A virtual method: The cognitive approach

Whilst virtual reality technology is on the eve of stepping into the Premier League club’s training, the Beautiful Science spoke to the people behind Ekkono Virtual Training, a computerised program that looks to help players learn to play the beautiful game rather than train. We spoke to one of the founders of the programme, Andreu Bartoli.

To those who have a particular interest or knowledge of football coaching principles and practices, the word Ekkono should seem familiar. Carles Romagosa and David Hernández are the brains behind the Ekkono Method which has been around for some time. Both currently work at leading French side PSG and together have over 20 years of coaching experience.

It is this knowledge of the game that has helped pioneer this unique and what could be revolutionary platform for football training, the Ekkono Virtual Training programme. Bartoli explains how the currently Paris based pair got to this point: “They both worked at Barcelona from 1998 to 2005, working with Iniesta and Xavi. They then focused on the method selling their services up until today.

“Now myself and them have built this new company, Ekkono Virtual Training. I put my background in technology and business and they put their coaching background. Together we build this vision of the virtual training and now we are developing all the technology.”

The technology in question is virtual reality computer generated training exercises, but on a staggering scale. With over 100 so called ‘soccer abilities’ across the 10 ‘player fundamentals’ a lot of time and planning has gone in to formulating the program. It is currently still at the stage of development, although Bartoli expects it to be rolled in some beta form during 2017. Although they will not rush to get a product on the market: “The content is the most important thing and we take it differently from a lot of people. Most people put technology first, we are putting the content first.”

But where do these core ‘player fundamentals’ come from and how have they been determined. Bartoli explained the rational behind them after identifying the uniqueness of the program: “This is first virtual reality platform to really train soccer. When we say train we do not mean train the technical part or the physical part. We mean train the cognitive part. This all related to how you think in the field of play.

“Things like what type of information do you gather, how you process this information, how you make decisions and how you use those decisions in a number of scenarios on the football pitch. Where to pass, where to move, how to position yourself, how to anticipate what your teammates are going to do. These are the key decisions to every player.

“Each of the fundamentals help you to make a better decision in a football situation. Take passing purpose. It is not about just passing it is about having a meaning to your passing. What are the purposes of passing? If we train passing it is not about passing a ball back and forwards to each other, it is about the different types of passes I can have. You can pass to feet, pass to space, pass behind you so you can protect the ball from the opponent. Pass it very quick to get past a line of defenders.”

Choosing to use virtual reality appears a striking decision as the technology is still in its relative infancy and there is no history of such applications through using VR. However, Bartoli identified why the computer innovation was key to what they are doing: “We are not just using it because it is a current trend. The additional value of using it is that once you have clear content about the cognitive side of soccer you can build the exercises on in virtual reality. You do not need five or six other people to train just your game.”

Bartoli was keen to emphasise that as the program is all about the transferable learning of the football abilities, any claims that VR is not an accurate reflection of real life due to a lack of physical stimulation or of good enough visual quality are not valid in his opinion.

Nevertheless, a platform taking players completely off of the field and into their own virtual training world does bring the question about removing the creativity and natural flair out of the game. Bartoli explained that he actually feels it is the complete opposite of this: “Players tend to use the resources that they have. If you talk about any player you can name the three or four key attributes to their game. What we are doing here is giving players the platform to learn many more and build the number of tools that they can call upon. Instead of solving the same situation with the same resource, they can have several options to choose from.”

With glowing references from the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Jordi Alba the Ekkono Method certainly does not lack credibility. There is a sense of the unknown as the Ekkono Virtual Training programme nears its release, however with a wealth of quality content, expert knowledge and the power VR can provide, the potential is extremely exciting and worth monitoring closely.

 

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