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Fourth-Place Medal

USA women’s volleyball’s high-tech edge

Fourth-Place Medal

He's not playing Angry Birds or Brick Breaker, but the high-tech gadgets U.S. women's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon has introduced to the sideline could help the Americans finally break through and fly to their first gold medal.

McCutcheon coached the U.S. men to gold in Beijing in 2008.

You probably recognize McCutcheon as he stalks up and down the U.S. bench, earpiece tightly fastened and tablet PC seemingly super-glued to his wrist.

"There's an art and science to coaching," McCutcheon said. "The art is what you feel in your gut… so it's nice when you see your instincts backed up by the data."

[ Photos: Meet the U.S. women's volleyball team ]

The gadgets, which have been slowly phased in over the past three years since McCutcheon took the reins, make the U.S. volleyball coaching staff resemble an NFL sideline with open-channel communication and video support to make snap decisions that much snappier. Each of the five coaches have an earpiece and a microphone setup and all are on the line at one time. In the fast-paced environment of volleyball, with stoppages in play often lasting less than 10 seconds it's beneficial for McCutcheon not to have to turn his back to the action to converse with assistants Karch Kiraly or Paula Weishoff so he can keep his eyes on the action and talk strategy at the same time.

The challenge with all that information instantly accessible is not to overload the six players on the floor with too much of it.

"We have to be careful with it," McCutcheon said. "The premier skill in this game is reading and reacting so we only want to give the best information at the right time."

[ Video: USA men's volleyball team is old -- average age: 30 -- compared to competition ]

On the Acer tablet — which is fastened to his right hand with a device similar to the armband many joggers use to affix an mp3 player to their arm — he has detailed scouting reports on the opponent, live stats and can check out video of the previous point on a delay. He used to just carry the tablet around, but gripping the screen resulted in too many errant swipes causing him to lose his place, hence the sleeve.

About half of the elite national teams around the world have embraced similar technology in recent years. Cuba, long a power on the volleyball scene, notably does not — preferring instead to rely solely on athleticism and instinct.

It's a far cry from when Kiraly was on the men's national team in 1984 and 1988 — winning back-to-back gold medals — when whiteboards were the new technological advance just coming into vogue.

"Part of our job as coaches is to communicate as effectively as possible," Kiraly said.

Just like the players on the floor.

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