Posted on April 13, 2017 by staff

Using VR to get inside the head of the next football stars


Premier League teams are using virtual reality to mentally train the next generation of star players for the demands of top-flight football.

Several of the nation’s leading sides have adopted the tech of Dutch company Beyond Sports, which delivers a computer-generated version of matches and allows players to view the action from any place on the field. It also works with Eredivisie champions PSV Eindhoven and national teams.

The footage, generated in real-time from data collected around the arena, resembles that of popular video game FIFA and does not place hefty demands on bandwidth or storage.

“The No.10 can now see the game from the No.9’s position and understand what he did wrong or right. They can become anybody on the pitch,” business director Sander J Schouten told BusinessCloud.

“What we’ve seen in the field is coaches change their opinions on certain situations after ‘becoming’ that person. The perspective you see from the sideline is not the same as on the pitch itself.

“We then started using game situations in a more general way, giving users three potential answers – pass to player A, B or C – at the end of a piece of footage which might last 10 seconds. We found that this updated spatial awareness rapidly and helped players to learn what to do in a given situation.

“Normally, the coach explains what he wants you to do in a three-dimensional situation on a whiteboard in 2D, which is really hard for the brain to cope with.”

Beyond Sports, which cannot divulge the English teams it is working with, gave VR its broadcasting debut in February when Feyenoord met PSV in the Eredivisie: Fox Sports cut to the CGI both during the game and in the post-match analysis.

The below video is in the Dutch language

But it is the training benefits that are especially inspiring. In a published study conducted with Ajax, the firm tracked two groups of young players over the course of a year and found that those who used these VR training techniques improved their ability to select the correct option by 20 per cent while taking a second less to do so.

“That’s a lifetime at the top level of football,” explains Schouten. “In transferring this first-team match data back to the youngsters, we found that their spatial awareness went up even more rapidly than with the first-team guys.

“It matures the brain pretty fast. Why is an older player better than a younger player? Because he’s more experienced: he’s been in that same situation, so he knows what will happen.

“When a 13-year-old boy who has trained in this way becomes physically strong enough to cope with that high-speed situation, he already knows what to do.”

Beyond Sports is also planning a move into scouting with a technology that goes far beyond basic match stats and YouTube skills compilations: assessment of spatial awareness and abilities which dovetail with a coach’s tactical philosophy.

“My long-term goal is that before a player is bought, a team asks us for an ISO certification to say he has the ‘eye’,” says Schouten. “And with young players, there are a lot of talented kids out there with great foot skills that don’t have the ‘eye’. I think we’re pretty close to that already.”

Beyond Sports is already working in cycling, while Schouten says it is also planning a move into the lucrative American football market after opening a base in Los Angeles.