As athletes from the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team descend upon Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, they’ll be doing so with months of training in virtual reality that have provided them with an unprecedented number of mental reps on a course many have never seen.
Jen Booton | Sports Techie
In early 2017, the ski team approached STRIVR, the virtual reality company that has built training programs for NFL players and referees, as well as Walmart employees, seeking an ability to train athletes’ minds on digital recreations of Pyeongchang terrain and courses ahead of the Olympics by letting athletes run through relevant racecourses in a virtual environment.
At first, STRIVR CEO Derek Belch said he was concerned that his company wouldn’t be able to deliver such a fast-moving solution, fearing it might give athletes motion sickness as they raced down digital mountain slopes and whipped around gates.
But the team and STRIVR worked on a product anyway, essentially putting a 360-degree camera on top of an athlete’s helmet as they skied down a mountain to mimic real-world conditions (it even sounds real with the wind whooshing past the microphone).
The team ended up licensing STRIVR software and building out a number of digital courses that the team would face at major events through the year leading up to the Olympics, helping it prepare for the location of the gates and shape of the turns.
It now uses STRIVR for both training and rehabilitation with balance boards at the organization’s Park City Center of Excellence HQ, with Belch saying the team has used STRIVR training “hundreds of times” over the past year. The experience complements the team’s SkyTechSport Simulator, an indoor ski machine that mimics race conditions.
“VR has been an important addition to the range of tools we have at our disposal to help increase athletes’ performance,” said Troy Taylor, High Performance Director at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “Obviously there is nothing that can replace the real world experience, but VR is proving its worth in terms of allowing an athlete to see the course they will race on before they actually compete.”
Belch said STRIVR’s technology benefits athletes because it enables them to make practice reps that improve their reaction times, which leads to better decision making and overall performance. Citing statistics from past users, STRIVR said its VR training has resulted in a 10 percent increase in performance across its basketball clients, and a 20 percent improvement in reaction time among its football clients.