In February, Saints coach Sean Payton said that virtual reality training for quarterbacks could be coming. It’s now here, and not just for quarterbacks.
As explained by Stephanie Loh of U-T San Diego, former Stanford kicker Derek Belch has developed a goggles-and-headset system that immerses the user in a game situation, based not on a video game presentation but actual football video.
Five major college programs already have begun using the product of Belch’s STRIVR labs, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is very impressed.
“It was one of the few times in your coaching career when you’re watching something and you think, ‘This is a game-changer. This is gonna change the way we teach young men,'” Bielema said.
Belch, who left his job as a graduate assistant with Stanford to focus on the STRIVR project. His partner is former Stanford and NFL quarterback Trent Edwards.
And it’s not just a tool for training quarterbacks. After an NFL head coach tried it out, Belch and Edwards decided to make it into a defensive trainer, too.
“Pete Carroll was one of the last guys to see it,” Belch told Loh. “He put it on right away, and as soon as he looked around, the first thing he said was, ‘You could do this for defense.’ After Pete said that, we thought, ‘We have to find a way to use this for defense before the next person sees it.'”
For coaches who have restricted access to players, the system allows for built-in coaching that doesn’t run afoul of applicable limitations.
“During the summer, NCAA rules become very limiting on how much time you can spend with kids and how much football you can talk,” Bielema told Loh. “This, here’s what it is: You can hear us talking and speaking [during a play] and take reps with no countable hours. [Y]ou’re looking at hundreds of different snaps, and it’s like they’ve just been through a practice, but it’s also saving their legs.
“It’s of incredible value to incoming and younger players that need to see the reps to escalate their learning curve. It’s worth its weight in gold.”
It’s as expensive as plenty of gold. Per Loh, the entry-level package costs $250,000. They hope to eventually make it cheaper, so that every college and high school can eventually afford it.
The next step is other sports, from hockey to basketball to baseball. Which means that Belch and Edwards could end up making a lot of money.