One of the thoughts that has come up more and more as this football-less world drags on and on, is how players will prepare for the day when things do return to something like normal.
We’ve all seen the clips of assorted footballers exercising at home to retain a semblance of physical fitness, but how are they keeping their minds sharp?
One solution could be virtual reality. Andy Etches, director and found of Rezzil, a company that supplies VR technology to football clubs, joined the Totally Scottish Football Show this week to explain how it could help players in this time of inactivity.
“We have a platform that operates in three different areas, using virtual reality as the medium,” said Andy. “We look at cognitive development, medical recovery and post-match analysis.
“Cognitive development is about putting players in stressful situations, match-pressure situations where they have a virtual ball at their feet and make decisions in real time, based on things that are around them. That’s mostly used for players at academy level and players who have just got into the first team, to measure their capabilities in terms of will they stay calm at key moments of the game, will they stay calm etc.
“Then on the medical side, we look at the maintenance of those characteristics. If you’re an elite player and you’ve got a period of time when you’re out injured, you can use those same drills to maintain your capabilities, and do some deliberate practice around things you would be doing in the game. Most players would be doing gym work and staying physically fit, but making sure they stay mentally fit is a massive part of football.
“The final bit is post-match analysis. We’ll take a moment from a game, put you back on the field and use that to feed back on how you could’ve made a better decision, how well you made the right decision and we’ll show that to younger players and say “this is a perfect decision, this is what good looks like, this is what you should be doing.
“It sounds farcical and unbelievable, but there’s no possible way to oversell it. It’s like in Star Trek when they walk into a room and it’s like a beautiful paradise and they’re experiencing everything in that place.”
And as the football-free world extends before us, more and more players could take it up as a potential option to ensure they stay sharp.
“There are a few players in the Premier League who are starting to use it, and some others around the world. Demand is just beginning, because people are seeing that this will be quite a long period of activity.
“Michail Antonio is one, and a few others in the top four. They’re using it day-to-day to put themselves in game situations and at least feel that sort of pressure, so when they come back, they’re coming back without the need to go into reserve games to get their mental fitness back up.
“When players come back from injury they will usually go through a game or two in the reserves, but the players who use this system when coming back from a long-term injury have required less time before they get back into the first-team.”
Our JJ Bull has tested out the technology, and is a fan – particularly because when you ‘kick’ the ball in the VR world, you can feel it on your foot. Or at least your brain makes you think you can.
“We use a bit of a psychological trick,” says Andy. “The brain puts the visual and the audio together, so it’s not immediate but after a few ‘kicks’ you start to feel the stimulus of the ball. There’s no vibration on the foot or haptic feedback – in fact, that has a negative effect when we’ve tested it because you need to feel it at exactly the point when you touch the ball.”
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