.

“I think it’s here to stay is the bottom line.”

Pitcher training made easy

Jason Iuli also doesn’t travel as much anymore.

Iuli first started training other athletes when he was an athlete himself, a professional fast-pitch softball player in Minnesota, who would then travel to Illinois and give private lessons.

He would leave Minnesota on Friday at about 4 a.m. and have a lesson on Friday night. He finished giving lessons on Sunday and drove back that same day. Now, he is a coach at The Factory Fastpitch Club, where he is able to utilize remote training.

Iuli eventually moved to San Diego, where he worked with a client in the area. That client moved away to Texas, but the two still tried to make it work. They originally tried training on the weekends, with his client flying back to San Diego. Then, they tried FaceTime.

“It started off with just the Dad or Mom would hold the phone and I would watch on my end on the iPad and then we would go from there,” Iuli said.  “People would ask [my clients] ‘Oh, who’s your pitching coach?’ And they would say ‘we work with this guy out in California,’ and it kind of just evolved that way.’”

During FaceTime, he looks for reactions and by doing so, he can find some of the smaller adjustments an athlete needs to make.

For instance, if the athlete is following through on a pitch in a certain way, he’s able to see what the causation was based on how the athlete finished the follow-through. The athlete’s elbow might have rolled over, and that’s because the pointer finger overpowered the snap. So the follow-through he saw on video helped him interpret the smaller problem.

“One thing that everybody needs to know is that technology grows and coaches need to grow with technology,” Iuli said.

It’s not just on FaceTime that he sees his clients. He requires his athletes to see him in-person before they start their first sessions, where he trains with them over the course of three days.

“Because I can’t demonstrate (over FaceTime), you’d have to really, really understand what I’m saying,” Iuli said. “That’s why I require you to come in first.”

Another service Iuli provides is video analysis. An athlete will send him a recorded video and he will do a voiceover with the clip in order to give feedback. That kind of coaching is usually provided to the athletes who have received scholarships or are likely to earn them.

Genevieve Ovsak, a softball pitcher for Edina (Minnesota), is one of Iuli’s clients to have earned a scholarship. The sophomore is committed to Syracuse University and has started on varsity for Edina since eighth grade.

She first met Iuli three years ago when the two were at a Hamline University (St. Paul, Minnesota) softball camp. She had a private coach prior to meeting Iuli, but she had reached another step in her training.

“Our styles really meshed and it was a really cool opportunity to meet him, but at the time I had a different pitching coach,” Ovsak said. “I contacted  Iuli about when he was going to be next in town, because I really enjoyed his training and then we started talking about the possibility doing remote, FaceTime training.”

She had never done remote training before working with Iuli. She had only talked to Minnesota trainers but she was open to it.

“It was not a lot different,” Ovsak said. “It’s totally been a great process with remote training. … I couldn’t see myself where I am now if I didn’t have [Iuli’s] training.”

A class as good as a movie

When David Rogier helped start Masterclass, he had the lofty goal of allowing each person around the world to learn from the best.

Masterclass is a website that gives video lessons to its clientele about a wide variety of subjects. The training videos are high resolution and use B-Roll to cut away from the teacher while that person is still talking. Trainers are oftentimes famous in their respective fields. Gordon Ramsey teaches a cooking class and Aaron Sorkin teaches one on screenwriting.

“Most classes that we teach in school are actually boring,” said Rogier, the co-founder and CEO of the company. “And the ones that are great have a great teacher and they teach in a way that excites you and inspires you and also entertains you.”

“The idea for us was that why couldn’t class look as engaging and be as good as a movie?”

Rogier said that Masterclass plans to add in more sports classes in the coming months. Right now, the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry teaches a class on basketball and Serena Williams teaches a class on tennis. The two give a series of tips and demonstrations while mixing in anecdotes during the video training session.

“Their paths, their families played huge roles in their life and sometimes an anecdote is a great way to explain a difficult concept,” Rogier said.

People taking the class can ask the teachers questions about the drills or the game. The teachers also try to answer some of the more common questions they receive in the training videos. All that said, Rogier still thinks his service can’t act as a full-on replacement for the real practice.

“This isn’t a replacement, this is like ‘hey you can play all you want and you can watch things for free on the web. All those things are great,’” Rogier said, “but there’s no other place in the world where Steph and Serena and Martin Scorsese will sit down for three to six hours and break down every part of their craft.”

Now with Masterclass, and other video training services, a concept like that is possible.

“We get notes all the time of how much these classes have changed these kids’ lives.”

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