Virtual reality continues to seep its way into a number of industries, and with the Women's World Cup in full swing, we're taking a look at how it can change sports. From boosting productivity in the workspace to enhancing entertainment from all angles, this XR tool has become a nifty addition to consumers and companies all across the globe.
The question is, where could it go next? We’ve seen office-based XR and a world of possibilities, but could mixed reality’s journey continue on the football pitch?
From skiing simulators to concussion-free headers, the sporting world has also begun to adopt the immersive opportunities VR enables. In an attempt to reduce risk on the pitch and perfect sporting tactics in a virtual environment, it’s no wonder that a number of popular athletes have already gotten on board.
Without further ado, let’s delve into the sporting world and see what VR has in store for sporting teams on and off the pitch.
Virtual reality training: Fad or phenomenon?
Research into VR-powered sporting is still relatively new, but it doesn't mean that the tech still hasn't come far on the track.
Taking us a few steps further than the old-school Nintendo Wii Sports, VR can now power immersive experiences with athletes, transporting them straight to the pitch, track or slopes for an encapsulating training experience like no other.
With most VR headsets now partnered with haptic gloves or hand controllers, these smart mixed reality tools can sensor movements and even recognise the ability level of each user. In response, the sporting program adapts and responds to each player just as other competitors would on the pitch or in the ring, allowing each athlete to combat their flaws and refine their skills with ease.
Experts believe that VR-powered sports training could open up new possibilities for athletes all over the globe, combating geographical distance, disabilities and even financial issues that could stop an athlete from entering the training room. Better still, VR training could even eliminate some of the risks commonly associated with high-impact sports such as football and boxing.
“If we are able to train soccer players how to head a ball without the impact, or train an AFL player how to ‘mark’ a high ball without the genuine threat of being smashed by the opposition, or train a running back how to pick a line through the defence without having their head taken off, then we could really be onto something,” says Dr Tom Brownlee, a sports scientist at Liverpool F.C. “Couple this with an increasingly immersive experience, and use of technologies could soon become the norm.”
Reducing risk on the pitch
Reducing the risk of injury on the pitch has become a hot topic for many sports enthusiasts in recent years.
In high-impact sports, the risk of injury is often unavoidable, but adding VR to the mix could make the training zone and live matches a much safer place.
Take American football, for example, as a sport where head injuries are incredibly common, finding new ways to practice header-style shots could be the key to reducing long-term damage. Introducing VR simulators that allow players to work on their skillset without touching a physical ball, coil allows them to perfect a safe header method without the risks of concussion.
What’s more, VR could also help experts identify signs of concussion on the pitch, making for a safe gameplay experience. Dr Michael Grey is just one researcher employing the Oculus Rift device on the pitch to improve the accuracy of concussion diagnosis.
“What football has no excuse about is embracing modern technology. It has no excuse. It can’t say we don’t have the money, it’s awash with money. Paying millions and millions of pounds to footballers and then worrying very little about their health,” he states. “You will have players who say, ‘No, I’m fine, I want to go on. But you do this test - or one like it – I think those questions go away.”
Technical and tactical training
VR is also being utilised for technical and tactical training, especially for sports such as skiing, where athletes may not have access to the slopes on a daily basis.
Take the company SkyTechSport as an example. After creating their newest VR Ski simulator, athletes can now travel the slopes and repeatedly perform turns and twists for a perfect route plan during future competitions.
In fact, in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin credited VR for her competition success.
"It’s hard to get that quality time skiing, so this is a great way to get that time on snow and improve much faster because you get a lot more repetition. Same muscles that you feel when you’re skiing, and the same rhythm as well. Being able to practice when you’re not anywhere close to the snow is really cool," said Mikaela Shiffrin.
Practising everything from entire races to specific corners and chicanes, VR has become a key player in improving tactical skiing in the winter sports world.
Enhancing the viewing experience
Last but not least, we must mention the avid sports viewers who are also set to benefit from the introduction of AR/VR in the sporting world.
AR/VR solutions enable consumers of sports to watch their favourite athletes in action with a front-row seat. From virtual reality broadcasting to exclusive games made for VR and played in VR, users are able to enjoy 360-degree views of all the action and continue to change angles, zooms and positions to get the best snap of the goals, knockouts and hoops.
VBR has made its way to tennis, football and basketball so far, spiking in popularity after the NBA partnered with Next VR in 2020. The question is, what sports could follow suit next?
The sporting world is about to go under a significant technological transformation. We’ve seen impressive VAR systems put in place on the pitch, but could it be time for our favourite football games to go virtual?
From live VR viewing to training simulations like never before, we’re in for a digitalised tomorrow for competitive sports across the globe.