Soccer coach job hack: the tall tripod video system

Analysis is all the rage. Top leagues have mega bucks ProZone set ups hard installed into every stadium. Dozens of HD cameras mounted to cover every view desired by quants and coaches alike. Amazing and expensive.

Recently, companies like Hi-Pod and Endzone have been offering portable tall tripods that you can attach your own camera to. The general idea is that you control the height and a cable from your camera USB’s port connects to a screen at eye level so you can view the footage as you’re recording. There’s limited control over the camera from my experience.

In fact from my experience using a borrowed Hi-Pod, the system was very finicky and I got little usable footage. The higher the tripod the more stress there is on the port holding the connecting cord. If it comes out you have to reel in the tripod, reconnect and raise it again. I’m sure with continued use you’d learn some tricks to make it function better but between the frustration of the first attempt and the sheer weight and bulk of the tripod (must have been over 80 lbs and required its own built in dolly to tote around) I didn’t attempt a second set up. Factor in that you needed to stay at the base of the tripod to view footage and they seem to start at $4000 (aside from the $1500 10-12 foot monopod models that require you to hold and support them while using).

So I started looking at other options to get what I wanted. The easy part was choosing the right camera. GoPro cameras are everywhere now and having used them I can see why.

IMG_6284 IMG_6287

Go Pro out of its case (left) and in its shockproof, waterproof case with mount (right).

Durable, waterproof, shockproof with a wide variety of mount possibilities, these HD cameras can shoot 1080p video or high quality stills. You can even combine the two to shoot video while programming the camera to shoot stills intermittently. Time lapse and burst mode photography are also nice functions when you want to break down technique and show how play develops. I went with the Hero 3+. It was about $400. I recommend a second battery and at least an 8GB Micro SD memory card. Also, get a few different mounts. They come in handy and range from $20 to $40 for the most part.

The tricky part was then finding a suitable way to elevate the GoPro. From experience I wanted at least twelve feet so as to get a view that would illustrate shape and movement to the players. Portability was also an issue so I wanted something that didn’t take too much space and didn’t weigh a ton. The solution was a telescoping ladder.

IMG_6285

I picked one up on Craigslist. Brand new and still in the packing material I paid $120. It weighs about 24 lbs. and stands just over 24″ tall when fully collapsed. You can pull the ladder up to the desired height to a maximum of  12.5 feet. The rungs are flat so you can either mount the GoPro directly onto the top rung or the black plastic cap at the edge of the ladder. I opted for the latter using one of the sticky pad mounts provided with the cameras.

IMG_6288

So for about $620 I’ve got a GoPro camera that can mount to a 12.5 foot tall ‘tripod’ or one of the three other mounts (setting up close to the ground near balls being struck gives a very good perspective on how players strike the ball making it easier to give feedback that can correct poor form). Plus an extra battery.

The one knock on previous GoPros though was the lack of ability to view what you were recording and to some degree control the features of the camera remotely. With the GoPro 3+ though, you can turn on a WiFi signal that lets your smart phone receive a signal from the camera. This lets you see, on your phone, what the camera is shooting and also lets you change virtually every option on the camera. In theory you can do this from up to 100m away but your mileage may vary. This comes in handy when you want to mount the camera behind a goal but watch the game from the sideline. Or if its raining and you just want to stand under cover.

I’m hoping to get the telescopic ladder out this weekend to shoot some footage. I’ll add on a report on how it went here once that’s done.

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16 Responses to Soccer coach job hack: the tall tripod video system

  1. TM says:

    Great hack but I’d try something with a pan and tilt HD IP camera (~$200) like this:

    http://www.bestbuy.ca/en-CA/product/d-link-d-link-hd-surveillance-camera-with-microsd-card-dcs-5222l-sd-white-dcs-5222l-sd/10328010.aspx?path=a5032fe823fc3eb4f9836be8212efa5aen02

    Since I have a ladder just like that I may pop by BB and get one to try and see what the end product looks like.

