Is Virtual Reality Training the Next Leap Forward for Football?

By Jesse Reed

Technology has accounted for monumental advances in fields across the spectrum of our lives, and the next big thing for high-level football could be virtual reality training.

Former NFL quarterback Trent Edwards has been working with Derek Belch on a revolutionary virtual reality trainer that is being hailed as a “game changer.” Stefanie Loh of The San Diego Union-Tribune provides an in-depth look at this new technology.

Working with renowned virtual reality expert Jeremy Bailenson, who is an associate professor at Stanford, Belch and Edwards have created an incredible training tool that allows players to literally engage in mental repetitions.

“What makes virtual reality specific is not 3D vision, it’s embodied cognition,” Bailenson said. “In virtual reality, the way you navigate the scene is that you move your body the same way you move your body in nature.”

This isn’t some cheap video game, folks. And there is evidence to suggest the training tool works extremely well.

Stanford head coach David Shaw allowed Belch and his team to utilize the tool this past year, working with quarterback Kevin Hogan during the last three games. Hogan’s completion percentage jumped from 65 before the sessions began to percent to 76.3 percent in those final games.

“I’m not going to say virtual reality was the reason Kevin played better down the stretch, but the truth is that the numbers are there,” Belch said. “He spent enough time on it to where something was going on in his brain that maybe he wasn’t even aware of.”

Loh reports John Elway and the Denver Broncos as an interested party, and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll sees immense potential for defensive purposes.

This is seriously new ground here, and it appears to have the potential to revolutionize the way players improve their craft. Physical attributes can only get you so far, playing the game at the highest levels—the mental aspect is where common men become legends.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is another high-profile coach who is sold on the potential of this new training tool.

“It’s of incredible value to incoming and younger players that need to see the reps to escalate their learning curve. It’s worth its weight in gold.”

Time will tell if this is a tool that will become commonplace in college and NFL meeting rooms or if it is simply a fad. Based on the limited exposure it has received to this point, however, it appears virtual reality is going to be the next big thing.

Photo: The San Diego Union-Tribune