With virtual reality and its intersection with sports still being relatively in its infancy, there hasn’t been much data potentially supporting its usage over traditional training and game preparation methods. Yet Menlo Park, Calif.-based STRIVR Labs — one of the companies at the forefront of the advancement in virtual reality around sports — is attempting to change that.
In a recent “raw, organic research study” at South by Southwest as part of a Gatorade exhibit, according to Chief Executive Officer Derek Belch, STRIVR analyzed 711 individuals who were assigned one of two conditions, either learning with STRIVR VR training or through a traditional method (video-based 2D tablet) playing the quarterback position. Participants had to learn the Read Option and determine if they should keep the ball or pitch to their running back.
Research evaluation mentioned that most of the learners had little to no experience playing the quarterback position. For both scenarios, the learners were tasked with successfully learning a football concept where a defender’s actions would determine how the learner should react. Following the training, individuals from both conditions participated in a virtual reality assessment to determine its effectiveness.
“We’re always trying to push the envelope. It’s really hard to get data outside of controlled lab environments,” said Belch to SportTechie. “We’re always trying to push the envelope for how we can get organic data.”
It should be noted that this research study wasn’t peer reviewed and was conducted solely by STRIVR Labs, something Belch acknowledged. According to Belch, STRIVR didn’t inquire with participants if they had prior use of a virtual reality headset, citing time restraints for not asking that question. Moving forward, Belch said that STRIVR would keep that question in mind when it initially engages participants in a study.
“We’re going to continue to do things in an as legitimate a way as possible,” he said about future studies.
After the initial training through VR or 2D tablets, all 711 learners put on a HTC Vive headset and had a controller in hand to select answers to questions. They viewed practice footage from the same college football team, with three play scenarios given to everyone. After each play, participants were posed a question in 3D space as well as on voice-over.
“What should you do in this zone read run play? Give the ball to a running back or keep the ball yourself?” participants were asked, who then had to answer “give” or “keep.”
The assessment took two to three minutes. Following a debrief with participants, Questions 2 and 3 were actually eliminated from the assessment and marked as flawed. Debrief sessions found that the questions “contained ambiguous information that would not allow a learner to apply the to-be learned concept in a meaningful way,” said STRIVR. As a result, data from Questions 2 and 3 were not factored into the analysis.
In the assessment of all participants, STRIVR found that people who initially trained in virtual reality versus the 2D tablet had a 20 percent decrease in reaction time (3.01 seconds compared to 3.77 seconds). Additionally, STRIVR users were correct 82 percent of the time when learning to read a defense while those who learned through the traditional method responded correctly only 76 percent of the time.
Finally, the study uncovered that when individuals in both training groups answered questions correctly, users who trained with STRIVR were 12 percent faster in their response time.
“VR can be more effective as it pertains to sports training (than traditional training),” said Belch about the key takeaways from the research.
“People were able to improve recognition and reaction time by over 10 percent. That has applications for general training, period.”
As Belch explained, the data gleaned from the study supporting VR training — albeit, just looking at football and a small sample size — can translate to corporate enterprise training across other industries like healthcare, hospitality, retail and transportation. Moving forward, it’s an area of focus outside of sports for STRIVR, according to Belch.
STRIVR recently received a $5 million Series A round of funding in December, which included participation from Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and his early-stage investment fund Liquid 2 Ventures in addition to round-lead Signia Venture Partners and others. STRIVR partners to date have included college football programs like Texas Tech and Stanford along with NFL franchises including the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.
Additionally, STRIVR has worked with brands such as PNC, Visa, Bank of America and Google, among others.