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Recently, there has been an increased demand for the development of sports science. This area is recognized as an academic discipline and as a valid are of professional practice. The use of the technologies allows players to evaluate their performance by looking at the situation from a perspective of a viewer. Specifically virtual reality technologies have gained major recognition in the area of sports games, especially soccer.
A variety of new applications and programs are being created for training and educating soccer players to make adequate decisions during the course of the real game. The following work will focus on the analysis of the use of Virtual Reality in the training of soccer players with the evaluation of the practices adopted by particular soccer teams.
Science and Soccer
In order to evaluate the most significant sports performance parameters, scientists have come up with a variety of methods and systems. Such systems were developed to evaluate the performance in the areas of physiology, behavioral neuroscience, and biomechanics.
The physiological analysis can help in understanding the human movements and their energetic costs; the behavioural neuroscience can evaluate the strategic choices players make during the game while biomechanics can offer dynamic and kinematic data for the optimization of particular movements of the players (Bideau et al. 64).
Despite the fact that there has been very little empirical literature that explored the use of virtual reality technologies in field sports, a team of computer scientists from the University of Michigan have created an innovative system for training American football players using such technology.
Virtual reality can offer practitioners a variety of exciting opportunities for developing realistic training stimuli in the future, but at present there are some technical difficulties, mainly linked to the reduction of the image quality, and practical barriers that are based on the financial aspect that ensure that video remains a preferred method of capturing the performance of players.
The main bulk of research has attempted to improve the ability of players to understand the visual cues and a small amount of research have focused on trying to improve other perceptual-cognitive skills such as the ability to recognize patterns of play and to properly predict the probability of likely events.
When it comes to soccer, Williams has made an attempt to improve the abilities of players with the use of situational probabilities when predicting the destination of a pass in a soccer game. Although the process of the performance review is rather informal, relying mainly on the observation of edited match footage access, there is a scope to include more quantitative information regarding the probabilities associated with the moves and actions typically performed by forthcoming opponents.
For instance, an analysis may reveal that the opposition is usually playing in a particular pattern or that the attackers are predictable in the pattern of their movement. Being aware of such points significantly improves the ability of the players to make accurate predictions when it comes to the actions of their opponents. This information can be built ob the basis of training with the use of particular practices and drills (Carling, Reilly and Williams 64).
Another question to pose for scientists and practitioners is how should the effectiveness of this type of training be evaluated. The smartest solution to the issue is probably best achieved through the collaborative work of scientists and practitioners. The opinions of coaches could be gleaned before and after training by developing behavioral assessment scales whereas a panel of expert coaches could be used to assess anticipation and decision-making skills over a number of matches to improve objectivity and reliability, respectively.
The validity of the assessment scales could be substantiated by identifying behavioral indicators of anticipation and decision-making along with quantitative and qualitative video analysis. Moreover, many sports keep seasonal records on various aspects of performance such as the proportion of penalty kicks saved, a number of pass interceptions per match or successful pass completion rates.
Although it may be very difficult to apportion improvements directly to the intervention employed, data obtained using these types of records may help substantiate the validity of the training protocol. It may prove much easier to assess training improvements in more ‘closed skill’ situations such as the penalty kick in soccer. In the latter situations, quantitative data on success rates usually exist, and components of performance may be examined by using modern measurement technology such as high-speed film analysis (Carling, Reilly and Williams 65).
Virtual Reality Advantages
Due to the fact that there are technological limitations in software and hardware, the video playback method has been the most successful and simple method in exploring players’ behavior in a sports game, especially soccer. However, the video playback method is only limited to the viewpoint of the camera during the actual recording which results in the lack of interactivity.
Virtual reality (VR) is the method of overcoming the limitations the video playback method has by offering a virtual environment with the numerical simulations (Bideau et al. 64). The concept of Virtual Reality designates a system of techniques and principles used in the design and creation of software that will change the way a person perceives the surrounding reality (Lacrama and Fera 137).
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An important advantage of the Virtual Environment analysis is its interaction with objects in real time. Furthermore, there are devices that capture the body of the player in motion. An example of such a VR environment is the MASCARET platform designed to help soccer players practice and learn the tactics decisions during the situations close to the environment of the game. To mimic the decision-making process of professional soccer players in a real game situation, the developers of the platform created avatars.
The avatars then were used for training the beginner soccer players to make practical tactical decisions by the means of presenting the tactical problems. However, the limitation of the platform was in the fact that it required a soccer player to imitate an action rather than demonstrate a particular skill or movement required in a soccer game.
