All the work of the past provides us in tennis with a foundation for implementing new technology and tools. Ignoring this past work encourages empty usage of technology to simply appear on the forefront of the industry. By considering and learning from the innovations of the past, those in tennis can create the optimal technological future. Today four main types of innovators seemingly exist in the space of tennis technology.
The first group are tech companies that make sweeping decisions in boardrooms. Overall tennis is a tiny market for these companies, and as such tennis receives little consideration. Without an on-court connection to tennis and understanding of practical processes, these companies struggle to effectively create technology tools for tennis players.
Another group consists of great individual business people who have identified the demand for cutting edge technology in the tennis market. Despite the demand for innovation from clients, the specific uses of this technology are difficult to determine due to tennis’ complicated nature. Without clear applications for new technology, these business-driven people tend to create and use technology only as a means for making a coach or program appear cutting edge.
Next are the older group of coaches skeptical of new technology. Twenty years ago, many of them invested in Dartfish, considered the first big tech advancement in tennis. The substantial time and monetary investments necessary for learning and purchasing the video analysis software, were never recovered by most of these coaches. Feeling misled, these coaches now hesitate to return to video analysis and tennis technology even though it is free in many cases. This group is currently sitting on so much untapped knowledge pertaining to creation of new technology tools for tennis.
Another group of coaches were already developing new tools and technologies before Dartfish, and now continue to keep up with new trends. These coaches recognized advancements in technology, and started rethinking what is possible. For many of these coaches the introduction of the iPhone was a turning point that created an opportunity to do more. With its release, the iPhone allowed for easy video analysis using a tool already found in most people’s pocket. Compared to the original Dartfish setup, the iPhone’s video capturing and editing were not only more convenient but also more cost effective. Armed with this new tool these coaches continued to innovate in the space of tennis technology.
Often the introduction of a new technological tool like the iPhone leads to gimmicky and inefficient usage, and many of these innovating coaches fell into that trap. However, overtime these coaches matured in their use of the iPhone, and now use it more efficiently. These coaches are now in what I call "the second phase of productive use of tennis technology". In this second phase, they are focused on applying tech to the specific problems faced by tennis players and coaches. Positioned between the older generation of coaches hesitant to embrace technology and the newer generation of coaches that lack years of experience, these coaches possess the right balance of specific on-court knowledge and interest in technology to successfully shape the future of tennis technology by creating new tools and processes.
Looking at the response I’ve gotten talking on this topic, it is evident that there are many coaches that want to get with the times and make sure that new technology is implemented for the right reasons in a productive manner. There is so much in proven processes, best practices, methodologies, etc we can learn from and should be extremely sensitive to as we “fuel” tennis training with technology. I am very excited that coaches are starting to seek information on productive use of technology in tennis and I know together we can make the future of tennis incredible.
By Alex Johansson