Why no telepresence coaching for tennis?

It costs between $25,000 and $50,000 to build a tennis court. The extra cost for a few webcams and a bullhorn should be less than $1000. There are a lot of great tennis players and coaches in India, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Instead of hiring an American teacher for $40-80 per hour, why wouldn’t someone hire an overseas tennis teacher for $5 per hour? The teacher could watch both players and give instructions through the bullhorn, e.g., “follow through”, “watch the ball”, “step with the other foot”.

Bonus: the overseas teachers could also serve as impartial line judges and scorekeepers. At a lot of tennis clubs, people are paying $20 per hour for court time so the $5 extra cost of the teacher/judge would not be significant.

You would think that this idea would be popular for almost any sport in which players stand in predictable locations, e.g., near golf tees, yet I don’t think that the service exists.

9 thoughts on “Why no telepresence coaching for tennis?

  1. I coach swim teams.

    When I am at the pool, even with a small number of athletes, there is too much to see. I don’t think I could could use telepresence effectively because a large part of my ondeck job is choosing what to look for, from where. A system flexible enough to replace my judgement and experience wouldn’t need me.

  2. Michael: With tennis there are only two players. Perhaps only one of them is being coached. It is pretty straightforward to have a camera track a player and, in any case, a good coach can often see a beginner’s problem when looking from the far side of the court.

  3. Not quite the same thing, but my voice teacher has had several of her students keep taking lessons when they have gone away to college via Skype. I know a banjo player who takes lessons the same way…..

  4. It’s a cute idea, but there are a few issues:

    (1) Learning from demonstration is important; communicating the right way to e.g., serve the ball, is probably much more difficult than demonstrating it. Also the trust that your instructor actually knows what he/she is talking about is likely based on the seeing his/her abilities demonstrated

    (2) Learning the appropriate action for a situation requires repeated practice of that specific situation, which a good coach (physically present) can create reliably while playing a game with a friend will only generate at random.

    (3) Does anyone really want to be yelled at through a bullhorn by someone they’ve never met? There’s a social issue here that’s being ignored.

  5. Brian, Colin: I am not saying that the telepresent coach at $5/hour will be as effective as an on-the-scene $50/hour coach. My argument is only that the $5/hour coach will provide at least $5/hour in value. If done through a service, for example, the $5/hour coach would not require any coordination in time. You’d be assigned a coach whenever you happened to arrive at the court.

  6. You could add a big-screen TV to the setup (tricky for outdoor courts, but would work indoors). The remote coach could mark up the video of your efforts, comment on the frame by frame, etc.

    Of course, with the Wii, Natal, etc. your game console will analyze your moves and train you. You play others over the internet, thus replacing a $25K court with a $500 game system. Scoring, line calls, etc. are all automated.

  7. J.: I don’t think an ex-post facto video analysis is that helpful. Casual golf or tennis players aren’t going to have time to watch videos and they won’t remember what they supposedly learned when they’re back on the court/course. Very few coaches of recreational tennis make use of video or anything else that takes up time off the court.

  8. In college many years ago, I worked for university television distance learning. We delivered mostly core engineering classes like statics, dynamics, etc. Later in life I coached youth hockey as my kids progressed through that sport. Having logged some time at rinks videotaping their games, I had thought that video recordings provided by the rink could be a fairly good revenue stream. Set two cameras on each end for wide angle and maybe a third for close ups. One operator could manage switching the wide angle shots and maybe another for the close ups. A little editing and $35 later you get to enjoy the game without trying to capture the action. I never had good shots of my own kids anyway, as the camera would drift towards the ceiling whenever they were in the action. Now there is a value add.

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