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The future of coaching may include wider fields and computer simulations to create the perfect gameplan


As our sports, and players, continue to evolve, rule changes and tweaks are often a necessary part of the game. In basketball it was the addition of the three point line, the shot clock, and most recently, the NBA three point line was moved back. Football has seen similar changes goes from the targeting rule to a shift in strategy that includes a heavy dose of RPO (Run Pass Option) plays.

How we prepare as coaches has changed too. Twenty or thirty years ago, coaches would hand out their playbook in a thick binder and expect players to learn it, but now that's rare and coaches instead opt to teach from real-life film scenarios or put playbooks on the cloud so that it can be viewed from their computers, phones or tablets.

Chris Brown, the author of and a number of books that are a great read on football history and scheme, reached out to a number of coaches for his Wired article entitled: Football Strategy's Radical, Tech-Fueled Revolution Has Begun, and asked coaches about what changes they see in the next 50 years.

Their answers ranged from removing two or three offensive lineman to create a more 7-on-7 environment, to changing the size of the field and taking it from 53 1/3 yards, and expanding it to 60 yards. Why change that you may ask? Players have gotten bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter over the past five decades, so widening the field takes into account the changing phsyics and geometry of the game. 

One of the other rather interesting potential changes on the horizon that Brown pointed out how is how NFL teams are currently using player-tracking GPS during games and practices, and how that is bound to evolve in the very-near future.

"With this data—particularly once tracking of the ball is added to the mix—teams will be able to upload their plays and defensive calls into the computer and the players’ movements can be automatically graded for accuracy of assignment, reaction time, and other factors by algorithm. Was a receiver’s route too short? Was a linebacker slow to react to a run? This is a a potentially huge improvement over an assistant coach watching film and giving each player a plus or a minus for each play."

Brown goes on to note that this will likely eventually evolve into coaches and programmers teaming up to create computer models of each player, programmed with everything from reaction time data to information on things like speed, strength and agility. Instead of doodling plays on a whiteboard, coaches will eventually be able to load plays and simulate them with these computer players to find out if Player A can beat Player B on a route, or in a pass rush scenario.

The data that comes from that simulation may help coaches come up with the perfect game plan, all the way down to certain situations and play calls.

As far fetched as that Madden-on-steroids situation may seem on the surface, we really aren't all that far away from it being a reality, and that's just one of the many changes that Brown points out as well as a number of other ways that our lives as may change as we prepare for a game fifty years from now.

The better question for the future of the profession may be how willing to embrace these changes coaches will be, and who will insist on doing the tried-and-true way. Coaches have been known to be a demographic that gets pretty set in their ways, but maybe the younger generation - the ones that will still be around coaching in 50 years - will be the ones to change that.

Read the full piece here. It's a truly fascinating read.