The girls volleyball season doesn’t officially start until August, but Lowell athletes haven’t stopped training in the off-season. While strength training and cardio exercises are common conditioning activities, the Lowell volleyball team added something new to the mix this year: virtual reality.
“This is almost like weight-training for their brains,” says Jordan Drake, the Lowell High School girls varsity volleyball coach.
Using a system developed by NeuroTrainer, players can select from different training sessions designed to improve focus, reaction time, hand-eye coordination and more. Originally used by professional athletes, it has since become accessible and available to college and high school teams as well.
“We see NeuroTrainer as being additive to a normal skills training practice,” says Jamie Moran, head of marketing for NeuroTrainer. The system isn’t intended to replace time on the court but rather supplement it by using virtual reality – or VR – sessions that can be as short as eight minutes.
Bringing Virtual Reality to Lowell
Drake wasn’t actively looking to bring VR to his team, but an email from NeuroTrainer got his attention. “It caught my eye because, last year, the mental side of the game was something we were struggling with,” he says.
He decided it was worth seeing whether NeuroTrainer could improve the team’s performance and invested in 5 VR units and licenses for 15 accounts. Those are currently being spread across players in all the high school teams, but once the season starts later this year, Drake says the program will be used exclusively by varsity athletes.
Players started using the program in February of this year so it’s too early to see whether it will translate into greater success on the court. However, Drake says that the player scores recorded by NeuroTrainer are steadily increasing.
First Impressions: Better Focus, Faster Reactions
Athletes can select from several NeuroTrainer training exercises to develop different skills, and these programs aren’t specific to any one sport. “We use the same environment for all sports,” Moran says.
On a spring afternoon, varsity players Aubriegh Oswald and Taryn Jackson stopped by Drake’s classroom after school for short sessions on the VR units. Both trained using a program that involved them standing in a room with balls shooting toward the player. They needed to dodge red bombs while blocking the balls.
Moran says this program is called GUST and improves skills such as scanning, ball tracking, impulse control, situational awareness and hand-eye coordination.
It’s also Taryn’s favorite training exercise. “I think it’s really cool,” she said after finishing her VR session. She added that it was helping her keep focused.
Meanwhile, Aubriegh shared that she thinks the program is helping her find the ball over the net more quickly. As a player on a club volleyball team, she is already seeing the impact of NeuroTrainer on her gameplay. “I feel like I’m making faster adjustments,” she said.
Warm-Up for the Brain
NeuroTrainer is a “warm-up for the brain,” according to Moran. When used before practice, he says it can add 20 minutes of useful training time since players are mentally primed. He also notes that, right now, there is nothing comparable to the system of cognitive priming offered by NeuroTrainer.
“It’s literally empowering a part of your brain that you don’t usually think about,” he says. “It’s training you to have what is called the quiet eye.”
Once the volleyball season starts in August, Drake anticipates the Lowell varsity players will use NeuroTrainer every day before practice. He is already seeing improvement in terms of performance within the VR environment.
“Some [players] are way better than when they started,” he says. “It’ll be interesting to see if it translates over to playing and competing.”
You can find out for yourself by following Red Arrow-Volleyball this fall. Matches start in mid-August.