Virtual striker: use VR to train Premier League stars

Virtual reality (VR) is beginning to find its feet as a business tool and one of the most popular use cases is training. Engineers can use it to learn how to maintain large, expensive pieces of machinery, administrators can perform conflict resolution simulations, and construction workers can model construction projects. Still, these apps are just the tip of the iceberg and the technology is used in unique and unexpected environments.

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One of the most interesting players is Rezzil, a company that uses VR to train and develop Premier League footballers. Led by former game developers, the company creates virtual reality platforms that can accurately simulate real-world scenarios, allowing clubs to train players and analyze match tactics. The system works using HTC Vive headphones combined with the company’s wireless adapters and puck trackers (one on each foot and tibia) to accurately track a player’s movement and ball control, including movements such as outside spin, stops, and releases. Rezzil has adjusted the physics to the point that the system will even model and respond to different types and sizes of boot.

Facilitate the path to recovery

One of the main ideas of the technology is to help players recover more quickly from injuries, says co-founder Adam Dickinson. Leg, knee, and ankle problems are one of the most common problems that can affect professional footballers, but recovery usually requires them to avoid traditional practice and training for extended periods of time, during which their skills may atrophy. .

“The main rehabilitation factor is that a player can lose about 60% of their cognitive sharpness during this injury, where they fall,” Dickinson explains. “The goal is that we can keep them sharp, we can put them back in the same scenarios, making decisions, keeping them at that elite level.”

Because Rezzil’s training exercises involve minimal physical contact, he adds, players can maintain their skills without risking. This has allowed injured players to keep their contracts at clubs showing that their cognitive skills have not suffered, while otherwise they may have let go.

In addition to rehabilitation and general skills training, Rezzil’s technology also allows clubs to analyze previous matches and tactics deployed. The system can ingest match data from industry standard data tracking tools used in sports stadiums, turn it into position information, and then recreate the match in a virtual environment. This allows managers, coaches and players to review the action, as it happened, from any angle they choose.

“Traditionally, a coach’s position on the field of play is the worst place to watch any game ever,” Dickinson says. “So they like being in the stands, or you may be experiencing where you thought you had a guilty goalkeeper, but in reality, a player blocked his vision. It’s really useful for resolving conflicts.”

This can also be extended to the creation of tailor-made training exercises based on specific situations and opponents, such as analyzing the habits of a particular player to counter them. “For example,” Dickinson continues, “if you know that Mbappé will always run on the right side of a certain player, that defender can train again and again without fatigue, in that position.”

A screenshot of Rezzil's virtual reality training software

This attention to detail has given dividends to Rezzil; the company has major Premier League clubs, including Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United, among its clients, as well as American and German teams. The company has also deployed its systems for Qatar’s upcoming World Cup, but it’s not just limited to football; Rezzil is already working with an NBA basketball team in the United States and trying to pursue sports such as golf and football.

Convert professionals to new ways of working

Of course, working with cutting-edge technology is not without its challenges. Dickinson claims that one of the biggest problems when doing on-site demonstrations with clients is the lack of connectivity in training centers, which has forced them to carry a selection of Wi-Fi dongles and mobile hubs. Rezzil also had to customize much of the VR hardware he uses to use it in a specific environment. For example, while the built-in battery packs that power the wireless adapters on HTC desktop headphones work well with jeans, Dickinson explains that they are heavy enough to take off football shorts.

Subsequent advances in mobile VR technology have mitigated these issues, but for Dickinson, hardware has always been a little less important than making software and interaction models feel natural and realistic. Since many gamers are unfamiliar with high-end RVs, he says, they need to be carefully introduced into the technology to avoid disabling them altogether.

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“We have to put it in front of the Premier League players. If they turned their foot and the ball passed a second later, they would just say “no, it doesn’t work.” So we learned our lessons by trying different haptics. We have much stronger feedback only through audio, which allows the brain to fill the pieces, but you don’t have to have latency. That is the key. “

In addition to catering for professional clubs, Rezzil has also expanded into the consumer market. The company’s Player 22 software acts as a more ‘gamified’ offering that attracts casual gamers, while maintaining the technical basis of its more established packages. However, Dickinson says that while becoming “EA Sports of VR” isn’t exactly appealing, the company remains focused on paying attention to top athletes.

“It’s been a long, long road and it won’t end. The elite side will always feed, ”he says. “We want to find someone [through our platform] this would never have been discovered; someone who would never have been found traditionally through traditional Scouting methods ”.

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