According to Pasco, “Using VR technology in physical activity setting is new and is considered having great potential. One advantage of using VR is to eliminate the risk of injuries in physical training. Another advantage is to provide learners with the information that is not readily visible or available when learning in the real world, but that can play an important role in learning” (434).
The VR Process
Sherman and Craig defined Virtual Reality as “a medium composed of interactive computer simulation that senses the participant’s position and actions and replaces or augments the feedback to one or more senses, giving the feeling of being mentally immersed or present in the simulation (a virtual world)” (qtd. in Krieger 1).
The analysis of the player’s performance in soccer (or other sports game) with the use of VR can be divided into three steps. The first step in this analysis is connected with the action of capturing the movements of the player in a soccer game. These actions not only create a basis for the animation of virtual players but also offer a way to compare the actions of the player in created and real situations.
The second step is connected with the creation of the animations and their assimilation to particular constraints in case some modifications will be required. Lastly, the third step in the VR analysis is linked to the actual presentation of the virtual environment (Bideau et al. 64).
AZ Alkmaar Experience
Nowadays soccer is taking a major role in the exploration of the player’s Virtual Reality training and the analysis of their potential. An example for this is the fact that the Dutch Eredivise team AZ Alkmaar has signed a contract with a company that specializes in the reconstruction of matches in the virtual reality environment. Furthermore, Beyond Sports has also offered an option of creating a training program on the basis of the simulated matches with the use of the Oculus Rift technology (Barker par. 2).
The team now is planning to put a focus on the Beyond Sports’ technology for the further development of their youth program. The technology will allow analyzing soccer matches on a completely innovative level. Soccer players are able to view the games from an individual perspective as well as gain new knowledge on the level that will not be possible without the technology. Thus, players will learn to criticize themselves which is an important skill in soccer (Barker par. 3).
The Beyond Sports technology will create custom training scenarios side by side with the team coaches. Such interactive training scenarios will be used to educate players in accordance with the tactical ideas of their coaches (“Beyond Sports” par. 4).
Every soccer coach will say that even if the player has the most outstanding physical abilities, bad decision-making can crack the successful soccer career aspirations. With the use of the new VR technologies, the participants of the youth program will not only be technically savvy but also will be trained in the decision-making process and offer young players a more versatile set of skills.
The Virtual Reality technologies offer a variety of training option in a motivational and purposeful contexts (Birrer 1). Computer technologies have made a great impact on the majority of aspects of human life. Furthermore, their influence is evident in the organization of major soccer tournaments. Such technologies have also influenced the commercial component of the game. The further technological developments should benefit for soccer coaching, coach education and entertainment at home (Reilly and Williams 282).
There is no soccer coach that will argue with the fact that the decision-making aspect of the game is as important as the physical one. And while the advances in technologies that offer the option of Virtual Reality will never replace the hard work on a soccer pitch, if used in balance with each other, the results will be incredible (Rappaport par. 13).
Barker, Matt. Dutch Soccer Team to Generate Virtual Reality Game Simulations Based on Actual Game Data. 2016. Web.
Beyond Sports. n.d. Web.
Bideau, Benoit, Richard Kulpa, Nicolas Vignais, Sebastien Brault, and Frank Multon. “Using Virtual Reality to Analyze Sports Performance.” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 16.1 (2010): 64-71. Print.
Birrer, Karin, Tabea Schuler, Alexander Koenig, Lucas Zimmerli, Susan Merillat, and Lars Lunenburger. “Research Influence of Virtual Reality Soccer Game on Walking Performance in Robotic Assisted Gait Training for Children.” Journal of Neuro-Engineering and Rehabilitation 7.15 (2010): 1-9. Print.
Carling, Christopher, Thomas Reilly, and Mark Williams. Performance Assessment for Field Sports. New York, NY: Routeledge, 2007. Print.
Krieger, Aaron. The Potential of Using Virtual Reality Technology in Physical Activity Settings. 2015. Web.
Lacrama, Dan, and Dorina Fera. “Virtual Reality.” Computer Science Series 5.1 (2007): 137-144. Print.
Pasco, Denis. “The Potential of Using Virtual Reality Technology in Physical Activity Settings.” Quest 65.4 (2013): 429-441. Print.
Rappaport, Max. How Virtual Reality Is Changing the Way Teams Prepare for Games. 2016. Web.
Reilly, Thomas, and Mark Williams. Science and Soccer 2nd ed. 2005. New York, NY: Routeledge. Print.