Virtual Reality's Enhancement in Sports Psychology

Virtual Reality's Enhancement in Sports Psychology

VR is invading all aspects of life for the better.

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Athletes spend countless hours perfecting their skills to perform to the best of their ability. They push through exhaustion and pain, stressing their limits both physically and mentally. As their athletic prowess grows and competition becomes more stressful, they must increase their mental strength and stamina to accommodate.

Sports psychologists help athletes cope with the tremendous pressures that come with competition and extreme training. They want athletes to avoid mental lapses and physical injury. Maintaining a healthy physical and mental balance is crucial for competitive athletes—and sports psychologist are using new technologies such as virtual reality to realize that balance.

What is Sports Psychology?

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Sports psychology is a science dedicated to helping athletes train and prepare for competition. Coping with competitive stress isn't easy. It takes strong mental fortitude. Athletes who perform at high competitive levels are naturally more susceptible to injury and emotional trauma. Through the application of sports psychology, athletes can learn how to handle the pressures that are associated with competition.

Competitive pressures include more than the game or event itself. There are external factors that can be challenging to replicate on the practice field. Factors such as a sports venue's unique environment, crowds, and noise may not be truly experienced by an athlete until actual game time. This can have an adverse affect. Fortunately, sports psychologists have been utilizing virtual reality as a platform to introduce these 'game time' factors in a healthy and safe way.

What is Virtual Reality?

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Virtual reality is a three-dimensional world created by a computer that can be explored from a first person point of view. In short, it is an immersive computer-generated environment that a user can experience and marginally control. With virtual reality, people can now experience environments and events as never before. These experiences can be used for entertainment or as a medical tool.

In the case of sports psychology, virtual reality offers brand new possibilities to both professional and amateur athletes. Sports psychologists can simulate situations, completely control the athlete's environment, and replay simulations so the athlete can observe their reactions first hand.

Simulation and Control

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Virtual reality simulators come in different shapes and sizes. They can be as large as an immersive room, or as small as wearable headgear. Both can provide imagery that is realistic, or more computerized in nature, depending on the need. The benefit of simulation technology lies in the psychologist's ability to create or recreate environments, instead of merely relying on the athlete's imagination.

Psychologists can build environments that are unique to the athlete's sport, and that mimic external game time factors. Distractions such as crowds, lights, and high noise levels are known to increase pressure on athletes. These and other factors can all be regulated to better train and prepare athletes. Through simulations, psychologists can also repeat one action, one event, or one situation multiple times, enabling athletes to hone their response. Furthermore, virtual reality simulation can provide psychologists the chance to observe specific techniques and performances an athlete needs to improve.

Simulation Replay

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Another important asset that virtual reality brings to sports psychology is the ability to replay. Whether using a first person viewer or a computer monitor, sports performers can visit and revisit situations or movements with accuracy and precision. Virtual reality is taking the guesswork out of sports actions and replacing it with exact measurements.

Visualization is a valuable tool in sports, and virtual reality can greatly enhance it. Athletes and coaches can now precisely observe an athlete's performance from past games or augmented simulations. During repeated observation, coaches can compare the movements of multiple athletes against one another to find weaknesses or strengths to acknowledge. Additionally, they can adapt new techniques to gameplay situations that were previously unobserved because of their sporadicity.

Virtual reality provides the viewer with the opportunity to visualize 'outside of themselves' and make corrections from a different point of view. Thanks to repeated simulation replay, athletes can identify their performance comfort zone; the performance level at which their bodies are most effective and efficient. Like most people, athletes can be told what to improve and how to improve it—but actually seeing what needs to be changed makes all the difference.

Sports Simulators for All

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Virtual reality systems can be used for all types of sports and games: soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, and beyond. Some simulators are used for entertainment, providing people with the ability to virtually ski, bike, drive race cars, fly airplanes, and participate in any number of activities. Although these simulators are not often used for psychological purposes, they have grown to accommodate a wide variety of needs.

