VR in football: Beyond Sports

As virtual reality plots its way into the world of football the Beautiful Science has looked to get the inside track from within the technology industry. We spoke to Robert Overweg of Beyond Sports.

The Dutch based company is one of the front runners when it comes to the use of VR in football. Beyond Sports already have partnerships with Eredivisie sides Ajax, PSV and AZ Alkmaar and work in tandem with the Dutch FA and Utrecht University.

Beyond’s software uses footage from real matches and data outputs from games to produce computer-generated virtual reality environments for players. Overweg, the Director of Concept & Strategy at Beyond Sports, was coy on which clubs are already using the software in daily training, but explained the benefits of using VR as a training aid: “Clubs are already using this, but we are not allowed to tell you which ones.

“You can extend training time in comparison to the field. It is much easier to set up than a full training session outside. You can have digital leaderboards, measure reaction speeds, track changes etc. Also in VR the spatial awareness and cognitive abilities are trained. Research supports this and the coach can put his or her specific training philosophy in a an engine, thus augmenting himself.”

It all sounds rather complex but the core principle is all quite simple. VR gives clubs the opportunity to train players at all times and even when they are injured and in real match simulations that cannot be mirrored in traditional training sessions. Whilst the uptake from clubs to date has not been sharp, Overweg expects this to change in the future: “More clubs will start using this as they see it more and more as a competitive advantage. Pickup can be slow, because soccer is not such an innovative sport. Look how long it took for goal line technology.”

Overweg’s cynical assessment of football’s ability to be slow in making change can certainly not be argued, but once clubs see others getting an advantage from something they are not doing then they are not going to continue without it for very long.

With any concept or practice still in the developmental stage there are stumbling blocks and for VR Overweg sees the bulky headsets as a current issue, but not one that will not take very long to just be a thing of the past. For football specifically he highlighted something that needs improving: “It is vital that we are creating a tool which can easily be used daily. One that integrates well with club’s existing training schedules.”

It seems VR is going to come into the professional game whether you like it or not. Technology has swept across all fields with unanimous success and Overweg concluded with a clear message about its progression in football: “Technology will prevail, it will keep on improving, there are no worries here.”

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