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Virtual coaches and the future of badminton

Kári Gunnarsson
December 2021

Have you ever wondered: what if the world’s best badminton coach was my private coach? I bet many players have fantasised about this. It’s about getting the best personalised advice, attention and feedback that you could possibly get - giving you the chance to improve at an accelerated speed and maximise your potential. For the vast majority of the world’s more than 300 million badminton players being coached by the world’s best coach might seem far-fetched. My bet, however, is that in the future everybody will be coached by the world’s best coach

How could this possibly be, you might reasonably ask. The answer is technology and - more specifically - Artificial Intelligence (AI).

What does it mean to be a great coach?

Let’s pause to consider what characterises a great coach? A few things come to mind. A great coach: 

  • Analyses players’ strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Sets goals and designs training programs that help accomplish them. 
  • Tracks progress and provides ongoing feedback. 
  • Motivates and brings out the best in their players by understanding their individual needs.

Being a great coach requires hard work. The more players a coach has the more their focus on any individual player gets diluted. That’s why most high level coaches have no more than a handful of players that they focus on. Still, in most clubs it is not uncommon for coaches to have dozens of players, making any individual care and attention next to impossible.

I think every competitive badminton player has been in a situation where they couldn’t receive coaching at a tournament because the coach had players on more than one court at a time. How often have you walked off court and thought “what actually happened here” - and then never figured out the answer?

Clutch and the future of the virtual AI coach

Now back to the initial question: how is it exactly that millions of badminton players will all have the world’s best coach? The answer, of course, is that the “coach” that I’m referring to isn’t a human coach - it’s an app, built with artificial intelligence. This is exactly what we’re building with Clutch.

So how does it work? The AI technologies we use are called computer vision and machine learning. These are the same technologies that Tesla uses to build self-driving cars. At Clutch we have trained our algorithms to “see” what a human badminton coach sees. The AI automatically tags all your shots and how much pressure you are under at any given time. It registers all your winners and mistakes. It measures your pace and the distance you cover in a game.

A virtual coach needs to not only "see" what happens in a game but also translate what is observed into valuable insights. The Clutch app automatically tracks and analyses your game, highlighting your strengths and weaknesses through data visualisations and video clips. In the app, players and coaches can easily set goals and track performance together. All you need is a smartphone to record your game.

Goodbye human coaches?

About a year ago when I told my former coach about my plans with Clutch he laughed and half-jokingly asked “so you are trying to replace me?” The answer, of course, is a clear no. Our goal is to build tools that make both players and coaches better. 

Also, we're very far from being able to fully automate a coach. In the self-driving cars industry the level of automation is measured in 5 levels where level 0 is no automation (what most of us do when we get in a car) and level 5 is full automation (you get in your car and take a nap on your way to work). But you don't really need full automation in order for the driving experience to become considerably more enjoyable. The same is true for a virtual sports coach - if we can make it easier and more enjoyable to be a player and a coach then we consider ourselves to be on the right path.

In some respects AI is already better than the best human coach. Human attention, memory and analytical skills are imperfect. AI can analyse large amounts of data in no time without forgetting a single data point, and it can turn all this data into valuable insights for both players and coaches.

If we go back to the question of what characterises a great sports coach it’s clear that “human qualities” are indispensable. These qualities include being a great communicator, a knowledgeable teacher and a motivator who knows how to push the right psychological buttons. 

In 1997 a computer beat the world’s best chess player for the first time. Today AI is in everything from stock exchanges and self-driving cars to sports analytics. AI is becoming both better and cheaper. That’s why we are here today. 

Our belief at Clutch is that we're at the cusp of a revolution in how we approach our sport. A combination of smart technology and great design will play an increasingly important role in the future of our sport. This is overall a very positive change.

If you would like to try out Clutch or if you want to work with us then don’t hesitate to reach out to us (kari@clutchapp.io) 👋

You can follow our work with building Clutch on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.