EON Sports bringing VR to football training

[From SportTechie, where the story includes a 3:17 minute video]

Virtual football players and field

EON Sports Launches Virtual Reality Experiences for Football Players

November 4, 2014
By Freddy Lopez

In the gridiron, every inch matters. There’s a ton of reads for a player to digest once the football is snapped. Time is of the utmost essence–literally and figuratively.

“This generation is so easily distracted, because of all the access to the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. When we were kids, you had to think about stuff.”

These remarks were made by UCLA Coach Jim Mora last week ahead of their matchup against Arizona, per The Los Angeles Times. Mora went on a digression about the team’s lack of focus stemming from the generational gap and its technological fixed habits. Multitasking through technology is merely a facade to an inevitable distraction. He questions whether today’s student-athletes can sustain attention spans to a task at hand anywhere near the same degree to those from yesteryear. It’s as much a challenge for him to coach as it is for the players to execute.

Technology, though, can be as much a vice as an enabler towards progress.

For Kansas City-based EON Sports, they bank on the latter as it pertains to their virtual reality products. Since the first month of this year they have been selling a simulator software to football coaches called SIDEKIQ. This software allows coaches to arrange any scenario fathomable for their team. However, athletes only had access to it during team settings because the technology wasn’t portable. They quickly realize that it wouldn’t be practical to expect users to purchase an Oculus Rift headset or some other facial 3D projector, too.

The demand reached a point where EON Sports had to pivot from its initial hardware configuration. They decided to streamline the development of SIDEKIQ in order for it to work directly from any smartphone, with instruction from some of football’s top minds, like legendary Coach Mike Ditka, to boot.

About a six month process took place insofar as to fulfill the numerous times for its optimization. The next step required them to create the intelligence tracking facet within SIDEKIQ. It’s critical that they accurately quantify response times as well as the overall outcomes for each simulation. While the simulation on its own is beneficial, the “secret sauce” dovetails letting the user react with what’s being displayed in real-time and tracking it all.

Essentially, it’s an interactive device that functions as a bluetooth controller for a smartphone, not too different from a console game controller.

SIDEKIQ contains training experiences that’s pertinent to the user’s desired football position, where those specific coaches can provide relevant tutorials. For example, quarterbacks would receive a framework to grasp how to identify weaknesses within defensive coverages and dissect the field better. After which, the real simulation from the quarterback’s perspective would take place and run through the various scenarios. The timing and selection of the user’s throws will be scored and graded in order to measure performance.

EON Sports’ Chief Executive Officer, Brendan Reilly, simply states two words to SportTechie for such a product to exist in the “keeping up with the Joneses” football environment: “competitive advantage.”

In a sundry of respects, football, indeed, can be a game of chess, if one decides to play it as such. The conventional way to improve has come by way of practice or film study. The brute physicality and athleticism inherent to the sport is just half the battle. If the player doesn’t know what to do out in the field, then they’re “worthless,” says Reilly.

The specialized instruction out there, by and large, necessitates parents to dole out hundreds if not thousands of dollars for elite coaching or football camps. That’s the expensive alternative instead of outdated DVDs or incomplete footage on YouTube. Although some of these methods are useful, there’s a glaring omission: gameplay. EON Sports’ VR experiences intend to place the user “in a Madden video game.”

“Training simulations invoke a certain type of working memory, the kind where you are subconsciously reacting as opposed to having to think through things,” Reilly explains for it being more than a video game.

“This only comes in repetition; and is based in what neuroscience calls neuroplasticity. In short, the brain is always changing, and can become more powerful (i.e.- reading the football field better) when trained repetitively. We always say, ‘there is a reason fighter pilots train in VR, it’s the best way to learn; and now we can provide the same type of training,’” continued Reilly.

Meanwhile, from a coaching standpoint, they believe it’ll resonate and translate with the players, themselves.

Longtime NFL and NCAA Coach, Founder of FirstDown Playbook, Charlie Coiner, tells SportTechie that 95 percent of the players he coaches are video gamers. And it’s the coach’s job to stay abreast with how players learn, with VR representing a common ground for fun and as a teaching tool. This technology provides players a way to get mental reps without having to sacrifice their bodies on top of what they usually do.

“The truth is, that it’s really hard to get your ‘scout’ or ‘look’ team to simulate the scheme and speed of your opponent,” Coiner added, in terms of VR’s importance for game planning with its realism nature.

VR, however, doesn’t have to function within an Oculus Rift headset for its permutations to take form, sans the price point for obtaining that wearable. Upon further consideration, everything housed in that kind of device is also found inside a regular smartphone. Its accelerometer and gyroscope are enough to accurately monitor head tracking coupled with the screen being in HD, sans the pixelation. Reilly mentions that they originally tested it out with Google’s Cardboard headset and were shocked with the quality of the experience, especially coming from pieces of cardboard. The UI and UX will only improve as Moore’s law holds true along with phone’s processors getting more powerful.

Thus, the accompanying step for the SIDEKIQ software to truly come to fruition lies in the hardware. The Google Cardboard couldn’t cut it for a consumer-facing device. EON Sports has a joint product currently under development and designed with German manufacturer Shoogee named the DIVE Sport. Shoogee are makers of the Durovis DIVE headset, which will aid as the model for this product, the first ever VR athlete-specific gadget. This apparatus is what let’s users’ phones to bring the virtual reality to life. The modifications that tailor it for athletes: replaceable foam inserts to deal with overuse and sweat, an upper strap to allow more robust movements, lens control and stabilization, and a deep insert to accommodate additional phones.

“Because we are pushing the boundaries of technology, there are a lot of unknowns,” Reilly asserts.

Nevertheless, EON Sports is launching these VR training experiences on Kickstarter today. This way, they can control the manufacturing process and keep their operations lean. Anyone who supports this campaign would effectively be in favor of football safety. There’s no need for players to overexpose themselves to injuries beyond what’s deemed to be palatable. Also, it’s simply a fun mechanism for players to get better at their craft. The incentive structure given to supporters is minute versus the opportunity for the overall well-being and aptitude needed inside the trenches.

Coach Mora’s perspective might need to open up–besides drones–to be receptive to the virtual reality experienced within this prism.

Think about this “stuff” [in a video from EON Sports]


One response to “EON Sports bringing VR to football training”

  1. Sydney Sloan

    This technology could prove to be very useful for many different sports. I hope that the technology of using VR in sports training has improved since then, but comparing this to a video game and allowing players to play through different scenarios as an avatar is a very smart idea. I also think that this gives players a more engaging way to interact with practice film as opposed to just sitting and watching reps over and over again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ISPR Presence News

Search ISPR Presence News: