Tennis and Technology: A Perfect Match

About me

For those who have started reading this blog, I realize I have not provided much context or background about myself. My name is Adam Attas and I am a tennis player, an engineer, and a current member of Wasabi Ventures Academy Startup Foundations Bootcamp. I started writing to fulfill some of the requirements for my class, but realized how much I enjoyed writing and sharing my perspectives on modern tennis. I am fascinated by how technology fits into the context of improving athletic performance, how data can drive better decision making on and off court, and how technology can help break down the barriers to entry into the sport. As an engineer and a professional problem solver, I sincerely believe that technology can play a big role in increasing the appeal of the sport and pushing the game to new heights. If Richard Williams could begin teaching his daughters on the courts of Compton with nothing but instructional videos and motivation, I think this generation can do better. While not everyone can become the next Venus or Serena Williams, technology can make the game more fun and accessible to players of all levels.

How I’ve used Technology in My Own Game

I was first introduced to video analysis during one of my early trips to the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy, one of the premier training facilities for tennis in the world

Video analysis is a very powerful tool for athletes. A large component of being an athlete is this concept of body awareness and visualization. When you grow up playing a sport, you are taught to replicate an example. This requires you to observe, process, and repeat. You are given verbal commands to make adjustments and this feedback loop is repeated over and over and over until you develop the muscle memory of the action. The “mind’s eye”, as they say in yoga, is where a lot of this analysis takes place, but having this extra-sensory level of awareness of your body can take years to develop. Video analysis can help speed up that feedback cycle for improvement. You can break down a stroke frame by frame and see it’s components with your own eyes. Even the simplest concept, like making sure your eye is watching the ball, can be pointed out instantly on video.

One tool I like to use for video analysis is called Coach’s Eye.

My Serve with Coach’s Eye

One of the best things about Coach’s eye is that it’s free! I used to marvel at the power of Dartfish, one of the most sophisticated software platforms for sports video analysis, but now I question whether or not I need something that costly to get a message across. I can pull up the app, record a video, edit, and annotate all on my smartphone! I wanted to analyze my serve, so I shot some footage, slowed it down frame by frame, and sent it to some friends to get an opinion, all in a matter of minutes. With the shear number of smartphones, that kind of power can help spawn an entire social platform centered around this type of analysis, which can help bring tennis to places it has never flourished before.

Big Data in Tennis

Tennis is a game of percentages. That is something I’ve heard time and time again as I’ve learned and studied the game. As tennis players, we make choices each time we go to strike a ball. How we approach the ball with footwork, how short or deep to hit the ball, what spin to use, etc. For each shot, there is also a low risk option, a neutral option, and a high risk option.   This element of tennis is referred to as shot selection. Each shot selected is not only one data point, but a collection of data points, and when analyzed correctly, the results can be powerful.

Every Grand Slam is now powered by IBM Slam Tracker, a software platform used to introduce big data analysis in tennis.

“Aces, serve speed, winners and other key statistics are rendered in real time, giving an immediate, accurate visual sense of a match in progress. SlamTracker’s “Keys to the Match” feature, built on IBM’s predictive analytics technology (SPSS), mines over 8 years of Grand Slam Tennis data (~41 million data points) to determine patterns and styles for players when they win. Prior to each match, the IBM Keys to the Match system runs an analysis of both competitors’ historical head-to-head match-ups, as well as statistics against comparable player styles to determine what the data indicates each player must do to do well in the match.”

This kind of technology can and should be applied to the game at all levels and one company bringing analytics into other tiers of tennis is called Coachmode. Currently, charting a match is the most common way to gather match data and many people don’t make the time to do this for their students or teammates. They find it cumbersome to have to manually mark down winners, unforced errors, and forced errors broken down by shot to highlight what worked well and what didn’t. Coachmode attempts to make that process easier by allowing anyone to upload their video to the cloud and have their shots broken down with interactive dashboards. Coaches don’t always have the time to chart matches, but they should make the time to analyze the results.

 

I invite you to check out their site and their great post on How Technology will change the sports world.

My Side of The Net

We are seeing an era of unprecedented disruption with new technological innovation in ride sharing and social networking, with access to just about everything at our finger tips. Why should athletic training and athletic participation be any different be any different, particularly in tennis? Technology is a tool and not a complete solution to a problem, but I do believe in it’s ability to be a great catalyst when used correctly. For years, sports have paved the way for social change and why should that stop now? I’ve started this blog to address some of these major questions, combining two of my greatest passions, Technology and Tennis.

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