Cloud storage helps the Penn State men’s volleyball team succeed on the court

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- While at the airport, Aaron Russell, outside hitter for the Penn State men's volleyball team, watched game films of the University of Hawaii at Mānoa volleyball team on his iPad to get a glimpse of the type of action he and his teammates would face at an upcoming tournament in Hawaii.

The films are part of a collection of materials head coach Mark Pavlik stores on the team’s Box at Penn State account so his players can prepare for matches during such down times as waiting at airports.

Box at Penn State is the University’s cloud-based service for file storage, sharing and collaboration. The service is available at no additional charge to all Penn State students, faculty and staff. In addition to enabling easier file sharing and collaboration, Box offers 50 gigabytes (for personal accounts) and 300 gigabytes (for departmental accounts) of automatic backup and storage. Mobile apps allow users to access, share and edit files on the go. Users can even sync files and folders between their Box accounts and their desktops. And since everything uploaded or downloaded on Box is encrypted, the service is more secure than iCloud, Dropbox or other cloud storage services.
    
Pavlik said that because studying game film of an upcoming opponent is a big factor in the success of the men’s volleyball team, every player watches films to prepare for each match. Game film is used to determine play formations, tendencies and player reactions to different situations. Often, Pavlik and his assistant coaches will add comments and annotations within a Box Notes document to provide feedback and share game strategy.

Although taking time to study game film helps players and coaches, Pavlik said finding time to watch the films together as a team is difficult because of game, practice and class schedules. “Having the ability to place large video files onto the cloud enables our student athletes to access them whenever and however they like,” he said.  

Pavlik and his staff also record short video clips of practices for players to review on Box prior to their individual meetings with the coaching staff. According to Pavlik, putting the clips on Box makes one-on-one meetings more interactive and allows players to see their mistakes and keep track of their progress. “Players are the hardest on themselves when they make a mental error or haven’t mastered a technique,” said Pavlik. “So we’ll have them look at about 15 minutes of video on Box and then have a discussion with us about where they are in their skill development and what they should be looking at next. Then they’ll go out onto the court and work on making those improvements.”

Prior to using Box, Pavlik uploaded opponent video to such cloud services as Dropbox. But its file size limitations didn’t allow him to use it for storing large video files. He later tried the Transporter app — a free app for uploading and sharing files. However, the app wasn’t compatible with certain operating systems and became unwieldy for the team to use. After that, Pavlik considered purchasing special external hard drives that produced wireless signals and allowed his players to “link in” and download large video files. But buying special hardware was costly and would have become too complex to manage over time, so he gave up on that idea.
 
“Up until we started using Box, if one of my student athletes wanted to watch anything they’d have to schedule time with the coaching staff to meet and view it on our physical computers,” said Pavlik. “Trying to find that half-hour block when they could come in to review something that happened on a Friday might not happen until the following Wednesday or Thursday. By that time you’ve moved on.”

Now in his 21st year as head coach of the men’s volleyball team, Pavlik recalls a time when he imagined having a separate file server that would enable him to post videos for his student athletes. Today, Box allows him to share the kind of information he envisioned. And since he can do that from anywhere there’s an Internet connection, Pavlik has the Box app on his iPad, Kindle and smartphone.  

Russell said getting timely feedback from his coach is crucial. “In the past, I relied on the coach just letting me know at the next day’s practice if I did a good job or a bad job in a match,” he said. “Now I’m able to easily see my technique on a daily basis and work with the coach to make adjustments where necessary.”

In fact, Russell’s favorite part of watching game film is looking at certain nuances and changes he can make to improve his technique. “While the BigTen may focus on the highlights, we focus on the job the coach asks us to do in any one volley. Getting props for a solid play that helped the team is about as good a feeling as you can have,” said Russell.  

Pavlik plans to continue using Box to store game film and practice videos for his student athletes. He’s also hoping to someday convert the printed version of the men’s volleyball handbook into an electronic format so it can be stored and easily updated within Box. “Cloud storage gives us an opportunity to do some creative filing that can be accessed from anywhere,” Pavlik said. “I think managing information can sometimes be more important than the information itself. And I’ve always believed you can never have too many file cabinets.”

To learn more about Box at Penn State, visit http://box.psu.edu.

For more IT stories at Penn State, visit http://news.it.psu.edu.

Last Updated January 30, 2015