A couple of weeks ago I was given the opportunity to speak at the Ontario Coaches Conference about cloud computing and how coaches can take advantage of this trend. I was excited about this talk because in addition to sharing some of what I know on this topic, I was able to learn more about sports organizations, coaches and the challenges they face.
Aside from the benefits of simpler administration, I've found that the cloud can change the way small organizations work by making it easier to share, collaborate, and access information from anywhere. So I started off by asking the participants for times they needed to do these things in their work. They came up with a bunch of different ideas, including:
- Scheduling practices and meetings
- Share video with athletes and/or other coaches
- Athletes submit practice logs to the coach after practice
- Coach must notify athletes about a change to the practice time or location, or that the practice is cancelled
During the session I explained what cloud computing is (you may well be using it without realizing it!) and what are some of the benefits and drawbacks. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, take a look a recorded webinar I did a few months ago on the cloud, these further reading links, or the cloud computing resources in our Learning Centre.
I was also able to share some good news with coaches who belong to registered nonprofit organizations. Thanks to some changes to our Microsoft Donations Program last summer, many sports nonprofits now qualify for receiving donations of products such as Microsoft Office, Windows 7, Windows Server and about 200 other products. The best place to get started is to register your organization with us, or get in touch with out customer service to learn more.
I wish I had had more time in the session to dive into some of the scenarios that the participants came up with, so I wanted to share some of my ideas on how cloud tools (and technology in general) might be used to make coaches’ lives easier.
Every coach will likely have a different approach to how they go about this, and it will depend on the number of athletes they work with (or other coaches, if they are scheduling a meeting or a larger event). Getting everyone to submit times that work for them (often by email) is a possibility, but it can be tough to manage everyone’s preferences.
My personal favourite for really basic scheduling is Doodle. The idea is that you go to their site, enter a bunch of dates and times that you propose, and then send a link to everyone whose input you want. They each check off which times would work for them, so you can see which times are most popular. It’s free, easy to use, and there’s no need for anyone to create a new account.
If you want to schedule times around your own availability, another option to look at is Tungle.me. It automatically syncs with your existing calendar, but of course hides the details and only shows when you are free/busy. I’ve mostly used this for scheduling meetings with just a few people involved, but it’s possible it might work for larger groups as well.
While we’re talking about calendars, it’s worth mentioning that coaches might find it helpful for their athletes to have a shared calendar with practices, games, events, etc. This means that everyone can always access the most up to date info (I’m talking about a calendar online that’s always up to date, not a document that you send around and have to resend every time it gets updated).
There are many, many tools out there that can do this, so it depends on your preference. Since I already use Google products at work, I’ve spent the most time with Google Calendar. This allows me to share my calendars with other people, and embed them into other websites so that people can easily look at them. Some of the coaches at my session mentioned that they use Moodle to share all sorts of team information online, including calendars. Another coach mentioned that they were using a calendar plug-in for their WordPress site.
There are some well known options for sharing your video for the world, but what if you don’t want just anyone to be able to see it? The first option is to use one of the popular video sharing sites, and set the option on your video to “private”.
YouTube has two ways to do this: you can set the video to “unlisted” and share a link, or set it to “private” and share with up to 50 YouTube users. Of course this second approach requires everyone to have a YouTube account.
Vimeo also offers ways make your video private, and they have more options than YouTube around sharing.
The second option is to use services designed with more of a focus on video sharing. If you’re looking at free tools, most of the options are likely targeted at individuals or families, but they can still be a good choice. Some services I came across in my research are:
- Kincast – it has no limit on the video length which is a big plus, and is very iPhone friendly
- Givit – looks promising, it’s in beta right now
- Shutterfly – allows you to share up to 10 videos, or more with the paid version
If you’re willing to pay or want something more robust, there are of course other options out there.
What I’m imagining happens here is that the coach creates a template, maybe in MS Word or something similar, and provides it to their athletes. After each practice, athletes fill in a copy of the template for that day and email it to the coach. This works fairly well, however it means that after every practice the coach has a flood (well, depending on the number of athletes they work with) of emails with these documents which they must download and save.
One idea would be to use a file sharing tool such as Dropbox as an alternative to email for sharing files. Depending on the coach’s preference, they could create one folder and share it with all of their athletes, or one folder for each athlete (Dropbox lets you control exactly who gets to see each folder). After the practice, each athlete would save their practice log to the folder, and it would automatically be synced so the coach could see it right away. The nice thing about Dropbox is its free, and pretty easy to use - it’s just like using a folder on your computer.
Another idea is to set up the practice log as an online form for the athletes to fill out and submit. This is actually much easier to do than it may sound. One example of a free tool that does this (if the coach has a Gmail account) is Google Forms, which allows you to create a form and embed it in your site. The form is linked to a spreadsheet, so each time an athlete submits the form, their information will automatically fill out a row in the spreadsheet. From there you can filter the answers in your spreadsheet, share it, or download a copy. Depending on how you like to view and organize practice logs this may or may not be a good solution to this challenge. However it might also be a good way to get other information, for example athletes could submit the tournaments for which they have signed up.
4) Coach must notify athletes about a change to the practice time or location, or that the practice is cancelled
This challenge came up a few times during the presentation. It's likely to be pretty time sensitive, so it’s important to know the best way to reach your athletes. Depending on your group this could be email, phone, SMS (text), or even Facebook.
One of the participants mentioned that the Coaches Association of Ontario actually used group SMS at the conference, to let people know when the shuttle bus had arrived. The idea behind group or bulk SMS is to be able to easily send a text message to a whole group of people at once. Obviously you need to make sure that you have permission to use people’s mobile number for this reason, and only use it when necessary. For many people, though, texting is a very effective way to be notified of urgent information.
One of our guest bloggers who works with youth had some great insights on how to let people know about changes to program/event info. While this may not be your target audience, it’s a helpful way to think through different options.
What about you? Have you used any of these tools, or have others you would recommend? Do you have other ideas on how technology can make coaches' lives easier?