QBSIM Leverages Brain Science and Muscle Memory to Train the Complete Quarterback


By Todd Maddox

A Complete Quarterback Excels at the Mental and the Physical

Quarterback is by far the most important position on the football field. The quarterback routinely faces situations in which the right decision can lead to victory and the wrong decision to defeat.

What does it take to be a great QB?

If we had the answer to that question it would not be so difficult for scouts, coaches and general managers to find that “franchise” quarterback. Although we do not know all that it takes to be a great quarterback, we do know some of the central capabilities that are required.

The quarterback is the general on the field. The quarterback knows what has to be accomplished, when to do it and how to lead his team to get it done. The quarterback uses mental abilities to read defenses, to adjust the offense, and to make split-second decision that could mean the difference between a game-winning touchdown or a game-ending interception. The quarterback uses physical abilities to avoid the rush, scramble out of the pocket, and then make a pinpoint accurate throw between two defenders to hit a receiver in stride. Thus, the successful quarterback has the mental capacity to make the correct decision under time and game pressure, and the physical ability to execute these decisions successfully.

Fortunately, one can enhance both mental and physical abilities through training. The question is: What is the optimal way to train these abilities in the quarterback?

The Current Approach to Quarterback Training is Sub-Optimal

The best way to train the complete quarterback is through practice with the full offense and defense on the field and at game speed. This trains both the mental and physical aspects of the game concurrently, and in real-time. Unfortunately, the increased oversight on practice times, the priority to prepare starters over backups, and most importantly, concerns about contact and injury, makes this difficult. This leads to a real quandary. The quarterback needs to receive extensive practice to achieve success in the mental and physical aspects of the game. At the same time, there is always a concern with the potential for injury.

“Current approaches to quarterback training are sub-optimal”

Training the Mental Game: A common approach to training the mental aspect of the game is “watching game film” or going through the “Xs and Os” on a white board. This training is useful because it teaches the quarterback to identify offensive and defensive schemes, either from a bird’s eye view (game film) or from a schematic perspective (Xs and Os). Although useful, this approach is sub-optimal for at least two reasons. First, the quarterback is expected to translate what they see in game film or on a white board to the first-person situation they will face on the football field. This translation is difficult, cognitively demanding, and fraught with error. Second, whether watching game film or Xs and Os on a white board, the quarterback is stationary and in a pressure-free environment. In the game, where the mental and physical co-occur, the quarterback might be scrambling to avoid the rush or under situational pressure. Extensive psychological research shows that mental (cognitive) processing is strongly affected by pressure, and none of that is present in game film or Xs and Os training.

Training the Physical Game: Quarterbacks commonly practice using non-contact drills in which they throw particular routes while stationary or simulating scrambling. This might involve a quarterback throwing to a static target or a quarterback throwing to a single receiver running a route. Half-speed practice is also common. Here, a partial (or complete) offense and defense are present, specific offensive and defensive schemes are implemented, and plays are run at less than game speed. This gives the quarterback experience reading defenses, adjusting offensive scheme, and throwing, all in a relatively safe environment. As with the mental game, these approaches are sub-optimal because they do not accurately represent the situation faced by the quarterback in a game.

As alluded to earlier, training in real-time in a realistic setting is the optimal way to train the quarterback, as it brings together the mental and physical. Of course, such training also carries with it the ever-present fear and risk of injury.

Might there be a way to train the complete quarterback (mental and physical) in real-time, in a realistic setting, but without the risk of injury?

The answer is “yes” and the solution is virtual reality (VR). VR comes in two forms: passive, observational VR and interactive VR. Both have been applied to quarterback training.

Passive, Observational VR Approaches to Training the Complete Quarterback

In a typical passive, observational VR setting, the quarterback is immersed in the action and has a strong sense of “presence”. The quarterback has a first-person view from the pocket. They can scan left and right and can see running backs, receivers and the defensive set. Once the ball is snapped, they can see the players move, watch the ball be thrown, and see if it is complete or incomplete, all from a first-person field view.

Training the Mental Game: From a psychological and brain science of learning perspective, this passive, observational VR approach is ideal for training the mental aspects of the game. The quarterback is placed in realistic settings with a first-person view. They are allowed to visually scan the field and evaluate the offense and defense. They can make mental judgements and attempt to predict the outcome of the play. They can then watch the play unfold and learn by observing. They can practice over and over again and obtain mental repetitions.

