Engineering the Game: ReadyList Pro software is changing how athletes tackle football
Learning a football team’s plays and strategies may not seem very difficult. But for many athletes, memorizing a playbook is often like learning a new language, as was the case for Chad Friehauf ’05.
Friehauf enrolled at Mines knowing he would not only have the opportunity to earn a great education but also to pursue his dreams of playing quarterback for a college football team. And in his four years with the Orediggers, he became legendary in Mines athletics.
Friehauf completed his career at Mines as the all-time leader in passing yards (9,873) and touchdown passes (84). His records for total offense (5,363 yards) and completions (384) during Mines’ undefeated 2004 season still stand. Friehauf received the first Harlon Hill Trophy in Mines history that year, recognizing him as the most valuable player in NCAA Division II. Mines hadn’t seen a quarterback of this caliber since Vince Tesone ’61 led the team to its first conference championship in 1958.
When he graduated from Mines with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Friehauf knew he wasn’t ready to retire his helmet and pads. “I wanted to continue my athletic career as long as I could,” he said. “I signed with the Denver Broncos immediately after college.”
Friehauf immediately started mini-camps and organized team activities in the 2005 preseason. He built strong relationships with his teammates, most notably with then first-string quarterback Jake Plummer.
“Jake took me under his wing, treating me as a part of the team, although I was not a highly touted rookie,” Friehauf said.
Despite the bond he had with his teammates, Friehauf found it hard to quickly learn the Broncos’ plays. He only had seven days to memorize the playbook, all while competing and learning with the other four quarterbacks on the team.
“When I was with the Broncos, sitting in the meeting room with four other quarterbacks who had been on the team the year before, I was the only one in the room who didn’t know the language or the terminology,” Friehauf said. The question for him then became, how does a rookie compete with seasoned athletes and further his career?
The start of an idea
Unfortunately, Friehauf was released by the Broncos before the season began, but he wasn’t ready to give up.
“I just wanted one more shot at an NFL training camp,” Friehauf said. He spent the next seven years playing for nine different professional football teams across North America. He played for the Canadian Football League, Arena Football League and United Football League, and even trained for NFL Europe.
As he traveled and played with these teams, Friehauf still experienced the same struggles he had when training with the Broncos—his approach to learning the playbooks wasn’t efficient, and many of his teammates seemed to have the same problems. He continued to think about how to approach learning a new team’s strategies on the field. Fortunately, Friehauf was able to play with many different athletes in different parts of the country and observe how each player approached learning new plays.
“I watched my teammates and asked them how they studied,” Friehauf said. “If I was struggling, there must be a lot more people on the team who may be worse off in terms of structure and how to study. I thought, ‘There must be a better way to do it.’”
By the time he reached the end of his career in professional football, Friehauf had an idea of what would come next. “My body had enough,” Friehauf said. “So I came back and coached for Mines for two years.” It was then that he was able to focus on the idea that would become his entrepreneurial brainchild, ReadyList Pro.
The Rosetta Stone for playbooks
Friehauf threw all his football knowledge and experience into the software he calls the “Rosetta Stone for playbooks.”
ReadyList Pro is a cloud-based software application aimed at helping athletes take thousands of plays and put them into a more manageable, easy-to-understand format. The online, customized playbook allows coaches to upload their playbooks, videos and notes into their team’s profile. Players are then able to engage with these plays, with tests for each position on the football field. Coaches not only see their players’ progress but are able to see exactly where their team needs improvement. The program gives coaches at the collegiate and professional levels more information on their athletes through their performance and progress within the program. Athletes are able to learn better and faster, but the software also helps them learn how to play smarter and limit injuries.
The fully interactive learning and testing technology works by allowing teams to create digital playbooks within the ReadyList Pro program, and players then study each play and are randomly tested on the correct routes for each player. Athletes are evaluated based on their choices and response times, as well as how well they know formation alignments. The software immediately scores each assessment and gives the players results based on a comparison with their teammates’ average scores, while coaches receive detailed analytics on each individual player.
