Technology Meets Cheerleading
Imagine face recognition being a standard procedure at cheer competitions. Or judges stopping and starting a routine to check for safety violations. This state-of-the-art technology is available now.
High tech will be a big part of the future of cheerleading. And as the sport continues to evolve, so do the advances in the judging process itself, thanks in part to new technology and scoring systems.
One judging system destined to make a big impact is Cheer Replay by Cheer Technologies.
Launched in April of 2016, Cheer Replay is a “video review system that allows slow motion, pause, rewind, zoom, hand drawings and marking of safety/deductions with notes from the judge,” said Tim O’Brien, Cheer Technologies founder and CEO. “This system has different work stations. One is for the each deduction judge, one for each safety judge, terminals for each person at score check, one for social media, and one for the three-minute delay backstage.”
Computer-assisted judging provides full HD recording and playback capability. It allows for officials to mark certain points in a routine, for example, for further review and then jump to those areas where the previous marks were made. In addition, there is on-call capability to email coaches, if needed.
O’ Brien is a veteran media production pro. He also heads RT Productions in Modesto, Ca., which focuses on videography, photography and programming. RT Productions has worked with many event producers which include JAMZ, U.S. Finals, Aloha Championships as well as United Spirit Association.
After years in production with RT, O’Brien noticed the need for replay on the cheerleading judges riser. So he spent the last six years perfecting the replay system the industry is demanding.
“The idea for a new judging system came from the years of watching the frustration of safety judges and Event Producers (EPs) trying to manage score check,” O’Brien said. “The current way everyone is doing it is inherently flawed. There are many times the video wouldn’t arrive on time, or record properly, or just had technological issues. We asked judges what they wanted or needed. We started building the system four years ago and felt it wasn’t ready for the reality of a cheer event until this year.”
“Cheer events are like a freight train, once they start going they will stop for no one except an injury. This means that technology can’t fail. We have now proven the stability of the system and are excited to not have to carry that old antiquated system around any longer… Our system was beta tested at a few events last April/May and overseas at a few events. The largest event was in the United Kingdom in July, The Future Cheer International.”
O’Brien adds that his system “communicates with coaches. There was a huge gap in communicating safety and deduction. It seemed as if coaches were told you have a deduction, but no way to pinpoint where. It left the coach with no option but to sit at score check and watch the video over. This has caused long lines and much frustration during the process.”
Have you ever wondered what is really going on at the judge’s riser? From the stage, cheerleaders see a lot of bright lights, shadows of focused people in front of computer monitors with pads and paper.
From the audience’s point of view, the judges riser area is a “no trespassing” zone of sorts: Don’t get in the way and don’t distract their task at hand. What is really going on is experienced professionals analyzing the sport in the most unbiased way possible.
All judges have standards they have to adhere to, regardless of the size or cheer competition. For United States All Star Federation (USASF) sanctioned events, they all adhere to the standards set forth by the federation. The size of the event only determines if there is a need for multiple judging panels or multiple floors. For events not sanctioned by the USASF, such as some youth cheer and school cheer events, they will be able to utilize the same tool. It will be a great way for coaches to help educate athletes on safety and scoring.
You are stoked. You are nervous, but you are ready to do the routine you put in so many long hours at the gym. This is it. But what is really happening with the judges during the two-and-a-half-minute routine?
The “old” method, says O’Brien, is with the use of paper. Judges would watch the routine and mark down a safety violation, for example. When the coach got the packet, they would scratch their head and have to get the judge to clarify what went wrong. Currently, via computer, a judge can mark the part of the routine in which the violation happened, with a short explanation. But the coach still isn’t 100% positive where and why.
“The Cheer Replay way is that a judge marks the exact time on the video where the call was made, hand circles the group or athlete that the violation happened. The video is emailed to the coach and only if they feel there is a legitimate question, would they then go to score check.”
Naturally, judging discrepancies may arise. With Cheer Replay, “we can mark a clip while it is recording, we can scrub, zoom and draw on the live screen making easy to annotate videos for coaches. The normal system for cheer has been two pieces. First, a standard, old DVR. It allows time slip or the ability to pause/rewind the live video. But it doesn’t allow you to mark it to view later.”
The second tool they use is a file recorder. This is only available to review after the team leaves the floor. This means the tool they use to identify the safety/deduction is not connected to the score check video. So when you go to score check, there is no way to know for sure where the deduction/safety is on the video. We can solve that problem and take it one step further by sending individual clips of the deductions/safety to the coaches to view before they come to score check. This is the key to reducing the frustration and improving communication.
“Cheer Replay isn’t only for negative remarks, it also is for positive. For social media, you can mark amazing tumbling passes or great stunt sequences, and immediately have them post directly to Twitter and Facebook. We are providing immediate access and uploads directly from the professional camera.”
O’Brien says the new judging system may help reduce the number of biases. “The biggest thing it does is reduce frustration and improve communication. Coaches are the customer. If they are frustrated or feel neglected, they take their business elsewhere. We hope this tool for the judges and EPs will help provide better customer service. It also has the added benefit of keeping records of the calls. This helps with training for judges. There is no better tool than a bucket of videos that pinpoint the calls made this season (good and bad). We can all learn from great calls and from mistakes we make.”
It is a fairly quick process to train judges on the Cheer Relay system. At some events last year, training was completed in 10 minutes.
The software was designed by safety judges. Safety is naturally a concern throughout the cheerleading industry. “USASF is who we all look to for setting the standards in safety,” the Cheer Replay founder added. “Being a member is so important in order to support them in their mission to improve the safety of the sport. We have added a few features we hope the EPs can use in providing information to the USASF. We have a feature that the can mark any injury, the injury video will be protected and they will have an option to submit that video to the USASF. We hope, somehow, the database of safety calls can help in training. We know how hard it is to go back through hours of video to find a clip of that perfect example of a hard-to-see safety violation. We wanted to make is easy for them to have the database to use as examples in safety judge certifications.”
“Cheer Replay is a game changer in the world of cheerleading,” said Braxton Kinser of The American Championships. “It cuts down on a lot of conversations where I have to explain an infraction to a coach. They are able to get clear feedback immediately via email, which is extremely convenient, and saves a lot of time.”
O’Brien sees the future of technological implementation into all star cheer as very bright. “I have been watching some amazing technology in the surfing world and using sensors for speed, angles, height etc. I know there is a company working on a FitBit type device for cheer and is supposed to be available next year. Athlete Development University has been using 3D tracking to help in training and development. We are implementing facial recognition for counting athletes on the floor. We hope to be able to monitor the floor boundaries next year. We have already tested 4k and multiple camera angles.”
This technology is adaptable to other sports. O’Brien said, “Sports like cheerleading or surfing seem subjective, yet for a trained judge, it’s very technical. I feel it is more of a communication problem for our sport. If we can demonstrate/communicate the difference between that .01 of a point the public, we will be appreciated at a different level to the rest of the sports world. If our goal is to one day be an Olympic sport, we will need technology like Cheer Replay to be a part of the judges toolbox. Our Routine Replay system is already in use at a few USA Gymnastics events and we are having talks with the surfing industry for our Wave Replay.”
As competition cheerleading evolves as a sport, it will incorporate the use of more and more technology, thanks to innovative products like Cheer Replay. It is a game changer.