Virtual reality technology helping football players master the game

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
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For the first time this season, a handful of NFL teams are using a new tool to help them outwit their opponents.

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Football is a game of strategy.

For the first time this season, a handful of NFL teams are using a new tool to help them outwit their opponents.

It all started at Stanford -- on the field and in the lab.

It's the closest you can get to the field without being on the field.

It's a video recorded during Stanford's regular football practice in virtual reality. It's called STRIVR.

"This was my master's thesis while I was a grad student at Stanford and also coaching for the football team," said Derek Belch, the CEO of STRIVR Labs.

Belch had seen football simulators before but they all used animated graphics.

"That receiver, that lineman doesn't move like a person does in the real world. It's not going to work from a cognitive standpoint," said Belch.

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For the split-second decisions a quarterback makes, Stanford research suggested real video would work better.

It seems the research was right.

"Coach Shaw sat me down at the end of the season in 2014 and basically said you need to give this a shot because this is too good," said Belch.

STRIVR's goal isn't to make athletes bigger or stronger. That's what real practice is for. The goal of virtual practice is to make them smarter.

STRIVR teaches quarterbacks to recognize a defensive play, not from a camera on the sidelines, but from where they actually stand on the field.

"So that come Saturday, you can say wait a minute, I've seen this before. I know what's about to happen before it happens," explained Andrew Wasserman STRIVR employee.

The athletes can review the play over and over, even practice where to look and coaches can watch.

And though it started with quarterbacks, it works for other players too.

"We're seeing guys actually get in their stance, actually take a drop, actually get down and play the position, without having to run and sweat and hit somebody," said Belch.

After all, while practice can help you win, being well-rested can help too.

"They don't need to do the physical work as often, and you're seeing a lot of research that says these guys should train less in some instances," said Belch.

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