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Open communication: coaching headset systems are getting the message across loud and clear.

Football coaches have enough problems game-planning for an opponent. The last thing they need is to have a crucial offensive play-call or defensive adjustment lost in the translation during a game.

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Like a dependable quarterback, coaching staffs rely upon a headset coaching communication system to convey crucial in-game information amongst themselves.

That being said, the digital age has ushered in a plethora of reliable wireless, hands-free products to meet the demanding needs of coaches in a business where one miscue or miscommunication can decide the outcome of a game.

"Football coaches' wireless have evolved from simplex systems to full duplex," said John Hooper, co-director of Porta Phone. "Simplex are traditional 'walkie-talkie' radios that can either be in transmit or receive mode. This allows coaches to take turns communicating by pushing a button, but they cannot talk simultaneously. Full duplex transceivers transmit and receive concurrently and allow coaches to communicate in an open line format just like a wired telephone without push to talk buttons.

"The challenge of designing a portable wireless transceiver for football coaches has been to provide a system that is full duplex (simultaneous talk/ hands free), portable, and free of interference. The boom in wireless transmissions in the late 1990's forced the FCC to 'let go' a technique known as Digital Spread Spectrum Wireless. Spread Spectrum allows users to all occupy the same frequencies but with slightly different digital codes. The result is that each football program has its very own unique signal, preventing interference or eavesdropping from opposing teams."

Porta Phone's current digital wireless, Digicom, incorporates all these variables. Digicom features a sophisticated microprocessor controlled circuit that operates without a press box base station or need for extended antenna, according to the company.

Dawn Birr, director of marketing for CoachComm, says digital clarity, hands-free operation, and no license requirements are at the top of a coach's list of must haves, but there is a lot more that should go into choosing a wireless communication system.

"Digital sound technology is great, but to get audio down a limited bandwidth pipe you have to compress and process that audio," said Birr. "That can be an area where noise and 'digital artifacting' can creep in and degrade intelligibility. This is especially true in high noise environments like the sidelines of a close game. In some systems the audio gets crunchy and very difficult to understand when crowd or other noise sources are added into the mix. Finding a system that sounds good on the sideline as well as on the show floor is very important. It's really all about game situations and how the system holds up under less than ideal conditions."

Digital technology has dramatically changed the world of sports communications.

In the past, large chunks of spectrum were required to operate wireless systems. This spectrum was (and still is) controlled by the FCC and is primarily used for TV broadcasters. Licensing was a requirement when using this space. A big problem used to be frequency coordination. Television transmitters operating in the Mega-Watt (millions of watts) power range are scattered throughout the country and finding a clear area to operate in was often challenging, especially in metropolitan areas.

Another big concern was collocated system interference and security. If the other team had a system that was on your frequency, the system would interfere with each other and cause severe problems for communication. In some cases, the other team could actually hear the plays being called on the other sideline.

"Obviously this was a huge problem," said Birr. "Now, with digital technology, a much smaller section of the spectrum and support more users in a safe, secure and efficient environment--assuming you have the right technology!"

CoachComm's SecureLink and KeyCode technologies ensure that every one of its Connex systems will operate effectively and securely even in the presence of other digital systems, including other Connex systems. All Connex systems are stamped with a unique Network ID and KeyCode combination. This ensures that only the beltpacks in that system can communicate with the command center or other beltpacks.

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Telex has been designing and producing wireless headsets for almost 20 years. Its first digital wireless headset was developed over 10 years ago and its second generation has been implemented by almost every NCAA Division I coaching staff and the National Football League.

The company's latest innovation and introduction is the Telex Legacy Headset system, specifically targeted at the high school level.

Mark Gubser, Telex's product manager--RadioCom and AudioCom, says the features and benefits of the Legacy sell themselves.

"No. 1, it is easy to use," he said. "Just set it up, turn it on, and start talking. The built-in Lithium Ion batteries, in both the beltpack and base station, provide eight-plus hours of operation. The base station can be run from battery (DC) or from a power supply (AC). In addition, the Telex Legacy system provides three audio channels: Offense, Defense, and Offense/Defense combined."

The Telex Legacy operates under the IEEE 802.11 standard, which is the same standard that is utilized for computer wireless networking. The standard defines 11 working Radio Frequency (RF) channels and all wireless networks utilized 1 of these 11 channels to operate on. The standard is channelized to provide the ability to operate several wireless networks within the same area at the same time.

"The Telex Legacy system is essential in a wireless network system," Gubser said. "The Telex Legacy system will scan the channels, when turned on, and will automatically set the system to a clear channel of operation. The 802.11 standard also allows for encryption or private use, which we take full advantage of with our Telex Legacy system. With all of this said, it is important to state that with any wireless device, you are always subject to interference and there is never a 100% guarantee that you will not be interfered with, but we are providing the best solution to avoid these issues."

When it comes to building a communication system for a staff, questions abound. What is the protocol and parameters involved? What is the recommended amount of coaches on one system? Is there such a thing as too much?

