This is a guest post by Jaice Blakeleigh.
Analytics are taking over all sports, with some of the world’s top tennis players taking advantage of big data. For proof of this look no further than Novak Djokovic and his use of analytics. His strategy coach, Craig O’Shannessy, uses analytics to find patterns and numbers, which he and Djokovic use to plan for every match. This ability helps Djokovic break down opponents to the tiniest of details.
O’Shannessy considers this ability as a competitive differentiator, as it helps Djokovic prepare accordingly. This is a good example of how analytics can help decrease pre-match nerves: It ups the preparation level of players, to the point where they are knowledgeable about every aspect of their opponent.
“Success is about taking big data and simplifying it and distilling it, so that a player can use it under five minutes with you,” explains O’Shannessy. “It’s about finding the 10 or 15 points that matter the most and explaining that these are the patterns of play that you want to repeat in upcoming games to win those matches.”
In other words, analytics allows players to know which shots to take, where to put the ball in play, and how to best neutralize their opponents’ strengths. This level of preparation enables players to visualize their desired outcome and mentally prepare for a match, long before the first shot is played.
Analytics has become increasingly important in another area that can help players with pre-match nerves – sports psychology. Researchers from North-West University and the University of KwaZulu note how tennis is unique in that it “requires athletes to frequently adapt to a variety of environmental conditions as well as playing surfaces” without interacting with their coaches. This is why tennis is famous for its psychological nature as much as the physical effort, and why many players are using sports psychologists to better prepare before matches. Sports psychologist Dr. Tom Ferraro told New York Tennis Magazine that such a process “must be established long before match time.” Players have to be “trained to expect mistakes and setbacks of all kinds.” Something that data analytics can also help improve.
This underpins the important role sports psychologists play in the build-up to competitive play, which is why the demand for these professionals is rising. Maryville University outlines how psychological expertise is increasing in value across different fields with psychologists finding correlations between objectives and how people behave. And many of these links are coming through the use of big data – in sports and other industries. In fact, The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that social psychology job opportunities will increase by 11% (under which sports psychology is covered) by 2023. In tennis, the most famous example of a sports psychologist helping a player is Roger Federer. In 2017 he admitted to getting angry during matches to deal with the stress of playing professionally. He then used counseling to channel his ferocity into improving his performance. Since then Federer has constantly evolved his game, with the 20-time Grand Slam Champion also using big data to get “privileged information of his rivals.”
The takeaway here is that analytics can help calm those jittery nerves by enhancing preparation. The more a player knows going into a match, the better they will able to outplay and out-think their opponent. For any player of any level this will help with their pre-match nerves.
This was a guest article written by Jaice Blakeleigh