11 Reasons to Contribute to the Match Charting Project

In the last two years, more than 50 dedicated tennis fans have charted over 1,500 matches for the Match Charting Project. The results are amazing–detailed shot-by-shot data, covering everything from serve location to return depth to mid-rally tactics for hundreds of current and retired players.

We’re just getting started. Up to this point, the project has relied very heavily on a small number of contributors. Five of us have charted at least 95 matches each. If we’re going to continue to grow the project and chart more matches, we need more people charting.

I hope you will be one of those people. If you’re already convinced, here’s the “quick start” guide to charting. Otherwise, here are some of the reasons you should contribute to the Match Charting Project:

1. Learn more about tennis. The comment I hear most frequently from first-time charters is that they’re stunned by how much detail they notice while charting a match. When forced to pay attention to every shot of every point, you’ll pick up on things you’d otherwise ignore.
2. Watch more intently. The default sports-watching mode for many of us is to put a match on in the background, half-heartedly do something else, and tune back in for highlight replays or important moments. There’s a ton of great tennis being played that doesn’t fit those categories, and if you’re charting the match, you’ll see all of it.
3. Discover new players. If you’re curious about a prospect, or you want to know about a player who just beat your fave, charting a couple of matches is a great way to learn more.
4. Discover new things about your favorite players. With the focus that comes from charting every shot of a match, you’re likely to spot new aspects of anyone’s game, even if you’ve been watching them play for years.
5. Improve your tennis game. You may not think of your game as ripe for a tactical overhaul, but by paying close attention to professional points, you’ll see tactics that will improve your own performance, even if you can’t execute them perfectly.
6. Make your own narrative. When you watch every shot, you tend to notice patterns you might otherwise miss. If you’re sick of the tired tropes trotted out during so many tennis broadcasts (experience beating youth, aggression overwhelming caution, etc.), you’ll have the data to determine for yourself what’s really going on.
7. Contribute to the analytics movement. While the state of tennis data is mediocre, why not help improve it? For many players, one or two more charted matches will substantially increase the publicly-accessible knowledge of their game. And in the aggregate, the more matches we have, the better we can use the data to learn more about the game.
8. Gain the moral high ground. In the tennis twitterverse, whining about the state of tennis data is standard fare. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who complain without doing anything about it. Next time you want to vent your feelings about certain tennis organizations and their stat-keeping efforts, wouldn’t it feel better to know that you’re part of the solution?
9. Learn how to get more out of the data. If you want to use Match Charting Project data for your own research, the best way to learn what the dataset contains (as well as its limitations) is to chart a few matches.
10. Recognize patterns for further study. Looking for a research topic? Chart a couple of matches, look for patterns, make a few notes, and if you don’t have ten potential topics written down, you’re not trying hard enough.
11. It’s fun! Ok, it’s a bit cumbersome to get started. Bear with it for a match, and you’ll find that charting can make watching tennis even more enjoyable.

In 2015 alone, we’ll add over 1,000 new matches to the charting database. I hope to significantly improve on that in 2016, but I’ll need more help. It doesn’t have to take much–one hundred volunteers charting one match a month would more than double this year’s output. Please contribute!