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The efficacy of virtual reality in professional soccer

Greenhough, Benjamin


Benjamin Greenhough



Professional soccer clubs have taken an interest to virtual reality, however, only a paucity of evidence exists to support its use in the soccer training ground environment. Further, several soccer virtual reality companies have begun providing solutions to teams, claiming to test specific characteristics of players, yet supportive evidence for certain measurement properties remain absent from the literature. The aims of this thesis were to explore the efficacy of virtual reality being used in the professional football training ground environment. To do so, this thesis looked to explore the fundamental measurement properties of soccer specific virtual reality tests, along with the perceptions of professional coaches, backroom staff, and players that could use virtual reality.
The first research study (Chapter 3) aimed to quantify the learning effect during familiarisation trials of a soccer-specific virtual reality task. Thirty-four professional soccer players age, stature, and body mass: mean (SD) 20 (3.4) years; 180 (7) cm; 79 (8) kg, participated in six trials of a virtual reality soccer passing task. The task required participants to receive and pass 30 virtual soccer balls into highlighted mini-goals that surrounded the participant. The number of successful passes were recorded in each trial. The one-sided Bayesian paired samples t-test indicated very strong evidence in favour of the alternative hypothesis (H1)(BF10 = 46.5, d = 0.56 [95% CI = 0.2 to 0.92]) for improvements in total goals scored between trial 1: 13.6 (3.3) and trial 2: 16 (3.3). Further, the Bayesian paired-samples equivalence t-tests indicated strong evidence in favour of H1 (BF10 = 10.2, d = 0.24 [95% CI = -0.09 to 0.57]) for equivalence between trial 4: 16.7 (3.7) and trial 5: 18.2 (4.7); extreme evidence in favour of H1 (BF10 = 132, d = -0.02 [95% CI = -0.34 to 0.30]) for equivalence between trials 5 and 6: 18.1 (3.5); and moderate evidence in favour of H1 (BF10 = 8.4, d = 0.26 [95% CI = -0.08 to 0.59]) for equivalence between trials 4 and 6. Sufficient evidence indicated that a learning effect took place between the first two trials, and that up to five trials might be necessary for performance to plateau in a specific virtual reality soccer passing task.
The second research study (Chapter 4) aimed to assess the validity of a soccer passing task by comparing passing ability between virtual reality and real-world conditions. A previously validated soccer passing test was replicated into a virtual reality environment. Twenty-nine soccer players participated in the study which required them to complete as many passes as possible between two rebound boards within 45 s. Counterbalancing determined the condition order, and then for each condition, participants completed four familiarisation trials and two recorded trials, with the best score being used for analysis. Sense of presence and fidelity were also assessed via questionnaires to understand how representative the virtual environments were compared to the real-world. Results showed that between conditions a difference was observed (EMM = -3.9, 95% HDI = -5.1 to -2.7) with the number of passes being greater in the real-world (EMM = 19.7, 95% HDI = 18.6 to 20.7) than in virtual reality (EMM = 15.7, 95% HDI = 14.7 to 16.8). Further, several subjective differences for fidelity between the two conditions were reported, notably the ability to control the ball in virtual reality which was suggested to have been more difficult than in the real-world.
The last research study (Chapter 5) aimed to compare and quantify the perceptions of virtual reality use in soccer, and to model behavioural intentions to use this technology. This study surveyed the perceptions of coaches, support staff, and players in relation to their knowledge, expectations, influences, and barriers of using virtual reality via an internet-based questionnaire. To model behavioural intention, modified questions and constructs from the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology were used, and the model was analysed through partial least squares structural equation modelling. Respondents represented coaches and support staff (n = 134) and players (n = 64). All respondents generally agreed that virtual reality should be used to improve tactical awareness and cognition, with its use primarily in performance analysis and rehabilitation settings. Generally, coaches and support staff agreed that monetary cost, coach buy-in and limited evidence base were barriers towards its use. In a sub-sample of coaches and support staff without access to virtual reality (n = 123), performance expectancy was the strongest construct in explaining behavioural intention to use virtual reality, followed by facilitating conditions (i.e., barriers) construct which had a negative association with behavioural intention.
This thesis aimed to explore the measurement properties of soccer specific virtual reality tests, and the perceptions of staff and players who might use the technology. The key findings from exploring the measurement properties were (1) evidence of a learning curve, suggesting the need for multiple familiarisation trials before collecting data, and (2) a lack of evidence to support the validity of a virtual reality soccer passing test as evident by a lack of agreement to a real-world equivalent. This finding raises questions on the suitability for virtual reality being used to measure passing skill related performance. The key findings from investigating the perceptions of users included, using the technology to improve cognition and tactical awareness, and using it in rehabilitation and performance analysis settings. Future intention to use was generally positive, and driven by performance related factors, yet several barriers exist that may prevent its widespread use.
In Chapter 7 of the thesis, a reflective account is presented for the reader, detailing some of the interactions made with coaches, support staff and players in relation to the personal, moral, and ethical challenges faced as a practitioner-researcher, working and studying, respectively, in a professional soccer club.


Greenhough, B. (2024). The efficacy of virtual reality in professional soccer. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jan 5, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jan 18, 2024
Keywords Sports science
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science
University of Hull
Award Date Jan 5, 2024


Thesis (12.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2023 Benjamin Thomas Greenhough.

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