Photo Credit: flickr
After Clemson won the college football national championship this year, defeating the heavily favored Alabama team, there was a lot of discussion about how exactly they managed to pull off the upset. One answer might be Clemson’s embrace of virtual reality.
It turns out that the Clemson football program has been one of the earliest adopters of virtual reality (VR) technology, using it to help train its players in ways that simply aren’t possible on the playing field. The head coach of Clemson, Dabo Sweeney, refers to this type of training as “mental reps.” In short, VR is a way to train your brain when you’re off the football field.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and VR
One example that everyone is talking about is how Heisman trophy candidate Deshaun Watson used VR training to learn how to recognize defensive blitzes. What Clemson did was accumulate hours and hours of game film and practice film featuring blitzes, and convert that into a 360-degree VR experience that could be experienced with the Oculus Rift VR headset. Then, all Watson had to do was to strap on the VR headset and “relive” all of the blitzes happening almost as if in real-time. When experienced in full 360 video and immersive sound, Watson’s brain actually thought what was happening was real.
The results were phenomenal – in the national championship game, Watson was simply unstoppable against the blitz. In the past, Alabama may have been able to disguise its blitz packages, but not anymore. Watson completed 6 of 7 passes against the Alabama blitz, including two touchdowns.
Training the “reptilian brain”
This all goes to show that VR is about more than just the “VR freak out” videos that you see posted all over YouTube – you know, the one where someone tries on a VR headset for the first time and then totally freaks out because they think what is happening is real.
VR is all about training the “reptilian brain” inside of all athletes, says Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney. The conventional wisdom is that you can’t teach instincts – the instincts that teach you to stay in the pocket or run for your dear life when a 300-pound defensive lineman is chasing you down. But VR is changing that mindset. It turns out that it might be possible to teach instincts.
VR as a competitive advantage
In fact, Clemson now plans to use VR as part of its recruiting message for new high school recruits, along the lines of “Come to Clemson, and get customized training videos that will make you a superstar player.” VR is also a way for any school to get around the limit on how many hours a college athlete can practice in a week. Putting on a VR headset to get in some mental reps doesn’t count against the limit of 20 hours that can be spent on the practice field.
In the world of competitive sports, games are often decided by a matter of inches or by a few split seconds of action that could go either way. New virtual reality (VR) technology could provide an edge to ensure that the ball always bounces your way, and that a last-second play gets the ball over the goal line instead of falling short at the very end.