With the prevalence of virtual reality training in youth baseball, what is the best way to use it?

When virtual reality first appeared in baseball as a training tool, it was big and expensive. Two years ago, it was a file Dodgers need to install full room Close to the club so their players can actually practice against the starting bowler that night. But the technology is now smaller, easier to transport and less expensive. As this portable and affordable VR spreads across all the different levels of baseball, the question begins to shift from “how good is this” to “how can players use it better?”

One of the leaders in baseball virtual reality training, WIN Reality, announced on Wednesday a $45 million investment from Spectrum Equity as they transition from helping major leagues to training kids to try out baseball. Their new products will focus on young amateur baseball players, and the commercial experience of their app, as they add coaching modules and social media aspects to a baseball product that top players have already begun to take advantage of for their training.

“The release of the Oculus Quest 2 has crushed the cost curve in VR,” said Chris O’Dowd, COO of WIN. “We’ve gone from installing what used to be a $150,000 piece of equipment at a number of major league clubs, to a backpacking system that has holders and sensors and still requires a trigger, to a headset that’s priced less than a $299 baseball bat. We set that In a position to go from working only with major league teams and a few top-tier college clients — Vanderbilt won the World College Championship the first year we worked with them — to having a life-size product that is now a baseball player.”

But any senior player will want different things than an 8-year-old who is just getting used to standing in the box.

The theoretical impact of virtual reality at a major league level is huge, and companies like WIN, Monsterful VR, and others are looking at ways to seamlessly integrate this technology at a professional level. “Imagine being able to step against the pitcher tonight and really confront them?” said CSO official at Monsterful VR, Jarrett Sims. “We’ve really worked on the technology, as well as the AI ​​driving the experience so you can really see what Corey Kluber It’ll be like at-bat before you get on the board.”

He said that in 2018, but it has become more important in the past few years, because now we know that For the third time by order penalty – When the hitters suddenly have an advantage over the bowler – he Not in decline in things, But on the bowler’s familiarity, any technique that can improve the batter’s knowledge of the bowler can help the hitter jump forward a second through the arrangement. Knowing that there is More balls broken than ever And that every time the hitter saw one cracker ball, The higher the hitter, the betterIt makes sense to see those roughly broken balls before you step into the box.

He said NoticeMarcus Simin From the value of VR to a major league. “It can help you get there on time.”

There is a slight difference forming here, though: familiarity with the shape of the playing field, and familiarity with the bowler’s timing. Not all of the main racers gave rave reviews about the way the pitches looked in the air, saying that the speed did not follow their real-world experiences.

“The downfall is that the speed doesn’t look real,” said Rangers katcher. Mitch Garver, who worked with VR technology last winter. “Guys going from the mid-’90s up it’s totally unforgivable, but if you’re in the box and you’re feeling good, you can hit 95 to 100 times. It just passes by you so fast that it’s unrealistic. So what I did was I I faced high school shooters with an 85 to 88 throw, and it just seems more realistic to me.”

O’Dowd thought what was missing was some context around the situations in which baseball players typically see a 99 mph fastball.

“When you’re standing in the VR hitting box and not in your position and you’re completely emotionally ready to see a fastball at 96mph, and you’re more than passive watching, it’s going to creep up on you,” O’Dowd said. . “When the audience is bustling and you have that adrenaline, 95 slows down. If you are really trying to put yourself in a position to succeed even in the application, you have to meet the same emotional intent as if you had the game.”

For a younger group now gaining access to WIN technology, any additional exposure to shapes is likely to be beneficial, as they are not working with the same baseline of experience.

“At the amateur level, their demo library and database is a blank slate,” O’Dowd said. “So we’re just trying to give them any impressions. They’ve probably never seen a low three-quarter left-handed slider before and we don’t want that to happen for the first time in the game. It’s the same development concept but in wider buckets – I want to see a sharp crushing ball that breaks late vs. A rolling cracker ball. Allowing kids to start figuring out what it looks like out of hand, what the different rhythms and deliverables sound like — it’s really hard to build this library of experience on a very fast-paced and intense schedule.”

Technology like this can have a huge impact even if the hitter chooses to focus solely on timing. Research from cricket indicates that hitters get it More information before releasing the ball what they did next. Garver also noted that hitters in the major leagues don’t try to hit all the courts all the time.

“When I work on a machine, I try to master one movement, to learn a new one,” Garver said. “Like, if I want to hit the left tailgate breaker, what should I do to get my body in a position to hit that ball, where I want to hit, and which way I want my hand to go. Hitting is about taking one shape and trying to damage it. I hunt zone And pitch and that’s what I’m trying to damage them both. I’m not looking for the fast ball and the slider down and the heater and the broken ball. I’m not looking for all those things. We’re all trying to simplify the approach, and we don’t have a single swing that can hit it all.”

