The average fan may think of intricate sports technology as something that only George Allen and his ilk have to worry about, but Northern Virginia high school football coaches know better.
For today's high school coach, the game is far more than a couple hours of blocking and tackling - it involves the use of head sets, walkie-talkies, movie cameras, projectors, computers and hours of analysis.
Joe White, head coach at Marshall High School in Falls Church, says flatly, "You couldn't run a program without films today, and it's almost a necessity to have headphones with the multiple defenses that teams use."
Most area schools either hire a film service at approximately $1,300 per season or provide their own film service at a slightly lower cost. The service includes filming the team's 10 regular season games and two post season scrimmages.
The films that come from the service are developed and delivered the morning after a game is played.They're analyzed by the coaches, and each player is graded on his performance.
Head coaches vary slightly in the procedure by which they break down films. Chuck Sell of Madison High School in Viena, a 27-year veteran of high school coaching, estimates that he spends six hours by himself on Saturdays watching films of the game played the night before.
"I have a room in my house where I just sit and watch the film and grade players," Sell says. "I give my staff Saturday off. Then we all meet on Sunday evening to discuss grades and the game."
Most other coaches grade films with the whole staff on hand early Saturday morning. Grading consists of evaluating every player's performance on every play of the game.
"We grade the players in three areas - plays to (the player), plays away from and pass plays," says Ed Henry of Robinson High School in Fairfax, outlining a procedure many schools follow. "If a kid does his job on a play, he gets a plus; if not, a minus. Then we figure a percentage for each player.
"We give extra points we call 'hit' points to a player who gives extra effort on a play. We have 'errors' to where we deduct points for mistakes."
Coaches maintain that grading helps them determine the strengths and weaknesses of their players. Practice sessions are then structured accordingly.
Films are also used by coaches seeking "tendencies" in order to prepare for upcoming opponents. Teams have agreements where they swap two of each team's game films before they play one another.
"Tendencies tell you what a team is likely to do in a certain situation," says White. "It's amazing how much you can find out about some teams. Some may do only one or two things from one formation and more from another."
Though White syas, "the tough teams are the unpredictable ones you can't get tendencies on," he admits that a team's personnel dictates how unpredictable it can be. And that's what all the analysis is about - finding an edge to get the most out of a team's personnel.
At Jefferson High near Annandale, Mike Weaver, in only his third year of head coaching, is one of several area coaches using computers to analyze opponents tendencies.
"The computer gives us finer detail," says Weaver, who feeds raw scouting data compiled by his staff into the computer on Monday morning and has a printout of tendencies by Monday afternoon.
Although Weaver's computer is run by students and is owned by the Fairfax County schools, there are teams paying approximately $300 per year for similar computer services.
On the field during a game, coaches are often busy talking into head phones with assistants who relay information from the press box.
"A coach with good eyeballs in the press box can be really helpful," says Weaver, who keeps a backup set of headphones on the sidelines in case the set he's using should break down during the game.
Weaver says coaching, which pays approximately $1,300 a year salary supplement, requires several hours a day after teaching a full school daly, and another 10 to 12 hours on weekends.
But, he says, and few area coaches would disagree, "when you see all the work pay off with a win on the field, then it's worth it. That's what the work is all about."