Blended Technology in Ice Hockey Training
The use of blended technology has moved forward over the last few decades from use of computers in the classroom to pilots training without planes or helicopters. One technology that is starting to be used in blended learning is Virtual Reality. Virtual reality (VR) is a global term often used to describe a mostly visual-based computer simulation of a real or imaginary environment (Craig, 2014). VR is becoming a more popular standard when it comes to learning in the classroom and outside of the classroom as it can encompass multitudes of layers when it comes to observing and interacting. Outside of the classroom, VR is finding little limitations for its functionality, specifically in sports. In the past and currently, VR has been used in medical and safety training. VR is still rather new and in its infancy in the sports industry. Several sports have recently incorporated VR over video play back for training and theory. There are several companies that work with those sports but only one company works with the sport of ice hockey. That company is Sense Arena. They are on the edge of breaking through to style of training for hockey players that rivals none other. This review will not discuss VR as a video game or entertainment center, but it does recognize that companies like Microsoft, Sony and Samsung (among others) have allowed VR to advance with their own respective research and technology to help all companies mentioned. This review we will explain Virtual Reality, current state, equipment being used, specific sports and fields; the future of VR and why Sense Arena will work for ice hockey training; and how VR has many benefits and unlimited boundaries that have yet to be discovered.
Currently there are many different types of VR training offered from pilot training to safety hazard training to even train firefighters on space awareness with results as good as traditional methods (Michalski, Szpak, Saredakis, Ross, Billinghurst, Loetscher 2019). VR is the ability to be immersed into an environment that can help eliminate dangers or risk taking by evaluating and understanding moves while not endangering personnel or the public when it comes to both pilot and safety training. VR is an intergrade technology that uses computer simulation technology, different forms of multimedia, human-computer interaction, sensors and sensor activation, intelligent man and machine interface, both 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional graphics, human psychology, high performance computing technology, human behavior and human motor behavior, artificial intelligence and other fields (Li, 2018).
Modern competitive sports are high skilled, difficult design, precise and fast memory and muscle development, which makes sports training more beneficial when helped by modern technology. In order to maximize the potential of people and athletes, modern sports need modern science and technology to continue growth and skill development (Li, 2018). Applying VR to sports training has several advantages. One of those advantages is VR offers the possibility for people to train without the necessary sporting environments or multiple training partners (Michalski, et al., 2019). Several sports have embraced VR technology in the last few years. The National Basketball League (NBA) in America is currently using VR training to increase free throw percentage, Andre Drummond used STRIVR to correct his free throws by more than 10% accuracy (Bulletin, The , 2017) and in the National Football League (NFL) in the rehabilitation of quarterbacks, Carson Palmer was able to learn to recognize blitz packages sooner, therefore cutting his reaction time (Bulletin, The, 2017).
STRIVR, started by former Stanford University kicker Derek Belch, is a VR based company that designs and programs their environments on game enhanced film study specifically to train quarterbacks. Belch believes in the future iPads will be obsolete and players will be reaching for VR headsets. Currently STIVR works with NCAA and NFL including Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. STRIVR puts the athletes into a real-body situation where the participant is mimicking the movements of a athlete that has a 360-degree camera attached to their body. This is situation gives the participant a feeling or perception they are the athlete (Schnell, 2015).
Some of these programs offer the Head Mounted Displays (HMD) while others use a Computer Assisted Virtual Environment (CAVE). In a CAVE model the participant is put into a room that has multiple LCD monitors that surround them. The participant usually wears a specific set of goggles or eye wear that will allow the computer to interact with them and with joy sticks in their hands. Unlike an HMD, the CAVE model allows the participants to move around in the area. HMD usually are not look through, and for safety concerns the person is usually limited on their movement. On the contrast though, HMD have a more realistic look compared to the CAVE model. HMD are less expensive, more portable and smaller comparable to CAVE systems (Slater, 2009). Both CAVE and HMD allow participants to be in one the three levels of VR (non-immersive, semi and full). Full immersion enhances the participants feeling of being in the actual environment with the use of both HMD and CAVE (Akbas, Marszatek, Kemieniarz, Polechonski, Stomka, Juras, 2019).
Benefits of VR and Results
A major benefit of VR is it can be manipulated close to real time to adjust information and the environment in which the subject is placed (Craig, 2010). This means that subjects’ perception or mechanics can be altered or adjusted immediately. Researchers can fine tune and reproduce same scenarios exactly how they are supposed to appear (Craig, 2010). Coaches and researchers can monitor head movements and adjust so the subject can have a viewpoint in real time all in a stereoscopic experience through HMD or CAVE settings (Craig, 2010). Along with the technical benefits for the competitors and workers, there are some possible benefits for the non-athletic population. Lee and Kim reported in 2018, that after a 4-week exercise VR program that the subjects’ body compositions had changed and that stability and posture were improved. They also said that VR can possibly help strengthen cardiopulmonary function through aerobic exercises in VR (Lee, Kim, 2018). STRIVR’s Derek Belch said they’ve shown that full immersive VR is more beneficial than the standard 2-D video when it comes to a person learning Tai Chi. According to the study, those who learned from VR were able to perform at a higher capability in every phase of the experiment (Bulletin, The, 2017).
In recent studies with participants utilizing the HMD in VR environment during table tennis training, findings show that players who used just the HMD were more accurate when target shooting compared to the player that received training from just the professional table tennis coach without VR training. The disadvantage of the test was their form and overall technique suffered compared to the players that were coached (Michalski et al., 2019). They related this problem to the inconstancies in the virtual environment which lead the players to unnatural movements that are not transferred into real world application. The results showed that VR training improved overall real-world table tennis skill compared to the ones who had no training at all. Michalski believes that VR could possibly be better used as evidence-based training instead of real-world training. Yet, he also states that using VR is better practice than no practice at all. If VR systems are designed to understand performance-based solutions needed for individual athletes, then the administers of the program can alter or manipulate to facilitate skill solutions and development for the participant (Stone, Strafford, North, Toner, Davids, 2018).
