Teams like the Washington Wizards are using VR to push its athletes to new levels while their fans are getting a new unique experience. Team owner Ted Leonsis is intent on leveraging the capability of VR to give his players a leg up on the competition. The Wizards have even developed their own VR system called STRIVR, which was created at Stanford University. The technology was originally created to explore “immersive performance training,” using Stanford’s football team to test it out. Since then numerous sports team have been after STRIVRs ability to improve performance without the risk of injury including seven NFL teams, three NBA teams, one major league baseball team, 14 collegiate programs and the U.S. ski team.  

How Professional Sports Team are Leveraging VR

The technology has been so enticing to these teams for its prowess to simulating real life scenarios and practice. We’ve all heard the wisdom that practice makes perfect and no one knows this better than professional sports teams and VR developers. Derek Belch, a STRIVR developer reiterates “You can’t deny that doing something more often helps when it comes to decision-making.” In order to commit processes and plays to memory it requires huge amounts of repetition and the body has physical limits where the mind can continue. So far VR has been that solution due to its immersive nature. In fact, Stanford researchers compared learning Tai Chi in immersive VR to a traditional two-dimensional instructional video. The best performers in every experiment were those who used VR to learn. According to STRIVR, teams can improve “recollection of key concepts by 30 percent.”

Everyone involved in the development of talent is seeing this value. “You draft players in the NBA where the kid goes to college for one year and then you put him on your team, and in the old days you’d give him a loose-leaf book with words and scribbles,” Leonsis said. “It looked like geometry homework. And you’d say ‘Well, you’re a rookie and we’ve already got starters and backups and you’re not going to participate very much, you’ll do a little in practice.’ And then we expect these players to get it. And why would we expect that when we’re not even teaching them the right way?”

The proof is in the performance of these players. Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons used STRIVR to increase his free throw percentage by over 10%. Free throws are largely mental so using VR to see every shot go in does wonders for visualizing success and growing confidence. VR has also been used to improve decision making of NFL quarterbacks.  The Arizona Cardinals Carson Palmer reported an improved ability to recognize blitz packages after using VR. “We want to be able to tell a head coach that if you put that freshman or rookie or vet in there for eight minutes a day, four days a week for a month, they will be X percent more likely to retain the info,” said Belch.

Fans Take Control

In case you’re not a professional athlete there’s no need to hope this technology one day makes it to the everyday consumer. The technology is out there and ready for fans to use.  The Washington Wizards have already had fans test out a special immersive experience. Using VR fans can see what it feels like to be in the locker room, to storm onto the court with the stars and be part of the team. It’s the next best thing to actually being on the court, and something we can all have access to. Professional sports teams are usually the first to adopt any techniques or technology that give them an edge. Pro sports team adopting VR is a good sign of things to come and even one that fans can get in on.