Drones can be used in a variety of ways and their applications are varied, as we previously mentioned in our ‘Drones Are the Future of Fleet Management’ article. Among other things, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, can be used to combat crime, in farming, delivering goods and even in the logistics industry. Recently, drones have even started to be used in sports, notably in broadcasting games; Fox Sports has been using drones since 2016 with great success. There are the obvious logistical limitations, especially when using UAVs in games held indoors or near airports. But the sports broadcast giant has grand visions for the future, including blending drone footage with augmented reality.
That’s not all, though. Drones are increasingly playing a role in sports training. It may have taken a bit more time, but coaching staff in professional leagues worldwide are now figuring out ways to make full use of the 360-view videos that drones can provide. In a report by Coral on the English Premier League and the NFL, they detail how drones are now used as part of training for gamedays. Premier League club Everton, were one of the first to use drone technology, along Manchester United. Stateside, the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys were among the first to adopt this technology, with the Dallas Business Journal reporting in 2015 that the Cowboys film part of their practices using drones.
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Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett admitted that he got the idea from a fellow coach, Chad Morris, who himself had used drone technology at SMU. What appealed to Garrett specifically was the ability of drones to provide wide-angled shots, which he explained give the coaching staff “the chance from behind to see all 11 guys on offense and all 11 guys on defense but from a closer angle.” He added, “You can see hand placement. You see where they have their feet, where they have their eyes. I think that’s important. You can look at that and coach them better being that much closer to the action.” Jim Mora, then head coach of the UCLA Bruins football team, was a year ahead of both Morris and Garrett in taking advantage of drone technology. In an interview with ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, Mora pointed out, “When it hovers above the line of scrimmage, you can get a real clear perspective of spacing between your offensive linemen, or differences in depth of the rush lanes of your defensive linemen.”
Armed with knowledge gleaned from drone-provided visuals, coaching staff can thus devise more detailed game plans, especially regarding positioning, spacing and tactical formations. Perhaps just as important, the use of images is a great way for coaches to connect with younger players who tend to be more receptive to visual stimulation early in their careers. Drone technology can, therefore, be an excellent teaching tool, as was the case with then University of Miami freshman Brad Kaaya in 2014. The precocious neophyte struggled to grasp the Hurricanes offense early, but eventually started to get a better grasp of tactical position by going over drone footage with offensive coordinator James Coley. Perhaps not coincidentally, Kaaya turned in a fine freshman season, throwing for 26 touchdowns on 3,198 yards.
How far along drone technology will permeate sports is yet unknown. But its potential is undeniable, both from the perspective of enhancing fan experience and in improving sports training methodologies. As long as coaches keep an open mind, there is a high likelihood that drones will play an even bigger role in sports in the future.