Using Video Games to Coach Football

A generation of football players has grown up playing the John Madden video game. Now coaches can use the game's technology as a teaching tool.

XOS Technologies, a Florida-based company that specializes in sport technology, has signed a licensing deal with Electronic Arts that allows it access to the technology behind EA's football video games to develop a training simulation for pro and college teams.

"We believe it can definitely change the way athletes learn about the sport," said Steve Chiang, general manager of EA Tiburon, the Florida studio where the Madden game is developed.

XOS (pronounced X-oes) already has software to take playbooks from the printed page to the computer in a 2-D version. Using the 3-D video game technology to make that come to life was the next logical step.

The technology allows coaches to create a 3-D playbook and players to run those plays via a laptop in a video game simulated environment.

A third system provides a virtual reality experience.

The XOS product allows players to play the game from their own position. Plus the playbook can be customized to the particular team's needs.

"The feedback's phenomenal," explained Dan Aton, XOS co-founder and chief innovation officer. "Coaches really see the advantage of taking something that virtually all of their players do anyway in their off time and really making that a learning experience."

The University of Tennessee is the first to use the new XOS product.

Now instead of having to use video of actual plays, coaches can create their own virtual situations and challenges "but still have it feel very realistic to the player and to be very interactive which is something that the video didn't allow us to do," Aton said.

Coaches can create "a full instructional experience where stop points can be set, you can quiz players and can ask them to read defences or pick up blitzes of whatever it might be that that coach wants to accomplish with his players."

"From the players perspective, it would look very much like (EA Sports') NCAA football or Madden on the PC version," he added.

Essentially, XOS takes a custom game plan, plays and scenarios and uses the EA technology to render it.

The virtual world also allows players from every position to see how they feature in a play - something coaches often don't have the time to do on the practice field.

XOS plans other products to enhance the "player experience," including a virtual reality simulator - using a head-mounted system and data from a 3-D motion capture lab, via a special studio set up at practice facilities.

The company declined to detail pricing.

XOS currently boasts more than 480 clients representing more than 900 teams in the NFL, CFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA and other leagues.

While Aton sees football as the most logical sport to use the video game technology to animate their playbooks, he says others are watching closely.

"Certainly the teams and coaches we've shown it to outside of football are extremely excited about it and are very eager to get a version for their particular sport," he said.

The bulk of XOS' business is offering tools and other products to help coaches on and off the field, from preparing game plans to helping recruit and scout talent. The other side involves helping teams interact with their fans through tickets, merchandise, audio and video.

Rob Moore, EA Tiburon's chief technical officer, said coaches started approaching XOS because they noticed their players were spending more time on Madden and less time watching film.

Light bulbs went off. It was soon evident that the coaches also liked the customization potential of the product.

"Coaches are very interested in setting up particular situations and having their players recognise what's going on," Moore said.

Moore hopes feedback from the coaches and players will help improve future versions of the game.

"There's a lot we can learn from them," he said. "And on the other side, XOS can benefit from some of the technology changes we make as well."

Notes: It's not the first time EA has used its expertise outside the game world. Monday Night Football, for example, used the Madden technology to illustrate plays ... EA and XOS are using a third-party developer, Budcat Creations, to help support XOS.

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