By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) - The men's tennis tour has partnered with online learning platform Coursera to help players gain new skills and knowledge, as well as look after their mental health during the COVID-19 shutdown, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said on Thursday.
The professional tennis season was halted in early March due to the pandemic and will remain suspended until at least mid-July, depriving lower-level players who depend solely on tournament winnings of the chance to earn a living.
With the sport at a virtual standstill due to the virus and many countries in strict lockdown, many professional athletes have been left anxious as they struggle to cope with all the uncertainty that lies ahead.
"The players are mostly very competitive people, they like to achieve things," Gaudenzi told Reuters. "They are productive people.
"If you sort of have your focus on something that gives you that drive and passion it will help channel their energy into something, even though not physical but mental, to achieve something new."
Through ATP's partnership with Coursera, which will be initially for two years, players will have access to over 4,000 courses across topics like business, technology, data science, personal development and mental well-being.
"One of our most popular courses is called The Science of Well-Being from Yale University," Kim Caldbeck, chief marketing officer at Coursera, told Reuters. "And already this year, there's been over 1.8 million enrolments in that course.
"There's also quite a few different courses on Coursera everything from mindfulness to helping find your purpose.
"So there's quite a bit that allow people to both directly address mental health as well as help them stay stimulated and learning about interest that they might have longer term during this time."
Gaudenzi, who reached a career-high singles ranking of 18 during his playing career, earned a law degree and an MBA before launching a successful business career in entertainment, data, technology and media.
The 46-year-old Italian, who took over as the chairman of ATP in January, feels an online learning platform is a perfect fit for a professional player.
"I did my law degree while I was playing on the tour. It took me about 10 years," he said. "I had to go to the University of Bologna obviously in between tournaments.
"The preparation and the interactions with the professors and the university was minimal because I was working on the tour for 40 weeks a year. There was no internet at the time nor any online education so I was travelling with books.
"I remember the private law books and commercial was about 10-15 kilograms. Just to carry them around was extremely uncomfortable. An education while on the road is extremely difficult."
An individual has to normally pay $399 annually for a course on the learning platform but players would get access without any charge on Coursera, who are working with a sport body for the first time.
For players, who are used to leading an active life, going through an online course initially could prove daunting, the Italian warned. But the rewards are plenty and will be a huge asset for a player's post-tennis career, he added.
"A tennis player is also bit of an entrepreneur," Gaudenzi said, adding he found it very tough to sit through his MBA degree initially.
"From an early age they have to be able to manage their money, manage assets, finances, hire people, whether it's a coach, an agent, a physio, so you are more sort of running a small business. And you need knowledge to do that."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)