Tennis Industry magazine

 

Your Serve: Data Points

Will collecting data from smart courts and equipment be the ‘silver bullet’ players and the industry are looking for?

By Rod Heckelman

Can collecting data on your tennis game through “connected” racquets and courts enhance your tennis experience? That begs another question: How relevant to the average tennis player is data collected by equipment such as Babolat’s Play racquet and the PlaySight “smart court”?

We know this sort of data is important for a tennis pro or coach, who is in the profession of analyzing or evaluating. But is the average player curious enough or invested enough to want technical equipment that can produce personal playing data? (And, as I’m sure the manufacturers are wondering, are there enough tennis enthusiasts who are willing to pay for that information?)

Convincing the bulk of tennis consumers, who are average players, that collecting data is going to enhance their tennis experience is about as probable as convincing a baseball fanatic to replace umpires with a computerized system. It’s just not going to happen.

There is also the assumption that collecting data will directly result in a player’s improvement. Most tennis players want to improve, but how they intend to achieve that task varies greatly. Some look toward increasing their time on court and just playing more tennis. They may have an interest in acquiring data, but without the assistance of evaluation and analysis, they may not find the data relevant, especially if collecting it does not result in an improvement in their skills. They most likely will give up on this data and turn toward just the enjoyment of play — which, by the way, is probably the majority of tennis players today.

Others feel that competition, especially against superior players, is the best path to improvement. When it comes to data collection, they may run into the same situation — without instruction, coaching and guidance, the acquisition of data will eventually wear thin.

Then there are those who invest in instruction. This group stands the best chance of using data on a regular basis to improve. The constant input of instruction, coaching and direction will stimulate the player to want more data. At the end of the day, this is the group that has the best potential of being able to enhance their experience by using data collected through their equipment or through “smart” courts.

But there’s also an emerging group of players I call the “gamers,” who use data to compare their play with others or even against themselves. They will invent games or scoring based on the data they get from this new equipment. This group has strong potential, especially with children. This opens the door for a harmonic relationship with the way you have played, and not just the results of the match.

Babolat is counting on the technology in its Play racquet to become part of the game in a big way, believing most racquets will have this type of data collection by 2020. The company sees every level of player wanting and needing statistics they can use to measure how they played that day. Everyone has those days when you feel your contact with the ball was really on — wouldn’t it be great to know why? Or how about comparing the results you get from your racquet after playing the same player twice and winning one time and losing the next? Data from those matches might help.

PlaySight collects data with four automated cameras on court. Your activity and motion during the match or training session can be uploaded to PlaySight.com and shared with your coach, friends and family. PlaySight has already realized the value of games and drills and is in the early stages of developing new approaches and uses of its system to include these potential trends.

Will this type of tennis data collection be the “silver bullet” that will move the needle for tennis participation? Probably not. For the majority of players, there has never been a need to know more than what they naturally feel and experience. They’re satisfied with the experience the game provides and not interested in the statistics or data.

On the other hand, there always will be a number of players for whom measuring their progress and performance using the most advanced technology available is very important, and they will seek out any tool or system that may help them improve. Will this group be large enough, or grow enough, to sustain the explosion in tennis data collection? Time will tell.

We welcome your opinions. Please email comments to info@tennisindustrymag.com.

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager at Mount Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif., and has been on the faculty for The Tennis Congress.

 

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