The virtual reality equipment that is employed by sports psychologists is specifically pointed toward scientific research and helping athletes build their mental toughness. These technologies may be entertaining to use, but their true purpose is to sense, measure, and analyze data meant to improve an athlete's overall performance. Whether it's use is for physical training, psychological purposes, or simply entertainment, virtual reality is becoming more prominent than ever before in athletics.

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11 Things Fastpitch Softball Players Know To Be True

You'll never remember your Facebook password, but you'll remember softball cheers for the rest of your life.
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There comes a time in every little girl's life when she must come to terms with the fact that she will never play Major League Baseball. So, she turns to softball. From tee-ball to coach-pitch to travel ball, to playing on your school team, softball has played a crucial role in your life. It taught you the value of teamwork, the importance of sunscreen, and introduced you to your best friends. For former and current fastpitch players alike, these truths are universal.

1. The rays of a thousand suns couldn't even out your tan lines.

Tan arms and a V-neck tan line is the unofficial uniform of the softball player. Years after you stop playing softball, at 2 p.m. on the second Monday of every month when the sun is shining through your bathroom window at a 90-degree angle, you'll swear you can still see the slightest hint of a racerback tan line between your shoulders. Good luck finding a flattering sundress!

2. Pitchers are a different breed of human.

It's a tale as old as time: You saw that the pitchers got to skip all of the intense drills at practice so they can go off to the side with the catcher to chat and have a catch for an hour and you said, "I gotta get in on that." So, your dad paid for your pitching lessons, you mimicked Jennie Finch as best as you could, and three years later, you're contemplating changing your name just to forget about that time you spent as a pitcher. Successful pitchers must have no other interests, future career goals, or a family who loves them because pitching just destroys everything you believe in. If you do survive being a pitcher, congratulations, because you are now fully equipped with nerves of steel that will allow you to conquer the worst that life has to throw at you.

3. An 8 a.m. game on Sunday means you had a really bad Saturday.

Where is the most tranquil and somber place that people often go to on Sunday mornings to reflect on their wrongdoings? No, not church. It's the softball field. When you have to be at the field before the sun, you start thinking irrationally, like "Maybe if I used the Demarini instead of the Stealth in the third inning of the second game yesterday we would've only lost by six runs instead of seven which would have put us in the winner's bracket!" Have fun running a lap for every error you made the day before.

4. If the other team is wearing shorts, you know you're going to win.

There's just so much leg! Shorts and softball go together like ketchup and strawberry jelly, as in, that's what your knees are going to look like if you even attempt to slide wearing a pair of shorts. Don't even get me started on the tan line from mid thigh to mid shin. You know the one. This is the big leagues, ladies, put on some pants.

5. If you aren't dirty after a game, you didn't play hard enough.

If you don't come home from a tournament, look in the mirror, and go, "Wow I got a good tan today!" only to take a shower and find out that it was all just dirt, then you probably missed that slide sign from the third base coach when you were rounding second.

6. Cheers are a necessary evil.

Cheering in softball is like having a dead-end job that you hate; it's unfulfilling, robs you of your dignity, and tires you out, but you have to do it anyway. You'll never remember your Facebook password, your parents' anniversary, or that you left your laundry in the washer, but you'll remember softball cheers for the rest of your life. Unless, of course, you fall into the water and bump your little head like that damn froggy.

7. Pre-wrap is a hot commodity in the dugout.

"I'll trade you a bag of Ranch sunflower seeds for your light blue pre wrap."

"No way, I had to get my mom to drive me to three different Sports Authority's last night just to find this color!"

8. You may get along with other teams between games, but they are not your friends on the field.

It's perfectly normal to meet another player in line for the bathroom at a tournament, compliment her on her cheetah print hair ribbon, and then trash talk her on the field half an hour later. You can make it up to her by giving her a high five and a poignant smile in the handshake line after the game.

