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MSU tennis teams benefit from video technology


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- The A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre is a sea of maroon and tan divided by the white lines that surround the courts -- with one exception. 


On the far right of the court on the far right, a blue kiosk stands out. The small, blue support structure houses a tablet that receives information from five cameras. It is Mississippi State's portal to the future of college tennis. 


Over the winter, MSU installed PlaySight's video technology on all six courts of its tennis facility. Those cameras provide analytical data to the blue kiosk to create a so-called SmartCourt. The results have given the MSU men's and women's tennis teams a video archive that is a great tool for its players, coaches, and fans. 


As innovative as the data can be from a coaching perspective, MSU men's tennis coach Matt Roberts is most excited about having all six courts fitted with cameras to live stream matches. It's a service to the families of his current players, of which just one is American, and to the future of the program's international recruiting approach. 


"I pushed this whole thing hard to get it because we needed live streaming. It's becoming a staple in the SEC," Roberts said. "When it comes to recruiting and being a high-level program, you need to have what your competitors have." 


PlaySight's Marketing Manager Jeff Angus has seen a similar excitement from the more than 40 college programs that use PlaySight's streaming technology, even if the streaming initially was an unintended side effect. 


In the beginning, PlaySight had its focus on the SmartCourt technology and the in-depth analytical information it provides. It was a happy accident that one of the cameras was positioned in a good place to broadcast matches. 


As more and more schools gave positive feedback about the live streaming capabilities, Angus said PlaySight started refining that part of the product and it has morphed into a notable recruiting tool, one MSU is thrilled to take advantage of. Roberts said Tyson Rodgers, his program's sports information director, has taken clips from the live streams to put on social media for recruiting purposes. 


Roberts said PlaySight's video technology is primarily used as a recruiting tool in the spring. In the fall, it becomes a development tool. 


As MSU and its players have more time and fewer matches in the fall, Roberts expects to use the one SmartCourt heavily. He called it a "360-degree analytical zone" that measures every shot and point of contact as well as court placement, racket speed, ball speed, unforced errors, winners, and other data. 


The system compiles data as points on a theoretical graph and in video form, meaning a player looking to improve his/her backhand could sort the video database of his training sessions for backhand rallies to find imperfections. 


"If we show somebody what we think they're doing wrong and they're not completely convinced, it's a great tool," Roberts said. "See, your ball is landing here and we can show you where your average ball is landing. We can use it to make them see things more clearly. As we use it more, we'll start to rely on it more." 


Angus said he has seen the SmartCourt system used in different ways, but he added there are benefits that are better exploited when utilized following longer practice. 


Roberts reserves his "old-school" side that prefers his eyes and expertise as a primary means of coaching over that of a computer, but he remains excited to use the SmartCourt more. Old-fashioned tendencies aside, he knows the SmartCourt can help the Bulldogs win. 


"Eighty-five percent of tennis is won and lost on unforced errors," Roberts said. "If we can cut out unforced errors in a match by 10 percent, we're going to find a way to win. I guarantee you that." 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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