Friehauf’s main goal was to create something that would work with all types of players, whether they were audio, visual or tactile learners. He needed something that would be manageable for all athletes.
But in order to get this idea off the ground, Friehauf knew he was going to need some help. He turned to his former teammate-turned-friend, Jake Plummer. Friehauf presented him with a 350-slide PowerPoint presentation about what he envisioned for ReadyList Pro and, luckily, Plummer was hooked.
“ReadyList Pro is a game-changer with a fully interactive, web-based playbook that leverages multiple learning styles,” Plummer said. “I have yet to see anything like this software that helps kids play faster and gain knowledge about the game.”
Plummer has been more than just one of the investors in Friehauf’s program—he has been instrumental to its success. With his connections to NFL and college coaches, Plummer has set up many meetings to demonstrate ReadyList Pro’s potential for individual teams. He and Friehauf then work together to make updates and discuss further enhancements to keep the software running efficiently in the future.
An engineer’s mind
With initial interest in ReadyList Pro from football programs across the country, Friehauf and Plummer began working with CD2 Learning, a programming company that specializes in learning, in 2015. However, Friehauf quickly realized there was a bit of a language barrier between football jargon and software terminology. Friehauf and the programmers he was working with seemed to constantly talk over each other’s heads, both parties trying to communicate their vision for ReadyList Pro in very different ways.
Friehauf’s engineering background came in handy when tackling this issue. “Just being an engineer enabled me to relate and think like they do,” Friehauf said when explaining how he adjusted to the programmers’ work style. “I was able to lay out the specifics of my idea and present it to them in a black-and-white way that they could understand.”
The integration of Friehauf’s engineering knowledge and football expertise into one cohesive language not only allowed for a smoother process in creating ReadyList Pro, but also allowed Friehauf to make sure the program is understandable from all perspectives. The software is user-friendly and compatible with tablets, desktops and smartphones—a limitless array of devices, so any team can be ready to use ReadyList Pro.
Friehauf believes Mines prepared him for the entrepreneurial journey he has taken over the past few years. “At Mines, I got good at time management, especially in the two years I played two sports, as well as developing problem-solving skills and learning skills,” he said. Friehauf knew there would be a lot more valleys than peaks when he first started developing this software, but he knew how to handle them and take the whole journey in stride.
A game-changer for future athletes
During the 2016 football season, several college programs were asked to test ReadyList Pro and give Friehauf feedback. Mines was one of them.
“ReadyList Pro is an outstanding resource that has allowed us to speed up the learning process for our players,” said Nicholas Fulton, Mines’ offensive coordinator. “It is easy to use and has given our guys an interactive way to compete and learn our offense in a way that encourages them to study outside of our meeting time.”
Officially rolling out the product three months before the 2017 football season began, ReadyList Pro signed up teams in eight states, including Division I university teams, smaller colleges, high schools and even a middle school.
Friehauf even convinced former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan to interact with the software. “ReadyList Pro is going to do something for these players that many have not seen,” Shanahan said. “We will see different perspectives and exactly how to attack an offense and defense, making athletes ready for the NFL as well as the collegiate game.”
But Friehauf’s main focus right now is on younger athletes. After receiving considerable interest from youth coaches, Friehauf has been working on simpler versions of ReadyList Pro aimed at kids—ReadyList Youth and ReadyList Flag. These programs are expected to launch in spring or summer 2018. Friehauf hopes the use of this software at a young age, when kids are still learning the foundations of football, will have continuous benefits as they progress through the sport.
As he looks to the future, Friehauf wants ReadyList Pro to continue to fill the need for coaches, players and recruiters to have the right tools to learn, perform and teach football, from adolescent to professional.
“It’s a way to learn that’s better than the archaic way of staring at static playbook images,” Friehauf said. “My hope for the future is that kids use it because they enjoy learning from the software and not because their coaches make them. I’ve already seen the reactions from players who get on the system for the first time and see their plays in there. It makes me feel like we are doing something pretty cool.”