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Virtual Reality Hits the NBA

September 30, 2015
Temple_strivr_0930
Garrett Temple tests out the STRIVR product at training camp.


With training camps underway across the NBA, basketball is back in full swing.  Like the other NBA teams, the Wizards will have an assortment of different tools to help them train, prepare, work out, and fine tune their skills ahead of the 2015-16 regular season.
   
But, one thing will be different. The Wizards will be using STRIVR Labs' virtual reality technology, a product already being used by college football teams across the country, along with six NFL teams.

This offseason, the Wizards, along with the Caps and Mystics, signed a multi-year partnership with STRIVR Labs Inc., becoming the first NBA, NHL, and WNBA team to utilize this groundbreaking technology.

One of those NFL teams that has taken on this new technology has been the Dallas Cowboys, who have built a room at their practice facility strictly for using STRIVR’s product.

It has already taken off for quarterbacks simulating a first-person experience, something the Cowboys have used heavily in their preparation.  With their star QB Tony Romo (a big advocate of the technology) out with an injury, backup Brandon Weeden, who had also been using the product, had a step up as he had been able to simulate live looks thanks to STRIVR.

"It blows normal film out of the water. It's like you're taking a live rep without throwing," said Weeden.

But, what about basketball?  

I had a chance to talk with STRIVR's CEO, Derek Belch, over the summer, to hear how he envisioned this being used on the basketball side.  Belch, a former kicker for the Stanford Cardinal, completed his thesis in virtual reality and has now created this cutting-edge technology to be utilized in all sports.
  
"From an operational standpoint, we'll follow the same plan as football. We'll spend a lot of time with the Wizards building out this library that they want to do and we'll turn it over to them and we'll continue to support things on the back end and drive the overall technology forward."

Belch would not give away all the ways the team planned to use this technology, but was enthused with the possibilities that the Wizards had envisioned.

While the product has already seen benefits on the football side, there will be a lot of firsts on the basketball side, and with that will create opportunities for the Wizards to push the envelope. 

"From a certain extent, we can mirror a lot of we do in football, the challenges are there's a lot of movement in basketball and not a lot of static positioning, which is what we do for football, so we'll see how we make adjustments," said Belch.
 
The Setup
Leading up to camp, the Wizards' video department had already begun implementing the product and testing out best practices.  Along with representatives from STRIVR, they used player development coaches and staff to put in a few plays into their library, with the idea that it will eventually hold the entire playbook.

While on the practice court, they tested out multiple angles and went through different variations of plays, as if it were being run by the team.  Anything from taking on a double team in the post, to inbounding the ball from underneath the hoop was simulated.  This could then be seen from a first-person perspective wearing the STRIVR equipment.

How it Works
Special cameras were placed on a rig in certain positions on the court that produced virtual reality images once transmitted.  The players would then run a play as if they were running live or in a walkthrough type setting. Once the video was captured, it would be saved onto the cameras.  Then the output would go into STRIVR’s software, where it could be spliced like normal film would be.  But, instead of then watching the film on standard video, one would put on oculus goggles, along with headphones, for a real-life first-person experience.

It’s hard to put into words what it felt like, but it created an unbelievable user experience.  The user could look 360 degrees, they could see what the wing was doing on the left, they could see what screen was being set on the right. They could use it like film, where they could rewind, fast forward, and control the action with a remote, or they could use the goggles to toggle through different plays.

How it Can Be Used
The idea is that once the team can get their entire playbook into the library, they wouldn't need to continue filming every day, and could use the technology as a player development tool.  If there was a rookie that didn't see as much time on the court, they could throw on the goggles and go simulate what it's like to have John Wall penetrate and kick, or what it's like to have Nene set a screen and how to get open. Established players could use this tool if they felt they needed to tweak a certain play or wanted to get a different look at something that didn't feel right on the court.

What's Already Been Done
The team has already started filming players shooting from multiple angles and spots on the floor.  After getting a feel for it, they started to film a few players shooting free throws from the first person perspective (where they do not watch themselves, but are looking through the goggles as if they were shooting the ball themselves) so they can go through their own routine and then watch the ball go in. 
 
One of their main focuses from this point forward will be to film a virtual reality playbook, which could especially help the new/young players learn the playbook more quickly.  They also envision virtual reality being a great motivational tool.  As with any new technology, they are constantly adapting to feedback from players/coaches/staff in order to ensure that they are taking full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
 
The Research
STRIVR did not just create this product on a whim, but there was research done on the science behind development based on virtual reality training.    Based on some of the studies done on the topic, virtual reality was found to be 25% more effective than standard video.  More can be found on the research here.
 
What's Next?
We'll be updating the blog with player reaction and usage throughout the season.  The team plans on having the players use the technology throughout the preseason and use the feedback to further develop the ways it can help them.  It's all brand new equipment, technology, and essentially a brand new player development tool.  The Wizards will have a head start on the other teams across the league, and besides it being an innovative and exciting way for players to learn, it should prove to be a real difference maker in the player development game.  

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