Training the Physical Game: The realism, first-person immersion and feeling of “presence” associated with passive, observational VR training cannot be overstated. If the goal is to simulate the feeling of being on the field, then VR is the solution. However, this approach falls short in terms of training the physical game. The physical game is about behavior. The quarterback needs to be able to scramble to avoid the rush, or sit tight in the pocket. They need to be able to throw a real football, the trajectory of that ball needs to be tracked, and feedback regarding the accuracy of that throw must be provided immediately. This feedback-driven learning is what promotes muscle memory.

From a psychological and brain science of training perspective, passive, observational VR is excellent for training the mental game, but sub-optimal for training the physical game. The quarterback is expected to learn by watching and learn through mental repetitions. This is an excellent strategy for learning to read defenses and to understand at a cognitive level the offensive scheme while being immersed on the field, but this is not an effective way to teach a quarterback to accurately throw a screen pass or the fade route in a real game setting. The physical aspects of the game should be learned by doing with numerous physical repetitions.

“Passive, observational VR is excellent for training the mental game, but sub-optimal for training the physical game.”

QBSIM: An Interactive VR Platform that Trains the Complete Quarterback

QBSIM is an interactive VR quarterback training platform from Sports VTS. In QBSIM, the quarterback is fully immersed in a simulated virtual reality. They wear a real football helmet, have room to run, hold a real football, and have the ability to throw that ball from the real into the simulated virtual environment. QBSIM also incorporates years of real game data so that the quarterback can practice with any offense and any defense.

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Training the Mental Game: QBSIM has all of the advantages for training the mental game that are present in passive, observational VR. The quarterback has a first-person view and they are immersed in the action. They learn by observing and through mental repetitions. However, they can train the mental game in a realistic setting that also optimally trains the physical game.

Training the Physical Game: Unlike passive, observational VR approaches, QBSIM is interactive and trains behavior. The training is active and the quarterback learns by doing. The quarterback holds a real football and is able to scramble to avoid the rush, or drop back into the pocket. The quarterback can throw the ball and see its trajectory in the virtual world. Most critically, the quarterback receives immediate feedback regarding the accuracy of the throw and whether the pass was complete or incomplete. All of this happening in real-time. This is the ideal way to train muscle memory.

“QBSIM offers the best way to train the complete quarterback in a safe, injury free environment.”

The psychological and brain science is clear: Interactive, immediate feedback-driven VR training, like that at the core of QBSIM offers the best way to train the complete quarterback in a safe, injury free environment. With QBSIM, the quarterback can take hundreds of reps with different offensive and defensive schemes. This trains for generalization and trains for long-term retention. This approach facilitates the development of muscle memory, and provides the quarterback with the opportunity to excel.

The ability of the QBSIM platform to both assess and train the complete quarterback may also be a huge step forward toward understanding and training the exact mixture of skills and talents required to create great quarterbacks. QBSIM is a game changer, and I fully expect it to disrupt the sports training sector.

Author’s Biography:
Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, LLC, a Contributing Analyst at Amalgam Insights, Inc, and the Science, Sports and Training Correspondent at Tech Trends. His passion is to apply his 25 years of scientific and neuroscientific expertise, gained by managing a large human learning and performance laboratory, to help build better training products in a broad array of sectors. These include soft, hard and technical skills in the corporate, medical and educational training sectors. Todd also works with elite and amateur athletes to speed learning and enhance muscle memory. His scientific research shows that the learning of different skills is mediated by different learning system in the brain, each with distinct optimized training procedures. Todd received his Ph.D. in Quantitative and Cognitive Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara that was followed by a two-year post-doctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard University.  Todd then embarked on a 25-year academic research career achieving status as a leader in the fields of human learning and memory with an emphasis in understanding the computational interplay between motivation, personality and incentive structures and their effects on optimized learning, memory and training. Todd is fascinated by the brain and the brain-basis of all behavior. Todd published nearly 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, and was the recipient of a number of federal grants. Todd is especially interested in applying his optimized training expertise to the emerging technologies of VR/AR/MR, as well as eLearning, and he is currently writing a book focused on bringing the science of optimized training into the commercial sector. Twitter: @wtoddmaddox


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