Indiana Soccer turning to virtual reality to help get players get back on the ‘field’

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INDIANAPOLIS — Athletic coaches across Indiana are asking the question, “How do we return to local sports safely?” For the non-profit Indiana Soccer their answer is virtual reality.

“It not only fits 24/7 when we don’t have a pandemic, it’s really effective during this pandemic,” explains Indiana Soccer Executive Director Dave Guthrie.

The organization has more than 60,000 members ranging from youth to adults. Players and coaches have been back at practices in these later stages of reopening, however it hasn’t been without restrictions.

“When Indiana was in stage three, it was limited. You could only have so many people on the pitch at the time,” details Guthrie, “We might pass the ball back and forth, but we couldn’t compete for the ball. We are in a stage now where we can actually compete, and have some league tournaments.”

Indiana Soccer is the first statewide association to partner with gaming developer Rezzil. The company has created a virtual reality training simulator that is used by professional soccer players in England. Athletes wear a headset with monitors clipped to their shoes. It lets them practice drills, while the data is analyzed and graded by companies like Harena Data. Harena is one of the leaders behind the ESports Combine coming to Indianapolis this fall. The companies ESports analytics can determine strengths and weaknesses while also providing life like scenarios.

“Based on your movements in the game, we can actually detect your athletic movements, and then use that to make determinations about your play skill. Your body, once you start to acclimate to the virtual reality system, you will start seeing balls coming at you,” says Shawn Smith Chief Product Officer at Harena Data, “You are going to feel like a defender is coming right at you, and you are going to react to that quickly, and how you react is what’s being measured. Maybe you’re using your left foot, when you’re better with your right? Those are the kinds of things and insight data can provide us”

“In 30-35 minutes I can have a kid dripping sweat, and he hasn’t left a space bigger than inside this goal right here,” gestures Guthrie, “I think we are going to make it available to all players, but we will start with our Olympic development players.”

Guthrie says the data and scoring from both Rezill and Harena can be used by college coaches for recruitment purposes.

Setup for the training requires a strong enough computer, the virtual reality headset, and the monitors for the players’ feet. Guthrie says the equipment is relatively affordable, especially when compared to field upkeep.

“You look at a field like this, it costs $10,000 to keep it mowed during the year,” says Guthrie.

“Video games are never going to be able to replace the feeling of being on grass,” adds Smith, “When we can’t get out there on the field, you want to be able to keep up with your training, make sure you are staying sharp.”

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