Deflated game balls may be one way to get a handle on the competition, but virtual reality (VR) is proving to be a much more powerful performance enhancer. While the science of virtual training technology has been around for decades, it’s just now getting ready for prime time, says VR guru Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL). The potential is enormous, especially as on- and off-the-field competitive pressure intensifies and safety concerns continue to escalate.
In the next few years, nearly every NFL quarterback will step onto the practice field, put on a headset and run through the game plan against an avatar defense that looks, moves and thinks like his upcoming opponent. At least that’s the prediction of Bailenson, a cognitive psychologist who currently works with a number of quarterbacks through VHIL’s quarterback training system, and has been approached by several other basketball, football and baseball teams interested in VR for training. Old school football minds accustomed to traditional training by watching hours of “tape” may shudder at the thought, but for many of today’s athletes, coaches and trainers, it’s a pretty cool concept. And it’s a future already starting to materialize.
According to Bailenson, the physical-digital interplay of virtual reality within the context of sports – professional, college and as a whole – has real potential to be truly transformative.ESPN analysts agree, commenting during Stanford University’s appearance in the Foster Farms December 2014 bowl game that it “will revolutionize football training as we know it.” The opportunities for VR’s role in training, mental preparation, practice and coaching seem limitless: a basketball team studying a player’s closing move, a soccer goalie taking a look at which side a player kicks his/her penalty shot, a F1 driver zooming in on a track’s tricky turn.
Of course, the promise of VR reaches well beyond gaming and sports training. Bailenson, author of “Infinite Reality,” a virtual reality primer for undergraduates and novices, believes it will impact “education, preventative medicine, and just about every domain imaginable,” and will definitively change how people think about, purchase and interact with products and services, and the companies behind them.
VR technology is moving fast and regardless of the team or industry you play for, if you can catch on quickly, it’s your game to win.