Have you ever seen someone trip or fall and find it hilarious? Yep, me too. We find it funny when people fall or get hurt. Why? Not sure, ask a psych major, but I can almost guarantee that at least one of these has been a gymnast. If you haven’t seen this, check out this video of gymnastics fails. Warning: highly addictive, great for procrastination.
The 4-inch balance beam and the only 6-8 inch mats make gymnastics one of the most dangerous sports in the world. In the United States, out of the 3+ million children between the ages of 6 and 17 who do gymnastics, over 25,000 of them are treated in emergency rooms each year for gymnastics-related injuries, reported by the Center for Injury Research and Policy. It’s the same injury rate as hockey. One misstep, twisting or flipping too early, can easily cause a devastating injury in the sport, and ruin the rest of your career in the sport, like it did for this gymnast.
As a gymnast, cheerleader, runner, and dancer, I have been injured on an almost consistent basis beginning at age 9. My mom’s last words to me before I went through airport security to go abroad were, “Please, don’t get hurt.” In the past 12 years I have had:
- Mysterious soft tissue ankle injury that killed all muscle in my ankles
- Patellar Tracking Disorder
- Patellar Tendonitis
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Strained Achilles
- Strained Calf (3x)
- Strained Hamstring (2x)
- Right wrist break (2x)
- Left wrist break (3x)
- Concussion (1st one – 4 weeks, 2nd one – 9 weeks)
- Broken finger (as pictured below)
- Hip surgery: Femoroplasty and repair of labral tear
- Perroneal neuritis
So, what’s the point of all of this? Coming from personal experience, it would have been great to have had technology to reduce my injuries. Wouldn’t it be great if there were technology that could reduce the injury rates of gymnasts today? Well, guess what? There is and it is something we’re becoming more and more familiar with every day: Virtual Reality.
VR made its reappearance in 2015 with Samsung’s headsets. Since then, VR has been immersed into the sports related field to aid training as well as recruiting athletes. Today, it’s used in a couple different ways.
- Viewing sporting events in VR
- Viewing the action from the player’s perspective
- Recreating the action in VR
- Using VR to train teams
Viewing Sporting Events in VR
This has been seen using the 360-degree cameras in order to make those fans who cannot attend the game in person, feel like they are actually there. This is typically done through a VR headset and app. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio promised VR broadcasting and followed through, but the day after. Other leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and NHL are still experimenting with this.
Viewing the Action from the Player’s Perspective
A Spanish startup called FirstV1sion used this technology for a couple sporting events, but this use is best for training purposes.
Recreating the Action in VR
Beyond Sports is a VR startup that is aiming to create 3D simulations of games that would allow users to see the perspective from anywhere in a stadium.
Using VR to Train Teams
This is usually at least a $50,000 investment, but is the most-explored use of VR and is what will aid the gymnastics world. The best part of this, according to STRIVR, a VR startup, is that it helps football teams prepare players for games without requiring their excessive presence on the field, where they risk being injured and exposed to summer heat,” and gymnasts are exploring it.
VR is the main factor in the new sports simulation system that is helping a diverse scope of sports train. According to a study done by Lei Chen, the way the system works is, “It analyzes the problems in sports field through the method of system analysis, and uses related knowledge about math, graph theory, gray theory, operational research, control theory, information theory and so on to establish simulation pattern, then conducts real time, super real-time, under real-time simulation demonstration by using computer technology and connecting graphics, film and video BA and psychology”
For gymnastics, the entire VR system is based on “difficulty movement storehouse” and the “section plane” or body difficulty movement. The difficulty movement storehouse is taken from the “Code of Points of Gymnastics”, the new rating system that was implemented after the scoring scale of 10 was removed in 2006. This is built in accordance with the difficulty of movements in order to create the basis for the database. The complexity rises with gymnastics due to the 4 different rotations, floor, beam, vault, bars, as well as the differentiation between scoring for women’s and men’s gymnastics.
Regardless, as the difficulty level of the movement increases, so does the value of the technology. By taking into account the gymnast’s gender, height, weight, and the forces of gravity, developers are hoping that this platform will be able to precisely time and simulate the routine of the gymnast to avoid injuries. For example, this technology will be able to say something along the lines of “at the bottom of the giant swing (a gymnastics term for swinging around the high bar in an outstretched position), the gymnast should wait 3 seconds before letting go to complete dismount.” This would enable the gymnast to time the dismount so they get enough momentum and height to land the dismount and avoid hitting their feet on the bar if they were to let go of the bar too late. Now, I’m sure if you’re not a gymnast, you’re totally lost, so here’s a video to show the skill that I just explained:
The goal of using VR with gymnastics is so through this technology, the coach can edit, or
design a new action in order to show the athlete what they should be doing and how. Stringing multiple actions together could make a routine, making a huge impact on the
competitive world of gymnastics. The beginning of VR with gymnastics is here, and shown through this video using a 360 degree camera. Only time will tell if these new efforts reduce injuries for gymnasts. Hopefully, VR won’t fall flat on its face, but will rise and prevail to help the poor gymnasts that are still experiencing this.
- “Discussing to the application of virtual reality technology in competitive sports for simulation training” by Lei Chen
- “The Application of Virtual Reality Technology in Gymnastics Movement Simulation” by Miao Feng