According to Telex's Gubser, it's easier than you think. First, get the exact number of coaches on your staff. Then, decide how many will be on the field and how many in the coaches box during a game. Next, select the type of headset you want: double-sided or one-sided.

The Telex Legacy system will support up to 14 coaches.

"I've been involved with coaches headsets for a long time and I have just got to be honest here," said Gubser. "Yes, there is such a thing as too much. The simplest means of communication is the best and is the best path to take in order to be successful. This is true for coaches as well as a broadcast professional utilizing the same equipment."

CoachComm's Connex system, which is priced to hit middle to upper tier high schools and D-II/D-III college programs, can support up to 18 coaches on a single system.

CoachComm's Birr says her company refers to coaches on the field as "down" coaches and those in the press box, as "up" coaches. That said, Connex can support eight "up" coaches and 10 "down" coaches.

"Most schools don't need that many, but it is nice to know that your system can grow with your program and that you will never outgrow your communication system," Birr said. "The next step is to decide how many conversations (or channels) you will need. Most schools use two: offense and defense. Many schools, however, require more. A three-channel system allows coaches on offense or defense to go to a secondary channel for offline discussions without disrupting the flow of primary game communications. Four channel systems give that ability to both offense and defense. Larger programs find this feature invaluable."

Birr agrees that there can be too many coaches on a system, if there aren't good practices involved in the use of the system. In general, though, she said that ideally you want everyone on the system who needs to communicate in game situations to make the right decisions about personnel and play-calling.

"Our most popular configuration is a two-up, four-down configuration," Birr said. "But we also sell a lot of larger six-up, seven-down. Some programs have 'listeners' on the system that have their microphones turned off, but listen for stats or other reasons."

Connex boasts that it is the only headset system that can support 2, 3, or 4 conversations simultaneously. This is achieved by its single command center systems that support two-channel operation. In dual command center systems, three-channel operation is achieved by means of a link cable connected between the two command centers. With CoachComm, the addition of a Connextor box between the two command centers enables full four-channel operation, according to Birr.

As for headsets, Porta Phone's John Hooper says they are an important element for coaches to consider.

"They have to be noise canceling, weather resistant, and durable," he said. "Porta Phone uses special plastics in the manufacture of its Ultra and Max headsets known as PBT. This material is the same as used in automobile bumpers and is virtually indestructible. The headsets also feature microphones that are totally weatherproof in case of rain game conditions."

Said Birr: "The choice of a headset is very important. They need to accurately reproduce the audio signal and hold up under difficult user environments."

RELATED ARTICLE: Player-Coach "Relationship"

While other systems are inter-coach communication, Telcommand, formerly Telepath, has set itself apart as the only wireless communication product for development of the player and team.

Telcommand allows the coach to communicate effectively and efficiently with the players during practices and scrimmages. A coach can decide how to use the system by working to develop individuals or the entire team. Additionally, he or she can increase the effectiveness of every practice without fail.

"Telcommand is a one way coaching communication system," said Rick Meyer, CEO/President for RPM Sports, LLC. "While we have had some interest expressed in being able to allow the player to talk back to the coach also, we stayed away from that. In order to accomplish player feedback, the player's unit would have to be voice activated. Every time a player shouted the system would turn on and all of the players would then receive the on-field noise. There was greater interest from the coaches to leave it as one way. They want to instruct and have the players listen and learn. In the future we are looking at having the coach's units both transmit and receive but not at this time."

"The coach is looking for products that do not detract from their practice time. They need efficiency and ease of use. They do not need distraction. Any coaching tool must fit in to their routine. By the same token an introduction of a brand new tool may take some time to catch on, but once they do use it, they realize how much more can be taught and accomplished during a practice."

Telcommand is easy to use and is held in place with a Neoprene sleeve and adjustable armband. In fact, several coaches have told Meyer that Telcommand has become part of their players' practice uniforms. The rechargeable batteries add to its convenience and ease of use. The clarity and volume of the speaker allows the coach to be easily heard even over background noise and with helmets on. There are no wires or earpieces on the players to distract them.

Telcommand is applicable in a wide variety of sports, including soccer, football, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball, skiing, and equestrian--any situation where a coach is separated by more than 10 yards in a teaching environment. It has 14 channels, so a program can customize how they can best utilize the system.

"With more than one Coach Unit, a team can do intersquad scrimmages, 7 v 7," said Meyer. "A defensive backs coach can work with their players while the receivers coach works his. The 14 channels with multiple Coach Units give a team many opportunities to turn up the learning curve."

RPM Sports has just introduced a new system called RefCom. It works on the same platform as Telcommand but has privacy earpieces that can be used for mentoring and developing new officials in soccer, lacrosse, or any other sport.
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Title Annotation:FACILITY FOCUS
Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:2080
Previous Article:84th annual convention of the AFCA.
Next Article:High school and middle school athletics: now is the time!
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