Virtual Reality Training In Hockey

Virtual reality (VR) is evolving quickly from putting Grandma in goggles and watching her ride a roller coaster on the couch, to an educational tool in the classroom (link). Now as a serious training tool VR has found a home in professional sports, putting the tech in technique.

 Starting with quarterbacks and placekickers getting thousands of reps without risking injury or concussion, the technology has expanded into several other sports — including hockey.

Even amateur goaltenders can break a sweat for a relatively low investment with games such as Goalie VR, Goalie Challenge VR and NetStars. Other spots on the ice require heftier tech, which is drawing interest from an increasing number of teams and players in the professional and amateur ranks.

What Does VR Do?

VR gives you reps. It develops your muscle memory — and “brain muscle” memory. It helps decrease your reaction time and hone your decision-making ability. 

Watching typical game film does not immerse you in the action. Angles from above the playing surface aren’t what you see when you’re on the ice. VR puts you on the ice. More to the point, instead of just looking at an image and saying “I should have done this,” you actually do it and see the result.

Plus, it’s practice without the risk of injury, and without having to travel to the rink or even lace up the skates.

Who Are the Players?

Essentially, in the world of serious team training, there are two names to know in VR hockey:

  • STRIVR Labs: STRIVR (Sports Training In Virtual Reality) was founded in 2015 by former Stanford placekicker Derek Belch and Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson, who began working on developing the technology as a training aid in 2007, when Belch was a student/athlete.

  • Sense Arena: Founded in the Czech Republic, the company made a splashy entry into North America in 2018 on the strength of investment from Boston Bruins star and Czech native David Pastrnak. Sense Arena offers more than 70 training drills.




Who’s on Board?

In 2015, the Washington Capitals signed a multi-year deal with STRIVR Labs. They became the first NHL team to use STRIVR technology, following NFL franchises in Dallas, Arizona, San Francisco and Minnesota. 

Veteran defenseman John Carlson was intrigued by the possibilities, telling Fox Sports, “The potential competitive advantage that virtual-reality training can give us is huge. The virtual-reality technology is going to help me fine-tune my decision making in games and allow me to train as if I'm at practice without having to be on the ice."

STRIVR also partnered with the Fresno Monsters of the Western States Hockey League to develop the company’s virtual reality platform for the NHL and NCAA. The Chicago Blackhawks also use STRIVR for training. In 2018, the NHL added the technology to its officiating Exposure Combine.

Besides Pastrnak, Sense Arena has partnerships with a several Czech organizations, including the Czech Ice Hockey Association and a pro team, White Tigers Liberec.

“Getting on the ice outside training hours is virtually impossible or very expensive,” Filip Pešán, head coach of the White Tigers, told sporttechie.com. “Using virtual reality, we can simulate game situations, focus on the details, work on reaction speed, decision skills, and multitasking.”

Is It for Me? 

Coaches, fans and players alike love to talk about athletes who have a high IQ for whatever game they’re playing. An ability to see the ice comes from actually seeing the ice, repeatedly — so often that anticipation blooms. Malcom Gladwell’s rule of 10, 000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class. VR is a form of deliberate practice. VR training helps players acquire thousands of reps that don’t require teammates, opponents or even ice, and is another route to sharpened skills, reaction time and hockey sense.

 

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.