Can athletes really use virtual reality to improve their on-field performance? Here, Patrick Stroh explains how the NFL is using new technology to provide more effective training for players—and why this innovation will drive value for the franchises that adopt it.
Hoboken, NJ (February 2016)—Imagine that you’re a newly recruited NFL quarterback taking the field for the first time. Almost as soon as the game begins, the speed and intensity of play overwhelms you. Sure, you know your Xs and Os, but you feel like you’re speeding down a highway with 4,000 cars coming at you. In order to process information about the game and use it to make good decisions in real time, you’ll have to find a way to get that number down to 1,000 cars…then 500…then 100…then 11.
“To be successful, professional football players must learn how to ‘slow down the clock,'” says Patrick Stroh, author of Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling & Measuring for Innovation Value! (Institute of Management Accountants, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-9967293-07,www.imanet.org/ivs). “Traditionally, the only way to provide this mental training was for athletes to learn by doing—a time-consuming process that was all too often accompanied by physical wear and tear.
“But today, exciting new virtual reality technology is changing how quickly, effectively, and safely football players can acclimate to high-intensity athletic situations,” he adds.
Stroh, an expert in business innovation, recently attended the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. While there, he discussed how virtual reality (VR) is being applied to football with 14-year NFL veteran, 2001 Super Bowl champion, and current ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer.
“Organizations often make the mistake of adopting new technologies simply for the sake of innovating—which I call ‘shiny object syndrome,'” Stroh says. “Whether in athletics or the business world, new technology should be brought on board only when it can drive real value. That’s exactly what some NFL teams are doing: using virtual reality to solve a real-world problem.”
Read on to learn about four interesting ways in which a virtual world can help players in practice and at game time:
VR allows players and coaches to gauge—and alter—their natural reactions in real time. One training package offered by STRIVR Labs, Inc., allows quarterbacks to observe lifelike defensive schemes using an Oculus headset. Throughout the simulation, the quarterback can turn his head 360 degrees and “move” around the field to see exactly what the play looks like from all angles. The video footage that the athlete is observing and controlling can be projected onto a screen for coaches to observe.
“At first, plays are run at a slow rate,” explains Stroh. “By observing where the player ‘looks’ and for how long, coaches gain valuable information about where a quarterback tends to focus, how he reacts, and how he can improve his Xs and Os.”
It also allows players to learn via repetition—without physical wear and tear. In the old school, the process for preparing to face a new opponent was install, film, and field. Install andfilm were easy, but players had limited opportunities to implement what they’d learned from filmduring practice. (And as any football player or fan knows, injuries can happen just as easily in practice as during a game.) Therefore, when a player stepped onto the field, it wasn’t unusual for him to struggle with processing what he’d learned quickly enough. The new-school approach interjects one additional step into the preparation process: install, film, VR, and field.
“Virtual reality allows players to observe many more game situations and get far more reps than they would in practice—all without risking injury,” Stroh comments. “Repetition drives skill, and the best-prepared players usually win. In bridging the gap between learning and implementation, VR will make players much more effective on the field.”
The NFL is already using VR to develop players. According to Trent Dilfer, several franchises are successfully using VR to develop quarterbacks. For instance, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has used this technology to help the game “slow down” on the field for 2014 draft pick Teddy Bridgewater, who is now a starter.
“By using VR technology, Teddy has trained his brain to know what to look for in various defensive schemes,” says Stroh. “While I don’t have inside intelligence from the Vikings organization, we know their results for the 2015 season: The team had a record of 11-5, won the NFC North division over their rival, the Green Bay Packers, then lost a heartbreaker playoff game. How about Teddy in particular? He earned an alternate position in the NFL Pro Bowl.”
VR could have the potential to evaluate draft picks. Currently, NFL scouts evaluate quarterbacks by “how fast they run the 40,” “how much they bench-press,” “how quick their release is,” etc. A powerful new metric and evaluation method could be added to that list: “how efficiently and effectively they process VR exercises.” (Today, the only mental test given is the Wonderlic—a cognitive ability test—which has been proven to be too generic and without significant application value in the NFL.)
“In a private conversation, Trent Dilfer told me that he is a fan of ‘nurture over nature,’ and that he believes NFL quarterbacks can absolutely be coached and developed,” reports Stroh. “In other words, simply picking the best athlete available in the draft or when contemplating a trade is a mistake. Case in point: Neither Peyton Manning nor Tom Brady is the best overall athlete, but their decision-making skills and how quickly they process information on the field are off the charts. VR has the potential to measure a QB’s ability to process decisions and develop mentally—a true game changer for scouts!”
“On the football field—and in all other areas of business and life—if you can’t measure something, it’s very difficult to improve it,” concludes Stroh. “And if you can’t improve something, you can’t drive value. My hat—make that my helmet—is off to the early adopter teams in the NFL for proactively using technology to innovate and create impactful outcomes. I’m excited to see how other nonsporting industries use evolving technologies like VR to improve performance.”
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About the Author:
Patrick Stroh is president of Mercury Business Advisors, providing management advisory services in business strategy, innovation, and product development, and author of Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling & Measuring for Innovation Value! and Business Strategy: Plan, Execute, Win! He serves on the board of directors for the Institute of Management Accountants and was also appointed as a fellow in Palladium’s Positive Impact Research Institute.
About the Book:
Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling & Measuring for Innovation Value! (Institute of Management Accountants, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-9967293-07, www.imanet.org/ivs) is a must-read how-to guide for fostering innovation in your organization. The book explains the significance and undeniable need for a yin and yang relationship referred to as “innovation governance.” Patrick Stroh outlines practical execution steps, downloadable forms, innovation insights, and introduces Innovation Value Score® (IVS), a proprietary measurement system to calculate, compare, and improve innovation value creation—which is now a must-have for organizational survival. The book is available at www.imanet.org/ivs.