In elite sports any training advantage means the difference between winning and losing, between getting gold rather than silver, and between being great rather than average. That is why athletes are always open to trying out new techniques that will give them an edge over their competition. One of the latest trends dominating sport is training using virtual reality (VR). Athletes in different sports are now using VR to improve their athletic performance.
Take a look and read VRFocus‘ regular Saturday feature, This Week In VR Sport when you get a second. You’ll see all sorts of sports and disciplines every week looking into the possibilties as to what immersive technology can offer. Take football. Last year VRFocus reported that Arsenal and Stoke City had partnered with VR company Beyond Sports. The VR used by both teams covered four disciplines: “Spatial awareness (which re-creates match moments from every angle), high density (a series of match moments in a short space of time), decision making, and high pressure (simulating match situations).” VR allowed the players to recreate different match scenarios to improve their performance.
Recreating competitive scenarios using VR is being used in the training of both UK and U.S. athletes. VR technology got a huge boost in the recently concluded Winter Olympics where U.S. Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin won a gold medal in the giant slalom. Shiffrin’s golden run is notable because she is part of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team whose use of VR training had been heavily publicised. In partnership with STRIVR, the U.S. skiers were able to wear special headsets and watch a 360 degree video that accurately recreated the Jeongseon course. STRIVR Chief Strategy Officer Danny Belch stated: “total immersion in VR has been scientifically proven to boost recall of topics, future performance on tasks/skills, and overall engagement with the learning/training material. It is undoubtedly a better way to learn than simple 2D videos.” The advantage of getting a VR run of Jeongseon certainly helped Shiffrin perform exceptionally well.
UK athletes are now incorporating VR in their training, with UK Sport partnering with the visualisation experts at BAE systems for the VR-Vantage project. The project aims to give UK athletes—both Olympians and Paralympians—a chance to get a feel of the environment they will compete in through VR. UK Sport Director of Performance Simon Timson explains that this technology improves athletic performance by helping athletes familiarise themselves, and practice, in the competition environment. This familiarity, in turn, breeds confidence, which athletes need to perform at their best.
Coral revealed in a feature on ‘The Impact of Technology’ that F1 has moved to embrace VR and give drivers an extra edge. This hi-tech training method is especially crucial in F1 now that in-season testing is currently prohibited. F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg is one of a handful of drivers who have used VR. Telling Wareable how the technology helped him: “To practice, the more realistic, the better. We had a simulator that was virtual reality and we used a lot of that to prepare for the actual driving.” Unsurprisingly, Rosberg is affiliated with Mercedes, the three-time-reigning drivers’ and constructors’ F1 champions that are at the forefront of VR use in the sport.
According to team principal Toto Wolff, Mercedes is already building a new, state-of-the-art simulator that will incorporate VR. This will allow drivers to not only visualise the track, but also test-drive it. “VR is going to definitely be the way forward,” Wolff admits, noting that “the better you can actually simulate what is happening on track, the quicker it is going to make you.”
VR has certainly come a long way in the context of its role in sports. From being used mainly to enhance the fan experience, it is now being utilised to improve athletic performance across all types of sport. The future of peak athletic performance is looking like it will be achieved using VR.