Although professional sports has been no stranger to emerging technology, it still seems hard to think about how a football player might benefit from strapping on a VR headset. While it won't do much in an actual game, many athletes can improve by using virtual reality as a training tool.
This isn't even all that new. While most of us are just getting our first taste of VR in the second half of 2016, the NFL was at least a year ahead. Two companies, EON Sports VR and STRIVR, have already created the systems. They work like this:
The company STRIVR works with approximately 25 different teams across the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, and even high school and college football. In addition to the film study players and coaches already do, where they analyze the bird's eye or overhead view of practices and games, STRIVR offers a new vantage point—the first person view. "We recreate practice situations in virtual reality in an environment that feels very real, like being back on the field," says Danny Belch, STRIVR head of strategy.
The first person view offers several advantages over traditional video. Everything is recorded in 360 degrees so no angle is missed, the camera can sit on the field for a closer look, players can look around and clearly see more than they could when actually playing, and the immersive nature of the medium allows a better connection with the content.
Nevertheless, footage can't always be captured directly from one player as the motion would make viewers nauseous. Furthermore, these VR sports training systems cost upwards of $50,000. That's likely a drop in the bucket for an NFL team, but still a large investment in a system yet to fully mature. Clearly, several sports teams have seen enough value in the current offerings to support that venture. The technology only stands to improve, so if it helps athletes now, it's exciting to think how much more will be done in even the next five years.