Can you ace your tennis game with location technology?
Matches these days aren’t won on talent alone. No, no doping allowed – but to find success, modern sports pros are now focusing on figures just as much flair; on tech as much as training. We explore how tennis champions, soccer stars and golf masters can
He may have lost the first set today, but 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 later, and Roger Federer has proven, once again, he's still a Wimbledon wizard. While he has said he relies more on the human factor when training, he also believes that tech is: "a major factor in influencing success nowadays," with coaches "using different tech-supported ways to analyze matches."
And it's not just tennis. The pool of data that teams and athletes of all sports can access to learn more about their game has increased dramatically in recent years: in particular in terms of location. Thanks to this kind of intelligence, we now have far more visibility of how players and balls move and can understand how this impacts the final score – which is transforming how sports are both played and watched. How exactly?
Tennis: an (electronic) eye on the ball
When the "Hawk-Eye" electronic line judge landed on the court in 2006, viewers gained a new way to engage with the sport. So now, whenever a player challenges an on-court call, crowds can unfailingly be heard cheering in anticipation to learn if the ball landed in or out.
And its impact goes beyond building suspense and assisting umpires. The system – which tracks balls using 10 high-speed cameras – provides data that's far more detailed than simple rates of shot accuracy. Coaches can now understand which parts of the service boxes yield the most aces, and which shots are most likely to push the opponent behind the baseline, among other things, all of which help improve player strategies.
Soccer: sensing what's around you
Success in soccer doesn’t just come through knowing where your players are – it relies also on knowing where they aren’t. Teams are now using sensor technologies to track how players move in different scenarios; for example, where the goalkeeper, defenders and competitors are when a goal is scored, allowing coaches to determine how team members can act to prevent openings.
Much like how autonomous vehicles can use onboard sensors to anticipate the movements of pedestrians and road users, teams can use machine learning to understand how players tend to create and capitalize on space, which helps with strategizing.
Golf: watch the birdie
A golf ball might become a tiny speck in the sky immediately after being struck, but golfers now have more visibility than ever over what’s happening in the air. Sensors in the equipment and around the course can measure the speed, spin and trajectory of balls as they hurtle across the range, and the stats can be accessed in real-time via the cloud.
By striving for the same kind of precision required by HD maps to accurately depict streets, golfers can also understand how the environment affects ball movement, allowing them to adjust their play for the circumstances.
But there's still a question about this kind of technology. As precision-tracking systems continue to take their place in professional sports, critics argue that new intelligent tools are taking the emotion out of the experience.
Thankfully though, we don't believe any tracking system is ever going to keep us from taking to our feet and cheering on our favorite competitors, nor voicing our disagreement on calls. Location data doesn't replace coaches or referees, and it likely never will. Rather, data takes its rightful place in making human jobs easier and enables them to focus their attention on the next trophy.
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