Show your little leaguer the way to keep from stepping in the bucket as he or she rounds the bases. Use your own video footwork to get a tight shot of your favorite punter’s golden toe as it impacts the pigskin. Or follow through with your documentation of the follow through on your neighbor’s golf swing. Whatever the sport, taking yourself and your camcorder out of the “standby” mode can win appreciation from the athletes of your choice.

The supple bend of a plie. The dramatic flight of a grand jete. The graceful posture of an arabesque.

Before you see them on stage, the dancers have spent long hours working before a wall turned into a vast reflective surface. Dancers have long known that one way to improve their skills is to practice in front of a mirror.

Other athletes of all stripes have found another kind of “mirror” that lets them review and analyze their performances. Players and coaches know that one way to improve their game is to practice in front of a video camera.

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Before the audience sees the faked handoff and the hustling roll-out to the left, you can be sure the team has watched itself carry out that play scores of times on videotape.

With a camcorder of your own, you can apply the same training techniques the pros use to improve the performance of your favorite athlete. A good balance of effective coaching, video feedback, and practice is the game plan.

The cause is so noble, the technology so inviting, you’ll be tempted to rush right out to help young Bobby win the gold. But don’t. Not yet.

Resist the urge to wade in and start shooting immediately. Even Alfred Hitchcock wrote out all the details before he began filming; you too will produce better results with a little preparation. Essentials follow.

  • Protect your eqnipment. Many athletic events often take place in less- than-perfect videomaking environments-hot, dusty, freezing, rainy. Prepare for the worst.
  • Set an objective. If you don’t have a destination, how will you know when you’ve arrived?
  • Ask questions. Even if you know what you’re doing, someone else may have an insight you’ve overlooked.
  • Plan your shots. Mentally walk through the shoot. Try to predict the advantages and disadvantages of each shooting angle and technique.

In the Swim of Things

As a first example, let’s say Bobby’s a competitive swimmer. In this sport you need to concentrate on only one person, and that helps keep matters simple. Team sports have their own complicadons, which we’ll examine later.

First, consider your equipment. A cold football field demands that you store your batteries close to your heart when they aren’t in the camcorder. Keep them warm and they’ll keep you in business.

But swimming arenas are often warm and steamy. If your camcorder is cold, you can count on its dew light to turn on and its tape transport to turn off as soon as you approach the pool. Keep your gear warm and give it time to acclimate.

Next, talk to that woman in the baggy sweats over there, the coach. She probably will be delighted that someone wants to help one of her charges. Ask her to suggest what your pictures should concentrate on and where you should position yourself for the best shots.

Also, the coach’s suggestions as to where Bobby needs work can assist you in setting your objective: to show what the swimmer looks like in action, concentrating on those areas that most need improvement.

Now it’s time to take up position. Most of the time you’ll want to be as close as possible to the action without getting wet. If your swimmer’s working on the starts, stay at the end of the pool.

You’ll want to tape preparation, anticipation, and all movements through entry into the water. Shooting from the side rather than from behind usually will be more effective. If Bobby’s practicing turns, the end of the pool will afford your best view.

To study arm and leg strokes, you’ll want to tape the swimmer in mid-lap. And if you want to show fine detail, you’ll need focused closeups, making camera location critical.

Now You See It

Suppose you want to show how Bobby catches the water with his hand at each stroke. It’s difficult getting a tight shot of hands that are in furious motion.

A lateral shot will accentuate that motion, yielding little more than a dizzy whirl. Instead, position yourself head-onto the swimmer so the foreshortening tames the rapid stroke of his arms.
Don’t depend on automatic focus for a clear image of the stroke. The movement is so rapid and the water so unstable that the camera is easily fooled.

Instead, choose a point in the swimmer’s path. Zoom in tight and manually focus on that point. As the swimmer moves into view, you’ll be assured of proper focus in that portion of the swim for whatever else happens.

Try unusual angles that might show just what you need. Some pools have a window beneath the water line. If it’s there, use it. Just be certain the background doesn’t distract or detract.

Too much backround motion can make it difficult to concentrate on the action at hand. A background that’s too bright may turn your subject into a silhouette and ruin important detail.

Don’t overlook the possibility of comparative video. Maybe Bobby’s using the wrong kick as he swims the backstroke and, so far, no amount of explanation has helped him understand the flaw.

Tape your swimmer’s improper kick. Then tape a swimmer who’s doing it right. When Bobby sees the two kicks, one right after the other, he’ll be better able to visualize the problem-and correct it.

These principles can easily be adapted to other individual sports. If Bobby bowls, for example, a good lateral view will show him how well he follows through on his ball release, and help him pick up those strikes and spares.

Use slo-mo to get his tee shots in the swing. A head-on shot will show him a great deal about his handball service.

