I must say, taking batting practice off Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens during middle school was one of the most intimidating experiences within my sporting career; and it wasn’t even real. The experience was an exhibit at the Louisville Slugger Baseball Museum where you were able to visualize and participate in hitting a baseball off a major league pitcher. It was something similar to this in design:
This was my first experience with Virtual Reality (VR) in the sports world. VR can be described as an immersive multimedia simulated life or life experience that simulates the physical interaction with certain environments. At the Louisville Slugger Baseball Museum, the VR system was designed to immerse the museum visitor into a MLB game. My visit to the museum was in the mid to late 1990s. Today, our technology is a little more advanced than a Juggs Pitching Machine and computer projector. With new devices created specifically for VR, the application and possibilities within sport are increasing in numbers.
Oculus Rift is one such device that is allowing the use of VR to take off. This technology has the potential to be a performance enhancement tool to help players visualize playing environments, perform situational training, and prepare mentally for games through imagery. Imagery is crucial for some competitors and is a widely adopted strategy where the athlete is using their senses (e.g., see, feel, hear, taste, smell) to rehearse sport in mind (AASP, 2015). Devices like the Oculus Rift allow for those senses to be similar to actual in-game experiences.
“Practice like you play”. Some sports are adapting a games-approach to practice rather than skill development through drills and VR plays right into that. VR can allow for situational mental training that simulates actual game situations:
- A basketball player can enter a virtual playing environment to train for a late game free throw situation.
- A football player using it to be able to read holes in the line or to read coverages.
- The long distance cyclist can now practice their race course strategies through an interactive environment while being on a stationary bicycle.
- The tennis player can now practice while feeling all of the external stimuli that can affect their performance (e.g. crowd noise).
VR even has a home within the tourism of sport. Imagine, as a fan, being able to immerse yourself into an environment where you are walking in your favorite athlete’s shoes or taking in a historic game. VR is already being used in a similar way to teach history by immersing users/learners into a historical event and location (LINK).
Personally, I’m trying to think of a dollar amount I would pay to relive the “Last Shot” of Game 6 in the 1998 NBA Finals. Experiencing that event through Michael Jordan’s eyes or as a fan sitting front row provides a new twist on reliving historical events and personal memories. What about being able to virtually sit in the stands and take in a game at the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field?
Performance training for sport, sport entertainment, sport education, and the history of sport all just received a strong ally with VR technology.