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Derek Belch, CEO of STRIVR, former quarterback Trent Dilfer, and Logan Mulvey, managing partner of STRIVR.
Derek Belch of STRIVR, former quarterback Trent Dilfer, and Logan Mulvey of STRIVR at CES.

Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer has seen the future of football training. And it has nothing to do with hard hits or speed drills.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Dilfer described the impact that virtual reality will have on the game, specifically the technology being built by Stanford University spinout STRIVR Labs. Seven NFL teams and more than a dozen college teams are already using STRIVR’s system to train players, and Dilfer, now an analyst for ESPN, thinks more will follow.

The reason?

Virtual reality is the best way to boost a player’s “processing power” — the most important characteristic in how great athletes reach even higher levels, according to Dilfer.

Trent Dilfer. Photo via ESPN.
Trent Dilfer. Photo via ESPN.

“I have vetted almost every single technology that has come out to make football players get better,” said Dilfer, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. “This is the first one that has an immediate change in the processing ability of a player, because it takes you as close to the real life experience as you can get.”

Among the teams using STRIVR’s virtual reality system: The Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and, yes, The Minnesota Vikings, which are taking on the Seattle Seahawks Sunday at 10 a.m. (Too badd STRIVR can’t recreate the sub-zero weather conditions that will face players in Minneapolis on Sunday).

STRIVR’s virtual reality system allows players to watch immersive, 360-degree video recorded from their perspective on the field. They can repeatedly review the play from a first-person view and look in any direction, preparing quarterbacks for real-world situations such as blind-side blitzes or pinpointing receivers.

STRIVR — which stands for Sports Training In Virtual Reality — got its start in 2007 when Stanford University kicker Derek Belch took a class about virtual reality with professor Jeremy Bailenson,who led Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Belch now serves as CEO of STRIVR.

When Dilfer tried out the STRIVR technology last year, he said he was amazed at how quickly he returned to “playing mode.”

“This blew my mind…. And it is immediate change,” said Dilfer. “You don’t have to do this for 6, 7, 8 hours…. It is sticky. Maybe that is the term. This is the stickiest technology I have ever seen in training a football player.”

The holy grail in training football players is maximizing athletes’ processing capabilities, says Dilfer. And he says virtual reality is the way to get there.

“I think those that don’t look at this are really, really missing the boat,” he said. “They are trusting a traditional methodology of training that’s frankly archaic.”

He then explained how virtual reality supplements the traditional learning techniques of football players, who typically attempt to “install” proper technique in the classroom or film room.

The way that a football player has traditionally learned is you install… they show you the plays and all of this junk. Then they show it to you on video where you are sitting in your seat and watch it again. Then, you go out to the field and you are expected to perform at the level you learned it. But you learned it as an observer, you learned it sitting just like you guys are …

There are a lot guys who are famous for knowing it at install, they are famous for knowing it on film … and then they go out on the field and they wet themselves. They can’t do it. Those of us who make it, have found that gap from install to film to field.

Well, (virtual reality) has leveled the playing field for those people that have always melted after install and video, because now there is one more step. Now, those guys that are never going to make it, I’ll just throw out a name JaMarcus Russell. He was famous for being good on the board and he was good on film and he’d get on the field and he couldn’t see. So, now we are not going to have JaMarcus Russells on the sideline anymore.

This truly fills that gap, and lets players have one more step before they go do it. It takes them inside and they are going to be able to get real mental reps, mental processing reps.”

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