At SparkCognition, we work hard every day to develop and deliver world-class artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that enable organizations to solve their most critical problems and create a competitive advantage within their industry. Our vision is to be the most trusted AI provider to industries worldwide, and we’re perpetually curious to learn everything we can about novel applications of AI that energize business, medicine, government, culture—even sports.
So what’s the latest on AI in the world of sports? Let’s take a look.
The famous film “Moneyball” captivated its viewers with an inspirational story highlighting the impact of using statistical data to achieve a competitive advantage in baseball. Not only did the film emphasize the role of analytical innovation in evaluating players, but it also brought attention to how advanced technological analyses affect athletics.
In the 20 years since “Moneyball” debuted, AI solutions have evolved into a field of exploration and opportunity within athletics, transforming even the most traditional sports.
AI in baseball
While baseball is still widely regarded as the preferred American pastime, this nearly 150-year-old sport is merging with modern times as it gradually adopts more and more AI technology.
Coaches and teams rely on AI to make informed decisions rather than depending solely on instinct and experience. The technology can predict performance by analyzing extensive data on players, e.g., bat-head exit velocities, launch angles, spin rates, player age, weight/height, etc. The models use this historical data to detect patterns and predict the future performance of new players, helping coaches determine the potential value of recruits as well as shedding light on the current players on the team.
AI technology is also used to assist players’ judgment. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see players in the dugout studying analytics about a new pitcher coming into the game; this information can be used to deduce insights about what the next pitch might look like, something that previously required mere instinct. Players can also use AI to identify the types of pitches they statistically struggle with, as well as how to fundamentally fix their errors.
Pitchers rely on insights from AI technology as well. A pitcher’s arm health is crucial, and technology advancements now allow the player to consider previously unobservable movements to determine which biomechanical variables are causing the most stress on the body and are thus likely to contribute to long-term injury. By applying machine learning (ML) to pitchers’ training, the player can detect inefficient or harmful patterns in their form, thus reducing the amount of arm strain and enhancing their pitches with increased velocity, spin rate, or movement.
AI in tennis
Like baseball, tennis is a traditional sport undergoing advanced technology-based transformations that enhance insights available to coaches and players.
As a highly technical sport, tennis players have historically analyzed full match recordings, looking for form and strategy flaws on their own to obtain insightful information they can apply to future matches. Now, AI technology allows them to detect these performance errors in a fraction of the time and with even more impactful findings.
For example, the Roland-Garros Players Application offers players and coaches AI-powered match analysis functions with cognitive abilities. Using natural language processing (NLP), this app allows players to receive insights about their performance, thus ensuring better-informed training and game strategies. It generates match summaries, enables collaboration between coaches and players, and enhances overall communication and analysis.
The GrandSlam at Roland-Garros also lets its fans experience matches in an innovative, immersive way. It speeds up media coverage of the tournament, significantly decreasing the time it takes to create and share video content. AI solutions are thus leveraged to enhance match-viewing, reporting, broadcasting, and training experiences.
Wimbledon fans and players also witnessed the benefits of AI solutions in 2021 when IBM used its Watson tool to track and rank every point continuously, creating a highlights package for viewers to see almost immediately upon the completion of each match. The technology learned by analyzing gameplay statistics and observing the crowd’s reactions, delivering a compilation of the most exciting moments from each contest.
While some argue whether it is computer vision technology or a prime example of AI, Hawk-Eye is one of the most notable (and controversial) applications of advanced technology in tennis. Launched in 2001 by British computer expert Dr. Paul Hawkins, Hawk-Eye uses multiple computer-linked cameras to create a three-dimensional representation of the most likely trajectory and landing of a ball that has hit the court. It helps line judges predict an accurate line call when there is a dispute of human error. As time goes on, more and more players rely on Hawk-Eye, but its use is currently limited by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). Each player receives an unlimited number of challenges, so long as they are correct. The player can only make two incorrect challenges per set before the challenges are no longer accepted, and they cannot be carried over from one set to the next.
The future of AI in sports
As traditional sports adopt more AI applications to enhance players’ performance and spectators’ experience, it is important to note that many other sports are following suit and will continue to do so as time passes and technology advances.
Here are some ways in which AI technology will continue to impact the world of sports:
- Coaches improving their players’ performance and their recruiting efforts
- Referees’ judgments becoming more accurate
- Sports journalists leveraging NLP
- Virtual reality sports providing more realistic experiences
- Advanced broadcasting and streaming creating enhanced viewer experiences
- Predicting match/game outcomes with greater accuracy
The more you look, the more you will find that the world’s best sports organizations and individual athletes are employing AI technology to generate real competitive advantages—for the win!