Water polo teams add training muscle with virtual reality

University of the Pacific’s nationally ranked water polo teams, which have frequently utilized cutting-edge technology and data analytics, have entered a new realm: virtual reality training.

James Graham, head coach of Pacific’s men’s and women’s teams, shared thoughts on the new REPS virtual reality system and what it could mean for his teams—and the sport.

What is the REPS virtual reality system?
REPS is a sports training software that enables athletes to accumulate thousands of extra repetitions in a dynamic, deep-learning environment where they can practice, perfect and create real muscle memory.
How does your program utilize it?

We record situations in practice using GoPro cameras while working on specific tactics. We then load those clips into the REPS system. Once we have that, the players use virtual reality headsets to put themselves in the recorded situations while being assessed on (game) scenarios.

How does it help your players?
This helps athletes understand specific moves in games. They break down the scenarios at a slower pace. They understand everything that is going on around them in a 360-degree view while being assessed and graded.

Why is this kind of technology beneficial as opposed to "traditional" training?
Technology is changing and growing at a very rapid pace. Being able to utilize virtual reality puts our athletes in situations before they happen. It helps give them a more live game feel while watching the clips in the VR headsets. 

How did your program get this technology?
The program had a generous donation that helped us invest in this new and upcoming software and technology. Being able to participate in the initial stages of virtual reality and improve training for our athletes is part of our aim to be the most innovative water polo program in the world.

Do you see a difference in your athletes' performance since you started using this technology? 
It is still very early in the process, but judging by the reactions from our players, they feel it is making a difference. I hesitate to give all credit to a new tool such as this, but we are pleased with the start of the program.

Will this type of training ever replace in-pool training?
This training adds to the overall experience and enhances athletes’ ability. The in-the-pool training is still critical. We can add to that with this program.

Player shares her thoughts

Mariana Duarte, graduate student and co-captain of the women’s team

“It really makes you feel like you're inside the play, and you're playing the position that you usually do. In water polo every single detail matters. Having the virtual reality is like having extra reps without being in the water or having to have the whole team to do it, so it's very beneficial.”