With the National Football League gearing up for its preseason games this August, there are plenty of teams out there looking to get a competitive edge. One way they’re doing so is through virtual reality training, which is a growing platform that may prove useful in preparation for the upcoming season.
If there’s any industry where virtual reality training makes sense, it’s certainly sports. In particular, football is a sport where players get injured all of the time. Some of these injuries are known to take an immense toll on their players. Take, for instance, Joe Flacco, star quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, whose season was brought to an abrupt halt last November with a torn ACL. These injuries could also happen during practice sessions as well, and some unlucky players may not even take to the field if they get injured during practice.
In an attempt to avoid physical contact and to avoid practice injuries, the NFL is looking to implement virtual reality training. The technology in question is developed by STRIVR Labs, a company that, at this time of writing, is invested in seven different NFL franchises. STRIVR Labs hopes that its 360-degree virtual reality training program will be able to provide the kind of hands-on hands-off training that players need to both keep their head in the game and body off the training field, since injuries can happen when you least expect them.
When a team contacts STRIVR with interest in the project, they are shown a demo of the software and are then hooked up to an Oculus Rift or other VR headset. If the two franchises can come to an agreement, STRIVR will then capture plays of the team’s practice runs, which are then used for training purposes. The player can then react to plays just like they would during practice, with the notable difference being no pads or contact. It’s a good way for recovering players to avoid straining themselves during practice, without falling out of practice.
But, of course, there will never be anything that can top real-world, practical experience. STRIVR Labs CEO and founder, Derek Belch, states: “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.”
A number of NFL teams have already partnered with STRIVR Labs. The first to sign were the Dallas Cowboys, doing so last June. However, there are many other teams that have signed, including the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Jets. It’s thought that in the near future, VR will become very prevalent throughout the NFL. In fact, Belch estimates that one-third of NFL teams are already using some sort of VR training.