9. If you get hit by a pitch and there aren't lace marks in your skin, it's really just a waste of time.

You love being able to showcase your bruises at school on Monday when all of your non-softball friends ask, "Does it hurt to get hit with a fastball?" and you can coolly and calmly answer, "Nah." Bruises up your street cred, and lace marks are just bonus points. So, when you don't have any stitching embedded in your skin, you wish you could just have the chance to bat. Take your base.

10. When the bat meets the ball juuuuuust right, it is the most powerful feeling in the world.

Your dad was right when he told you to keep your head down when you swing. You always thought that the "sweet spot" of the bat was just a myth until you hit your first home run. The rush of adrenaline will make you feel so powerful that you'll try to see if you can pick up a car in the parking lot with your bare hands after the game, but you still can't.

11. You will always consider your team to be your best friends.

After spending every weekend together, you and your team create a bond so close that it borders on uncomfortable. You may take out your frustrations on each other from time to time like when someone steps on the freshly chalked line before the game, or when you all fight over the ball with the best, most prominent laces for your warm up toss. But at the end of the day, your team will always be the biggest bunch of weirdos you know, and that is irreplaceable.

Cover Image Credit: Art Mad

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Andy Ruiz Jr. May Not Look Like The Typical Boxer, But It Doesn't Make His Victory Any Less Deserved

Andy Ruiz Jr. just proved that dreams can come true.

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On June 1, boxing fans witnessed something special as Andy 'Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. defeated Anthony Joshua via TKO after going seven rounds in the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City to become the first ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion of the world. Ruiz Jr. (33-1) was a heavy underdog (+1100) heading into the match-up with Joshua (22-1) but ultimately flipped the script to hand the British fighter his first professional loss ever. Surely the fight will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

Some members of the media and fans have been quick to label the fight as a 'fluke' and 'rigged' which in the end is no surprise to me. That always happens in the sports world. Many did not believe we would get this result yet failed to remember the one rule of sports -- expect the unexpected. Over the past week, I've been coming to the defense of Ruiz Jr. in the wake of others choosing to call him a joke.

I was shocked and surprised to hear two of my favorite sports analysts, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, make fun of Ruiz Jr. and frame him as just a guy that looked like 'Butterbean.' When I viewed their tweets on social media it honestly made me upset. Sure, Ruiz Jr. may not have fit the mold of what a professional boxer should look like, but they simply should not have just judged a book by its cover.

Personally, I thought it was disrespectful for Smith and Sharpe to throw shade at Ruiz Jr. in the way they did. I felt like they should have done a better job of acknowledging the winner considering the result of the match. Yet choosing to bash someone because of their physical composition appeared like a low blow. The very foundation of sports allows people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and backgrounds to compete -- that's why most people follow them in the first place.

Smith was open behind his reasoning for his tweets in which I'd like to shed some light on. Smith was upset about how boxing time after time contains elements of corruption with fans having to wait years until promoters schedule big fights. He along with other followers of the sport were looking forward to the highly anticipated yet potential future match-up between Joshua and fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Smith believes that by Ruiz Jr. beating Joshua it essentially diminished the chances of that fight ever happening with the same amount of buildup, but that still doesn't provide any excuse for mocking the new heavyweight champ.

Ruiz Jr. was there for a reason and ultimately seized the opportunity that was right in front of him -- that's not his fault for getting the job done. Just because someone doesn't look like the part doesn't mean they don't possess the same qualities and characteristics as their counterparts. The following pair of videos display the amount of talent Ruiz Jr. does have in the ring. Even fellow boxer Canelo Alvarez and former UFC lightweight/featherweight champion Conor McGregor acknowledge that and have come out to say something on their behalf.

Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change because most will stand their ground and continue to behave the same way. All I'm saying is I did not enjoy some of the top figures within sports media stereotyping Ruiz Jr. based on his looks. I would think that we would be better than that and recognize that anyone can accomplish something great in this world. It all just starts with a simple dream.

I understand and respect other people's takes on this subject, maybe I'm looking into things deeper than what they are, but it struck a chord with me and I felt the need to say something about it.

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