This could be a difference in use cases between the major leagues trying to knock out fellow best shooters in the world, and the younger kids just trying to add to their database of shapes. The one thing that every headliner agreed missing from their experience with virtual reality is the instant feedback the bat itself gives a hitter.

“The mindset of having to see and actually hit the ball, and making physical contact with the ball, of having to respond to where the ball is coming from — it’s different than actually watching it,” he said. Auckland‘s good lori. “There are no bets, and there are no consequences for bad hitting the ball.”

“I just feel like you’re going to do what you’re doing there, and then the game becomes completely different,” Cody Bellinger Tell the athlete. “Maybe you click on it to react and the game reacts and tells you where you got to and whether you’re late or early.”

It is important to get realistic physical reactions. Consider the difference between this and ‘MLB: The Show, a more traditional video game where swinging is more fun than playing. This already had some real-world consequences for Semien, when he made his minor league debut, and amassed the lowest walk rate of his minor league career, thanks to a video game, he believes.

“(In) 2011, guess it was MLB: The Show, it just drafted, and he played a lot of ‘MLB: The Show,'” Simin said. Realism and just want to swing. This does not work in Low A.”

So comments based on bats or at least based on tennis would be something useful for kids as well.

“There’s nothing kids do in life that repeats bat to the ball,” said Noah Jackson, assistant baseball coach at UC Berkeley. “They use their phones and their toys, but the physical act of hitting something is really hard, and we don’t do anything else like that, so when they get out of the simulator or out of practice, they find that real life competition is not like a soft toss coach or the game that They were playing it.”

During the WIN event, the latest technology is centered around improving this aspect of the virtual reality experience. Every six weeks in the coming years, consumers can expect to see more complex tennis projections and metrics so they can better judge whether their swing came at the right timing for that court. There should be an opportunity to add diagnostics that can provide specific feedback about each part of the swing in real time.

List of exercises and modules available in the WIN programme. (Courtesy of WIN Reality)

The biggest difference between professionals and kids may be the level of training. When did Mitch Garver take up virtual reality because he didn’t have a coach to talk to or a facility to visit? In late February, in the middle of the closing period. Otherwise, he would have a lot of people to help him improve. Kids don’t always have it.

“Let’s bring in better training for the amateur players,” O’Dowd said of the next step in the VR process. “We have a team of hitter coaches and we want to offer truly customized training tracks and programs that are more powerful than we have right now. We want to offer a more comprehensive training system. (Make) training more accessible. Offseason plans are a linear approach to building a complete skill set that can be put on a pilot. It’s automated two days a week, and you can watch 20 shows in less than eight minutes on the app. This provides consistency and feedback checkpoints.”

This is exciting for most kids in sports, but not necessarily all. The $299, $30/month headset is still a barrier for many young gamers, and goes along with other trends in the sport.

“Baseball has become the ultimate country club sport,” said Jackson, who is also a co-founder of the First Base Foundation, which helps kids defray potentially expensive baseball travel. “Kids have hitting coaches, field coaches, special coaches, special coaches, and increasingly, special games where travel ball replaces Little League. There are no kids in the backyard ball and stick ball, and they don’t have the time to develop that competitive ability.”

Given that these specific tools have gone from six figures to three in just the past few years, it seems right to at least say that virtual reality is moving towards affordability. And even if it isn’t a panacea for all the major hitters, it has become an accepted part of a healthy diet of tech gadgets for many hitters, while leaving some upside to take off.

“What I’ve seen in San Francisco and here, guys are starting to replace what were once traditional actors with a trapeze, and now they’re taking nervous actors with virtual reality,” said Rangers offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker. “Guys use that to see shapes, find timing, and practice their game plan model. One of the key things is how do we rethink repetitions so we can get the highest speeds, the highest amplitudes in game time. Instead of taking 100 flips, maybe just 35 reps on the VR and 35 reps in their swing. When you heat up this part of the brain, we also need to create a stimulus that activates the body, where it becomes a little uncomfortable and has to quickly solve problems in space.”

Therefore, for kids trying to improve their baseball skills, competitive play will still be key, coaches and leaguers themselves assure.

“At the end of the day, we still have to respect that if you want to get better at swimming, you better jump your ass in the pool,” Ecker said with a laugh.

But on cold days, when the pool is closed, virtual reality seems to be making play the technology that will be there to help kids keep swinging.

(first image provided by WIN Reality)