Other benefits show VR can work in not just the game play scenarios or the conditioning the heart but also in sports psychology. Using success in military psychology training, researchers have started to investigate athletes. They believe that anxiety can be induced in a VR environment in a variety of different subjects tested (Stinson, Bowman, 2014). Some athletes in high pressure situations will make poor decisions or face an anxiety that will hinder them from performing to their maximum potential. VR is used to simulate large crowds, specific environments, and or high stress situations to help the athletes train for the mind games. This technique was first used in preparation for speed skaters before the 2002 Winter Olympics (Stinson, Bowman, 2014). Other sports and athletes who have utilized VR for sports psychology include a collegiate golfer and a crew team. All CAVE systems in these studies included noise from crowds and environments that triggered anxiety in the participants (Stinson, Bowman, 2014). Much more research is needed in showing improved physiological, psychological and cognitive function with help of VR.
Ice Hockey and Why Sense Arena Will Work
Ice hockey, like other sports, is very traditional when it comes to training. However with the increase of participants to over 650,000 (USA Hockey, 2019) and the lack of available ice times at the limited ice rinks in the United States, Virtual Reality (VR) can help eliminate or reduce the amount of wasted ice time where the athletes are standing around talking about game theory and reconstructing in game skills.
Using both technology and sports, Sense Arena (SA) has developed a state-of-the-art VR immersion program that allows the athlete to be immersed into a VR ice hockey rink. This means that anyone anywhere can be have a virtual ice rink to practice their skills on. Sense Arena was developed in the Czech Republic in 2016 to focus on the training of the “Brain Muscle” for players ages 10+. According to the Sense Arena website, SA is currently integrated in six countries (Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States) with selected hockey programs and over 1,300 registered users worldwide. There are nine places in the US that offer SA: Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas, NV, Colorado Springs Tigers, Colorado Springs, CO, REM5 St. Louis Park, MN, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, Stevens Point, WI, Washington Little Capitals, Washington D.C., First Live Training Center, Rockville, MD, Sharpskate NY, Brooklyn, NY, NOA Physical Therapy, Darien, CT, SoNo IceHouse, Norwalk, CT (Sense Arena, 2019). The Vegas Golden Knights location is only for their NHL team players use. Out of the locations listed above, only four are open to public use while the others are for either medical or private uses.
Hat Trick Training Academy, Inc would be one of the facilities in the US that would have Sense Arena training available to its members. The SA program employs the use of a Head Mounted Display (HMD) that has a 3D capable monitor that fits over the brow and eyes. The HMD also utilizes headphones to give the participant the full effect of being immersed in the environment. SA also includes a chargeable ice hockey stick that supports the immersion by letting the athlete feel vibrations of a hockey puck hitting the stick and using it to practice the specific skills (Sense Arena, 2019).
Limitations of Virtual Reality and What the Future Brings
Widely used in novice training areas of practice, rehab and clinical trials, VR is becoming more common in high performance jobs that have high risk and high skills such as medical, flight crew, pilot training and mining industry. There are huge unexplored areas of VR training for athletes. (Akbaş, Marszałek, Kamieniarz, Polechoński, Słomka, Juras, (2019).
Because the technology is so new there isn’t a lot of research available currently. Some coaches are hesitant on trusting technology and experimenting with VR, so the coaches won’t use it (Katz, 2016). VR is primarily recommended for open skill sports like ice hockey, table tennis, baseball and others (Akbas et al., 2019). Full emersion isn’t literally full emersion into a completely different world.
On December 11, 2019 Sense Arena held the world’s first Hockey E-Skills Competition during the Elite Hockey League (EHL) Showcase at Newington Ice Arena in Connecticut. The competition had two EHL teams, Connecticut Rough Riders and East Coast Wizards, participate with five players from each team facing off head to head in SA’s CAVE system. Two players, one from each EHL team, both having an HMD and stick competed in their SA space facing each other with the program administering the competition and collecting the points. Audiences could watch either live in person at the arena or on streaming services from either YouTube or Twitch. The competition went to double overtime where the Connecticut Rough Riders won the first Sense Arena Hockey E-Skills Competition Cup. Sense Arena is planning on holding more competitions in the future in Europe and North America (Sense Arena, 2019).
Every year technology advances and designers are continuously turning rudimentary graphics into more realistic ones. VR is nowhere near what it can be. It’s going to change human performance. Paper playbooks and notepads will be obsolete as players employ the HMD to see a full 360-degree version of plays and game related situations (Bulletin, The, 2017). Robert Griffin III, who holds a masters in Virtual Reality from Baylor University and is a current rostered quarterback in the NFL, in 2016 believed that VR was not yet ready to deliver the real game day experience as it is not yet, “seamless” enough (Rockwell, 2016).
VR is such a new technology there is very little information on the effects of
VR and athletes in their respected sports. With Sense Arena planning more
E-Skills competition in in Europe and North America, more players will have
access to the benefits of SA and VR for hockey training. This will encourage more
studies to evaluate and understand the full benefits of VR and the what the
future can bring. Even though there is very little information about training
with VR in hockey, this should not deter anyone from experimenting with VR.
With limited ice time and availability of an ice rink, Sense Arena will help
fill that void. To understand VR and Sense Arena’s full benefits, further
studies and research will need to be conducted.
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