The Technologies Giving WTA Coaches and Players a Winning Edge

With the Australian Open underway and athletes adapting to playing through the pandemic, our most recent episode of The Best Run Podcast saw me catch up with Kamau Murray, coach for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and our newest SAP Ambassador; and Milan Cerny, Director of Strategic Partnerships at SAP Global Sponsorships.

Getting to Know Kamau Murray

Kamau began tennis during school and has developed his career based on giving back to his local community and the wider tennis community. This passion for offering amenities and activities that similarly saved Kamau’s life led to the establishment of XS Tennis and Education Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that provides Chicago’s underserved youth with an enriching after-school safe haven to learn, play, and grow through tennis.

“We started in 2005 and then in 2008 we finally got our own private space,” Kamau explained. “In 2005, we were playing in parks around the city and as you know Chicago right now is buried under a foot of snow, but if you don’t have a roof to play in the colder climate, you only have a summer camp. My aspiration was to not just have a summer camp but have a place where we could provide 12 months of consistent service.

“In 2012 we began this journey to have a larger space. The program had grown from 50 kids to a couple hundred and today we serve 2,000 kids so we endeavoured to find a 13-acre site in the middle of the city, which was not easy, and then raise $16 million to build the facility.”

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Kamau noted that XS Tennis services kids from across the city and region, drawing in players from outsides Illinois. “We even had families migrate to Chicago to take advantage of the programs. We provide about 4,000 hours of free tutoring every year to students after school and growing to be this national hub for kids who have potential, want to see that potential, and perhaps need a little bit of subsidy in order to chase their dream, they’re finding that XS Tennis is a place that will welcome them with open arms as well as financial support.”

According to Milan, the relationship between SAP and the WTA goes back several years. “We’ve always been working with the coach community at the WTA and Kamau has been one of the most active users and someone who was really eager to learn about our analytics, getting feedback and using it on a regular basis.

“We had many different touchpoints over the past years, so when we were looking for a strong ambassador for this year within the coaching community, our decision was very quick, and we reached out. Fortunately, Kamau was open to working with us a little bit closer.”

“Back in 2018, Milan and I were actually staying in the same hotel,” Kamau added. “It was during Sloane’s [Stephens] run to Miami Championship – and the statistics had just become available online in addition to the tablets being available on the side of the court with this online portal. Milan and I happened to be at breakfast a couple of times together at the same time, we were on the same schedule, and I decided to pick his brain on the data, any buttons or functionalities I wasn’t taking advantage of, and I’ve just really seen the value over the years of using it.

“I think the real way to prepare players for matches is both by the eye test – coaches have to use their instincts and their expertise – but also use the data to confirm or rebut what they may see. You never really know what’s going to happen in a match, but you can be prepared for a person’s habits and tendencies.”

Milan noted that SAP has been working with WTA through various projects, particularly through its tennis analytics program, which has helped players and coaches get back into their matches after the pandemic disruption. “We also worked on other projects with the WTA to help them help their community be better prepared,” Milan said, “it’s called the WTA University, which is basically an online platform for learning and training courses, which is powered by SAPLitmus.

“They introduced that to their community last year, throughout the pandemic, and it was a very successful project. They had more than 150 WTA players sign up and they are running courses about things like brand building, mental strength. It was super important for them to have this solution because with pretty much nobody being able to travel around and see each other in person, having a solution that you can run anywhere, anytime on any device and for the WTA to be able to reach out was pretty essential in terms of keeping in touch and providing players with ways to keep engage and be ready for the season.”

Milan explained that another WTA project is based on SAP’s Qualtrics solution. “They introduced a few surveys to see how their players and the community were feeling about getting back to play, what are the reasons for them to be motivated, what drives them during these tough times that we all have to face right now. Qualtrics is a very flexible, lightweight solution so it was very easy for them to implement those surveys and reach out to their players and coaches.”

Kamau noted how these digital technologies are allowing players and coaches to be much more precise. “Who knows what tennis is going to look like for the next season? The coaching conferences and events that usually happen are probably not going to happen, so the WTA University a good one-stop shop for players and coaches to utilise, get access to the data, and continue to prepare for the coming year where we don’t know if tennis is going to go regional or stay global. We need access to everything, especially during lockdowns, which are available to you from the Wi-Fi in your hotel room.”

To learn more about how tennis is using SAP technology to adapt to this pandemic and train more intelligently under new circumstance, check out our latest episode of The Best Run Podcast.

This article originally published on Linkedin