20 July 2017

Who’s innovating with VR in sports coaching and why should you care?


Virtual Reality is opening up exciting possibilities in professional and amateur sports. What do sports coaches need to know about VR to enhance their teams’ performance?

#1 The buzz around virtual reality is getting louder and it's definitely not a fad

In the past1, slow computer processing speeds, the high cost of VR headsets, and the expensive and time-consuming process of producing VR content didn’t exactly fuel mass adoption. Users also had VR-induced nausea and headaches to deal with.

Fast forward to today, and the synergy of fast and affordable hardware and software have changed everything. VR training is now feasible for everyday organisations, and holds great potential for increasing both the fun and effectiveness2 of workplace learning, sans nausea.

#2 VR can be a strong competitive advantage in sports coaching

What separates good athletes from great athletes is how well and how often they practise, practise, practise. Skills mastery comes from ‘perfect practice made perfect’—repeating and conditioning winning moves over and over again until they becomes second nature.

In the language of skills acquisition, that’s moving from conscious competence to unconscious competence.

Elite athletes go even further.

Beyond unconscious competence, top athletes can escalate their mastery three ways3:

  • By achieving powerful results using less effort than less accomplished team mates.
  • By tapping deeper into their intuition to produce spectacular results.
  • By connecting multiple skills from diverse disciplines.

While some athletes are born great, smart learning technology can help more aspiring athletes achieve greatness as well—and in less time than traditional training methods.

Pioneering teams using VR to enhance sports performance have reported exciting outcomes. STRIVR reports that “in just 2 seasons, (teams VR-trained by STRIVR) have won 9 Division, Conference, and NCAA titles.”4

For sportspersons, benefits of virtual reality training include:

  • “Gain the mental edge by improving decision-making and instinct, an edge that can make or break a match”5
  • Quicker recognition of patterns
  • Enhance preparation for real game situations6
  • Recruiting advantage to attract the best players7
  • Realistic induction with minimal travel costs
  • Immersive career planning for youths

As a sports coach (no matter what level your team plays in), it is worth exploring ways to achieve more results like the following:

  • Better experiential knowledge of how champions play the sport, and how to emulate them.
  • “Educate more without physically hammering them all the time”8
  • Better motivation to keep athletes at peak state more of the time.
  • Faster recovery from setbacks and injuries (mental and physical).
  • Being able to manage your team more productively.

So, which visionary sports teams were the first to embrace virtual reality?

#3 Here’s what innovating sports organisations worldwide have achieved with VR

Beyond VR sporting games for entertainment, the first forays into virtual reality for real sporting teams focused on fan engagement.

  • For the first time, fans experienced first hand what it was like to train with their idols, (receiving a pass and even get tackled), participate in drills, hear coaching commentary, experience pre-game pep talks, walk alongside their sporting heroes into the stadium for the big game. Essentially, experience “the best seat in the house”.
  • The teams that pioneered VR fan engagement included the England Rugby team9, Australian rugby union10, National Rugby League11, Australia’s world Number 1 netball team12, and the Adelaide Strikers cricket team13.

What I am really excited about is the use of VR for sports coaching.

  • In the US, EON Sports14 has produced VR lessons for American football and baseball.
  • In Europe, the German soccer association DFB15 is developing VR training content for both the defending World Cup champions and youth teams.
  • And in Australia, Port Adelaide16 became the first AFL team to immerse their players in VR sports coaching.

While the earliest adopters developed VR content on the Oculus Rift, I notice that the HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR have become the most popular VR headsets by far due to their broad feature sets. And of course, the low-cost Google Cardboard type mobile options for viewing VR content will continue to bring VR experiences to the masses. 

About Glen Moora. Glen is a founding partner of Velpic, a versatile eLearning platform that provides next-generation learning, induction and knowledge sharing tools to engage and empower people in organisations with ease.