  2. Gregor says:

    Interesting option but I’d be concerned that in the specs for that camera it says it’s not portable and not for use outdoors. What I like about the GoPro is they are made for harsh outdoor conditions and come with a shockproof, waterproof case.

    • TM says:

      Makes sense, I just did a quick search of BB offers without really thinking about your project’s requirements.

      Putting my engineer hat on, I looked on eBay and there are a number of options possible for a full pan & tilt assembly (Gimbals, servos, receiver, remotes) for your Go-Pro that should do the job admirably. Not too different from what people put in RC helicopters but in a drone usually the camera mount is stationary and axis rotation and elevation is done by controlling the done. However, the need to control the camera independently is not that strange (for instance you could have one on the nose of an RC plane that you’d rotate along two axis during horizontal flight).

      Should be an interesting summer project.

      • TM says:

        Or we could just get a quad-copter with the go-pro mount and have it hover over the field all game long. Would distract kids to no end but that would be fun (for me) and potentially get some amazing shots. Can you what you can point out from a full field view from 30m overhead?

  3. Lisa says:

    Did this work, I am trying to figure out a quick and easy system for our tournament this weekend. I would appreciated it if you could tell us how this worked out. Thanks for sharing the idea.

    • Gregor says:

      Yes, I’d give it an 8/10. Best to have spare GoPro batteries on hand because if you want to use the wifi on the camera so you can see what you’re shooting on your phone it really kills the battery. And because it’s a telescoping ladder you need to have something to lean it up against so it works best if you have a fence right behind the goal. If you’re recording from too far back the perspective isn’t great given GoPros are designed for up close action. If you have a Hero 3+ you do have the ability to change the focal length from wide to normal or narrow. This helps but for me the best way to use it is to get the camera behind the goal, as close to the field as possible and put it on ‘wide’. If you’re going to shoot 1080 then you need to have a 32gb card. A full game takes a ton of data.

      It’s a good solution in terms of being cheap and simple. The ladder I have is 14′ and I’d say that’s the minimum height you want. I’d prefer another 4′ of height.

  4. Frank Chen says:

    Very cool. Are you still using this setup? Do you pan the camera from left to right during the game?

    • Gregor says:

      I do still use it from time to time. Doesn’t really work for panning though as its a fixed mount on the ladder and the ladder doesn’t pan!

      • Frank Chen says:

        Thanks for the post and the reply, Gregor. That’s what I figured but wanted to see if you had found a hack for panning. Still, it’s cool that this post comes up high on Google search results for “how to film soccer games”. 🙂

  5. Gregor says:

    Good to know. It’s the second most viewed thing on my site this year so I guess I can thank Google for that.

  6. Matt Arrington says:

    Precisely what I’m looking to do! Would love to see any game footage you’ve gotten out of it and how everything panned out.

  7. Rob Anderson says:

    I am trying to work up a system for my (high school) Rugby team. Can I see your video somewhere to see the quality of video it captures?

  8. BhamGuy says:

    I am intrigued by this telescopic ladder setup, but I was wondering if there was a way to accomplish the same thing without having to lean it against something. The places we go often don’t have something “handy” for resting a ladder against, and it would be ideal if it could stand on its own.

    Any suggestions for something that would make this freestanding?

    Thanks for the article, very much enjoyed. Looking for a solution for fall and spring seasons for my son for the next two years!

    • Gregor says:

      Sorry haven’t really looked beyond the telescoping ladder.Clearly you’d need something to stabilize the elevated part if you don’t have something to lean on.

  9. SJS says:

    That ladder is a great idea!

    Hi I’m trying to record my son’s soccer games using my IPhone 7 Plus (4k camera). Does anyone have any experience using add on lenses (I’d like to focus in on him if possible vs getting a wide view (to make a highlight video at the end of the year for posterity)).

    Thx!

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