Professional Football Teams Use Virtual Reality to Prepare for the Season

August 8, 2016

Football season is upon us, and the National Football League is filled to the brim with teams that want to make this year the one in which they win it all. In order to get the competitive edge, many teams are turning to virtual reality training, which has proven to be quite effective in preparation for on-the-field practice.

The sports industry, in particular, is a great way to explain the benefits of virtual reality training. Football is a rough sport, one where players get injured all the time, even during practice. The slightest injury could be career-ending if ignored for long enough, or a major injury could end a player’s season prematurely. For example, Joe Flacco, the star quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, had his 2015-2016 season ended by a torn ACL. While these injuries could happen during games, they can also occur during practice. Some unlucky players could experience season-ending injuries without playing a single game.

In order to limit the physical contact on the practice field and avoid injuries, several NFL teams have invested in virtual reality training. This technology was developed by STRIVR Labs that, at this time of writing, has contracts with at least seven different NFL franchises. STRIVR Labs offers a 360-degree virtual reality training program that provides the hands-on, hands-off training required of players, without them having to take a step onto the playing field. This is helpful for players that have either been injured in previous games, or those that need to stay fresh.

The process begins when a team contacts STRIVR; they’re then shown a demo of how the software works. STRIVR hooks them up to an Oculus Rift (or other VR headset) in order to get the full effect. Once the two franchises can agree on terms, STRIVR captures plays of the team’s practice runs and then integrates them into the VR training ground. The players can react to plays as they would out on the playing field, but without physically being there. This way, they can understand plays and avoid straining themselves during practice. Injured players can also keep their minds engaged during the rehabilitation process in a similar manner.

STRIVR Labs CEO and founder, Derek Belch, admits that this can’t beat real practice, but claims that it can be beneficial regardless: “I don’t think it’s going to prevent injuries. There’s nothing better than actual, physical practice on the field. But I will say because we saw it last year and we’ll see it again, I’m injured and can’t practice and shouldn’t practice on a Thursday or Friday and so instead of practice, I go into VR. I don’t think we’re going to prevent injuries, but I think we may be able to help players to keep their bodies fresh when they are injured and prevent further injuries.”

Several NFL teams have already partnered with STRIVR Labs. The first to sign were the Dallas Cowboys, who did so last June. Other signed-on teams include the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Jets. In the future, it’s expected that even more teams will join in the trend of VR training. Belch estimates that one-third of all NFL teams are already taking advantage of some type of VR training.

Technology has permeated most aspects of society, and football is no different. What do you think of VR as a training technology? Let us know in the comments.

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