Teaching football like a foreign language

  • Carnegie Mellon University, Human-Computer Interaction Capstone
  • Tech lead on a five person team

Football players joining a new team have a herculean learning task ahead of them. Every football team has a playbook full of code words, hand symbols, formations and routes that the player has to memorize. Worse, this base playbook is tweaked weekly as the team prepares for their next opponent.

For my Human-Computer Interaction capstone project, I worked with four other students (Avanti Dabholkar, Micah Fenner, Ben Alderoty, and Robyn Lambert) on playbook training software for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We went through a twelve week process of user research and design iteration, eventually proposing a system that teaches plays with a Duolingo inspired quiz-based learning system.

Rather than being asked to memorize a huge stack of plays on paper, players are guided through weekly quizzes that slowly build up their knowledge. Questions in the quizzes are interactive and visual, and get more challenging as the players get more experienced.

Building a convincing prototype

Although I was involved with all parts of the project, my focus was technical. I was responsible for building the interactive prototype that we used for testing and presentations.

I built an HTML-based prototype that emulated the look and feel of an iOS native app, from the launch icon to the status bar. This was important, because our app featured a variety of complex touch-based interactions, on the hypothesis that football players would learn better if they were quizzed in a tactile manner.

Our project was well-received by our client and our professors, and our team was invited to demo for the Steeler’s coaching staff, including head coach Mike Tomlin.

After the semester ended, the client hired a Pittsburgh-based design firm to extend the project. Their work is currently ongoing.

Ask me about:

  • Working with a client who’s starting on the offensive line in NFL playoff games
  • Building a prototype in HTML that behaves like a native iOS app
  • Designing an app to teach football without knowing anything about football.
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