Some good shots of his feet and legs will help him spend less time in the air as he clears the high hurdles and less time on his back on the wrestling mat. Multiple angles will aid your skier through the slalom gates.


The Winning Edge

Your presence can be a great boon in team sports, too.

Coaches of amateur teams on the high school level don’t often have the time to devote video to each individual player. Instead, they tape the bigger picture so they and the players can analyze how a play develops.

But even if you devote your time to only one player, you’ll be working for the advantage of the whole team.

If you haven’t encountered the ego factor, you soon will. People-especially teens-like to watch themselves perform. A coach usually will schedule two viewings of a tape, first to give everyone a kick out of seeing himself or herself on television, the second for serious analysis of team play.

The ego factor can work to the athlete’s advantage, however, if he has his own tape to watch. He can watch himself repeatedly to refine his work on the court, field, or ice, and each viewing will reveal something more about his performance.

If Jenny has been having problems with her foul shot, you can help her out by recording the trajectory she uses at the basket.

A good lateral angle will reveal a shot that’s too flat in a way that the player can’t see when she’s on the court. Compare her shot with another player’s, one whose shot path takes most advantage of the size of the hoop.

In the excitement of the game, players can forget to maintain proper spacing. They think they’re where they should be when they’re really not.

Plan your angles to show Jenny’s position relative to court markings and other players. The images you document will be a pat on the bck to the player who does it right, an impartial judge for the one who doesn’t.

Concentrate, too, on stance. In basketball, Jenny should be bent at the knees, ready to take off in any direction. It’s easy for her to forget and to revert to an upright position. Your video record will help by showing where, when, and how these lapses occur.

And it’s not uncommon for players to lose focus of their responsibilities. Zooming in tight to Jenny’s face will tell whether her attention is on the person she’s guarding or elsewhere, following the bouncing ball.

How aggressive is your player on the soccer grid? Does he attack the ball or wander in with his eyes shut? Does he cover for his teammates, follow up on goal shots, and pass when appropriate?

Choose the closeup when it’s right, or the longer shot when it’s better. I-low about balance? A nice lateral or diagonal shot will show if he’s leaning back too far after kicking and whether his weight is properly distributed.

Finally, don’t dismiss sound when covering team sports. Recording picture and sound simultaneously documents how players communicate. Do they shout encouragement and waring? Do teammates listen to each other?

Just Horsing Around

While some athletes compete individually and others by team, still others work with a partner that isn’t human.

Equestrian events demand close contact and cooperation between horse and rider, whether the riding is English or Western.

“Eyes up, heels down, stomach in, chest out” are just a few of the calls you’ll hear during dressage training. Sometimes it seems that the sheer number of details to remember make any coherent riding impossible.

It’s this same mass of minute details, each to be mastered, that makes the rider a prime target for your videotaping. In fact, you’ll probably find more camcorders working at dressage lessons and clinics, on a per-athlete basis, than in any other sport.

Watch out where you set up; riding arenas can be loaded with dust-your camcorder’s enemy. Ask the rider what he or she wants you to concentrate on, then set your objectives and plan a variety of shots.

A wide angle will show the entire movement of the horse and tell the rider whether he or she’s on the correct diagonal. Tighter shots can accentuate the rider’s legs and heels or position of her arms and hands.

The Final Score

As you become more proficient in taping one sport, you’ll gain confidence and quickly find that video techniques that work in soccer, for example, work equally well in football or volleyball.

Attack each job and experiment. You’ll develop your own bag of tricks that work particularly well for you and which give your videomaking its own characteristic “look.”

Editing? Maybe or maybe not. Videotaping for sports training is one of those projects in which a polished production is less important than a revealing one.

Generally you and your subject will be eager to see the “rushes,” and unless you made some drastic mistake, such as taping 15 minutes of your own feet, you won’t want to do any editing-with one major exception.

The program you’ve taped may be expendable, to be kept only until the next game or practice. But don’t make the mistake of erasing everything; create a video scrapbook by dubbing highlights to a permanent cassette!

One of the greatest joys of any athlete is the encouragement that comes from recognizing progress.And athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from your video expertise. Video is increasingly used to aid officials and judges. Replaying and analyzing the same play or move helps achieve critical eyes and consistent calls.

Probably the greatest effect videomaking will have on sports will be in raising the levels of competition as each participant more closely approaches his or her potential.

Your athlete may never make it to the Olympics, but you can always dub Amaud’s “Olympic Fanfare” to the audio track of your permanent recordings. Then sit back, watch, and pretend.

Jack Kissel produces and teaches educational video in Amherst, MA. His specialties include incorporating video for teacher training and for reinforcement of class lessons, as well as teaching video production as standard curriculum.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.