Here’s How VR is Helping Athletes Prepare for Games

A rookie quarterback walks from the huddle to the line of scrimmage, facing a scowling defense ready to tear him apart.

But he’s not scared. He’s seen this all before.

The rookie knows exactly what coverage the defense is in and what they’ll try to do next. He’s gone through this specific scenario hundreds of times. Not just in practice, but in virtual reality.

The next wave of athletic training takes place in a computer simulation, as companies such as STRIVR Labs, EON Sports and Beyond Sports help players prepare for games through VR technology.

“Virtual reality replaces your senses with ones generated by a computer,” STRIVR co-founder Jeremy Bailenson told NBC Sports. “So when virtual reality is done well, we measure exactly how the body moves, and we replicate the senses for those movements. … VR is a constant technological system that tracks body movement and updates the sights, sounds and touch based on those movements; you feel like you’re mentally transported into a different place.”

STRIVR boasts clients such as the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, the University of Arkansas, Stanford University and the Washington Wizards. EON Sports has helped Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well as college teams such as Kansas, UCLA and Ole Miss.

Dutch company Beyond Sports has soccer clients such as Football Club Ajax and Royal Dutch Football Association.

While the possibilities are endless when it comes to using VR to bring fans closer to the action (could you imagine sitting courtside at a Golden State Warriors game — from the comfort of your living room?), many teams find VR to be a great training tool.

It helps players get extra reps in practice without the threat of injury.

“This is something that could inspire people,” Stanford head football coach David Shaw told USA Today. “This is gonna change my profession, this is something that is gonna change, potentially, athletics to some degree. At the very least, four or five different sports are gonna be different four or five years from now be because of this.”

Shaw’s team, one of the top college football teams in the country, was one of STRIVR’s earliest clients.

Shaw doesn’t have to look far to see who else swears by VR. Davis Webb, the quarterback of Stanford rival California, trusts his Oculus headset as much as his helmet when it comes to game preparation.

While football teams have been the most publicized when it comes to VR, baseball players love using VR to prepare for pitchers they haven’t faced much. Coaches tossing batting practice can’t truly prepare batters for a 98 mile-per-hour fastball or wicked slider, so teams such as EON Sports client Tampa Bay Rays use virtual reality to train their eyes upon upcoming pitchers.

The Rays use a simulator known as the iCube, allowing batters to stand in against a replica of an actual pitcher — imagine the video game MLB: The Show taken to the extreme.

“It’s a huge advantage because sometimes you don’t see guys very often,” Rays outfielder Steven Souza told the Los Angeles Times. “Take Alex Wood. We’re going to see him one time this year, maybe once in the next six years. So being able to see him on the screen, what it actually looks like, is going to make for a little more familiarity before we get in the box.”

Former American League Most Valuable Player Jason Giambi is one of the advisors at EON Sports, who develop VR technology for fan experiences as well as athlete training.

EON Sports is also looking to gain a foothold in high school athletics, as its SIDEKIQ headset sells for $99, with training software coming in with a $39 price tag.

But the most influential VR practitioners are still years away from stepping onto a high school or college campus.

EON Sports CEO Brendan Reilly told The Daily Dot that the intersection of sports and VR is just beginning:
“QB coaches are saying to us, ‘We have kids that have been training with VR technology, and they’re seventh-graders and they’re seeing the field like a senior in high school.’ … We’re at the very, very tip of the spear in watching how this technology is elevating performance.”

About the Scout

Justin Lafferty

Justin Lafferty covers sports and VR for VRScout. He's a San Diego-based writer and founder of On Base Marketing, a content marketing consulting firm. Justin has written for Adweek, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Oakland Tribune.

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