A sensor the size of a yo-yo that attaches discreetly to the knob of a bat.

An app that counts each dribble of a soccer ball and outputs an age and skill-appropriate score.

“Practices” on the now-ubiquitous teleconferencing platform Zoom.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic upended the sporting world, elite travel organizations like Fredericksburg FC, Virginia Unity softball and Canes Baseball were utilizing technology to track performance and craft personalized training plans for their athletes.

With the usual tournaments, showcases and combines shelved for the foreseeable future, area clubs’ focus has shifted to individual development.

“Obviously, due to our situation, that kind of expedited the process,” FFC founder Grover Gibson said. “Usually when you get out to the fields, you touch on that but you’re usually doing more team tactical principles and gameplay strategy. Now, you can devote your entire week to [individuals].”

Last year, FFC partnered with an app called Techne Futbol that tracks technical skills. Drills are customizable and can be performed solo—against a wall—or with a partner, while leaderboards display high scores to provide a competitive element.

“That’s great for the kids who are self motivated and can track that stuff on their own,” Gibson said. “But kids play sports for different reasons; players have embraced the individual aspect, but how long does that last before the newness wears off?

“I think it’s all well and good, but it’s supposed to be a supplemental situation—not full time.”

Both the Canes and Virginia Unity were early adopters of Blast Motion, a “wearable sports technology” capable of tracking swing metrics such as bat speed, peak hand speed, attack angle, and vertical bat angle, according to its website. The app also allows players to upload video of their swing, which coaches then analyze.

Canes instructors Cody Wheeler and Sammy Serrano review the footage and provide feedback in the form of a voiceover. They then conduct a brief phone call with each player to answer any questions that might arise.

“We can’t be sitting on our tails and hoping the season comes around,” said Wheeler, who oversees roughly 340 players across 26 regional teams as the Canes’ Director of Player Development. “Because when it does, we need to be ready.”

During the lockdown’s early days, Virginia Unity founder Josh Johnson held an organization-wide hitting competition. In just two weeks, his 13U squad amassed 30,000 swings.

Some of Unity’s teams honor their preexisting practice schedule, Johnson said, working out remotely and then debriefing as a group over Zoom.

The fallout from a lost season—or seasons—isn’t clear. Tournaments are held in a host of states, all of which are operating under different reopening plans.

If play resumes this summer, FFC has plans to accommodate older players who missed out on their high school seasons.

“I get parents asking me all the time when we’re going to play again,” Johnson said. “I just tell them, ‘MLB is out, NBA is out, NHL is out. Do you think people are worried about a 10U travel softball tournament?’”

Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045

jlomonaco@freelancestar.com

@joeylomonaco

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