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Hudl Embeds in Dowling Catholic Football

Alt textGiven the menu of things we can do to help us in building great software, visiting our users on their own turf is about as good as it gets. The only way to make it better is actually embedding ourselves in the trenches with coaches for more than just a couple hours.

I’ve been working at Hudl since the beginning - about seven years now - and for some crazy reason, I’ve never done this. I’ve talked with thousands of coaches, visited hundreds in person, studied coaches and athletes using Hudl, but I hadn’t taken the next step and fully immersed myself in their work. After spending an entire weekend with Dowling Catholic High School’s football team, it’s clear to me that this should’ve happened years ago.

Head coach Tom Wilson and Coach Kurt Zimmerman opened up every aspect of the team to us and were fantastic hosts. The Maroon football team is ranked number one in Iowa, and after spending just a little time with them, it’s pretty clear why. They are a well-oiled machine with some talented and passionate athletes.

Four Hudlies made the trip to Des Moines, Iowa to hang with the team. Here’s a quick rundown of the schedule:

  • Friday: Homecoming pep rally, mass with the team, bus to the game, sophomore and varsity games against Mason City where we hung out on the sidelines, in the press box, and in the locker room at halftime. Back to school to upload video to Hudl, eat pizza and drink beer with the staff.

  • Saturday: Grade offensive line video bright and early, grade defensive video, watch the game with the athletes in separate classrooms for each position, then interview parents, boosters, and athletes.

  • Sunday: Break down opponent film, brainstorm session with coaches on making Hudl better, prepare for team presentation, interview more athletes during their study hall, team presentation on upcoming opponent Ankeny Centennial.

There were quite a few ways the weekend broke through the myths that work their way into our heads here at Hudl, and brought us back to reality:

The Film Room

In my head: Wireless internet abounds and is fairly quick on Saturday with no one at school. The room is bright (like I remember classrooms). Hudl is on a projector, and coaches are all on their laptops together in the room with Hudl pulled up.

Reality check: The football office is a cinderblock bunker that refuses to give your laptop even a sip of Wi-Fi. Hudl is projected as large as possible on the cinderblock wall. In fact, making the video huge is so important that the image is blown up to make sure the only thing on the wall is actual video. The edge of the Hudl window is perfectly cut off. Lights are off pretty much all day and coaches are writing notes on paper using personal flashlights.

In my head: Coaches are using keyboard shortcuts and remotes to hop from clip to clip. They watch each clip a lot (maybe 4-5 times) before moving to the next one. They’re rewinding constantly to review a small piece of video.

Reality check: At Dowling, coaches watched each clip 10-15 times on a loop. Some used the keyboard, some used their mouse, some clicked on the seek bar to jump around each clip, and others used Hudl’s “flag” feature to trim the video on the fly. There was a huge variety in video viewing styles, but the clear theme was that Hudl can do a much better job of making sure coaches are watching only the right video and nothing more. We sat in on a six-hour film session, watching every defensive play from their upcoming opponent’s last three games. I did some quick math and about 2.5 hours was spent watching the useless video before the snap and after the play finished.

Athlete Highlights

In my head: Athletes are thinking about making their highlight reel as soon as the game finishes and are diving into Hudl Friday night or Saturday morning to knock it out and share it.

Reality check: High school athletes have a lot on their minds beyond Hudl (pretty obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight when we live/breathe Hudl every day). A handful of athletes did make their highlight the minute video showed up on Hudl, but most are more focused on the next opponent, watching their teammates’ great plays, or making sure they are ready for the homecoming dance on Saturday night. Hudl is one small part of an extremely busy football/school/life schedule.


In my head: As long as parents and athletes have Hudl at their fingertips, they’ll have everything they need to get in front of recruiters and land a scholarship.

Reality check: It was great to see how instrumental Hudl is for Dowling athletes in being recruited, but it is clear that we can do much better at helping parents and athletes navigate the nerve-racking world of college recruiting. The feedback we got was along the lines of “I hope I’m doing the right things, but I have no real idea. I place my trust in Coach Wilson.” Luckily, they have a fantastic coach to lean on, but Hudl should be able to better guide them through the process, too.

Thanks, Dowling

We owe a huge thanks to Dowling Catholic for giving us an all-access pass to how they work, as well as tons of feedback on how to make Hudl better. What we learned will impact all areas of Hudl. Beyond what we learned, nothing gets us fired up like watching a great team push Hudl to the limit of what it can do.

This one-minute video captures just a sliver of what we experienced on our trip. Every one of our squads should get do this kind of research.

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