Scouting with an iPad

By Dave McKibben

Using an iPad to automate the arduous task of recruiting made a lot of sense to Ohio State women’s hockey coach Nate Handrahan. But after months of surfing the Internet, he wondered if anyone would ever develop such a tool.

Then earlier this year, Handrahan found a match. West Shore Technologies, a Bay Area startup, had developed an iPad app for scouting, evaluating and recruiting in a variety of sports like soccer, basketball, lacrosse and baseball, but not for hockey.

That didn’t stop Handrahan, who began pursuing West Shore CEO Gregg Jacobs the way a defenseman tracks an attacking winger. “As Gregg put it, I was patiently persistent with them,” Handrahan said. “Eventually, Gregg reached out to me and asked if I would help develop the hockey app.”

Handrahan was more than happy to help Jacobs build the app, a beta version of which was completed in August. So as Ohio State’s coaching staff hit the recruiting trail in late August, they all had iPads tucked under their arms with Hockey Scout installed. While his peers scouted using Numbers on their iPads or scribbling notes on a pad of paper, Handrahan rated players in eight skill areas, typed notes and recorded voice memos with a touch to his iPad screen.

Handrahan said the close-knit community of collegiate hockey coaches is taking some time getting used to seeing him with his new toy at the rink.

“There’s definitely some rubbernecking going on out there,” said Handrahan, who along with his assistants has already used Hockey Scout extensively at close to a dozen events. “Coaches are wondering just what we are doing with the iPad.”

Some are more than just a little curious. Vermont, Yale, St. Cloud State, Connecticut College, Clarkson and Norwich women’s ice hockey programs have followed Ohio State’s lead and joined the iPad revolution.

“Hockey Scout is getting a lot of interest,” states Jacobs. “The adoption rate of Hockey Scout may be faster than any of their other products. 

Vermont assistant Grant Kimball has employed SportsBoard Hockey Scout at three recent recruiting events and he can’t see himself returning to a pad and pen. Ever.

“With the paper and pen method, I would come back and spend seven hours inputting my notes into another database,” he said. “Hockey Scout accomplishes the same thing in minutes and has already saved me three days of data entry.

 “The notes are organized in such a way that they are extremely readable. No longer do we have to have a two-hour meeting explaining what we’ve all written. The meetings take 15 minutes now. So we use that extra time to focus on player development, which ultimately will help make our team better.”

Hockey Scout enables its customers to sync their iPads with the SportsBoard Server to populate tournament rosters and schedules, eliminating the need for coaches to lug around bulky tournament packets. Kimball estimates that he might scout 1,500 players over the course of a year, narrowing that pool to 35 or 40 that he seriously tracks.

“When we’re seeing that many kids, efficiency is everything,” Kimball said. “For us, SportsBoard is basically an information organizer.”

Handrahan didn’t think the old school paper and pen method of recruiting was necessarily ineffective, just inefficient.

“We’ve always done a pretty thorough job of recruiting; it just took a lot more time,” Handrahan said. “That was time that might take away from in-house player development or preparation for an opponent.

“You have to manage recruiting well because recruiting is your lifeline. You can’t get much done if you don’t have good players.”

Winny Brodt, director of an elite girls’ hockey training program in Minnesota, said she sees the new recruiting tool as a game changer in the sport.

“This device is revolutionary and it’s the way of the future for recruiting,” said Brodt, a former U.S. Women’s National team player. “It allows coaches to attain more player information with much less work. It also helps coaches keep their player contacts a lot more organized and easily accessible.”

So far, hockey coaches have only used SportsBoard for recruiting purposes. But coaches in other sports have deployed it to scout opponents, give video and audio feedback to campers at sports camps they host, and evaluate their own players.

For those coaches who don’t have an iPad yet or are more comfortable with an iPhone, there is SportsBoard Lite, which enables coaches to capture text notes, voice memos, photos and video on their phone.

 “For the coach who texts his players and recruits with his/her iPhone,” Jacobs said. “SportsBoard Lite is a great way to start realizing efficiency gains from just note-taking.”

Handrahan said he won’t even try to predict how many college coaches will be tapping their iPads at recruiting events in the coming years. But he knows it won’t be because the technology is too sophisticated.

“If my two-year-old can open up an iPad and figure out how to color with it,” he said. “I think most coaches will get it.”

Yale assistant Eddie Ardito, who expects use Hockey Scout at some two dozen tournaments this recruiting season, said he wouldn’t be surprised if SportsBoard Hockey Scout began infiltrating the professional game in the near future.

“The NHL guys are scouting a lot more kids than we are on the college level,” he said. “So they need a professional scouting system even more than we do. This is definitely a device that could help the entire coaching circle from an efficiency standpoint.”