Research

Virtual playing pitch to help Ulster rugby heroes

Virtual playing pitch to help Ulster rugby heroes

Professor Cathy Craig from the School of Psychology demonstrates the new virtual reality playing pitch to help improve Ulster Rugby's tackling technique. Pictured with Chris Colvin from the Queen’s Rugby Team and a second year psychology student.

Ulster’s rugby stars, with the help of Queen’s School of Psychology, have been taking part in an exciting new virtual reality project to help improve their tackling technique.

The project, developed by Professor of Psychology Cathy Craig, uses virtual reality to understand how expert players deal with deceptive movement on the field of play.

Collaborating with Dr Seb Brault, Dr Benoit Bideau and Dr Richard Kulpa from the University of Rennes 2, Professor Craig has spent the past two years on the project, enlisting the help of players from the French National League and the heroes of Ulster rugby.

She explains: “In both the natural and the sporting world, the movement of the body is used to deceive. Whether it’s a lion chasing a zebra or a defender trying to catch an attacker on a rugby pitch, deceptive movement helps to gain a competitive advantage and beat an opponent.

“The side-step in rugby is an excellent example of how an attacker uses the movement of the body to trick a defender into thinking they’re going in one direction when they really intend to go in the opposite direction.”

In her new Movement Innovation Lab at the PEC at Queen’s, she has now created her own virtual rugby stadium, using computer simulations of real-time action on the pitch.

Both professionals and novice players have been taking part. Professor Craig continued: “It’s fair to say that the top players are less easy to fool. The less experienced players are more likely to be taken in by deceptive movement but the professionals focus on what we call honest signals – what the opposing player’s body is doing, rather than the clever footwork.”

She added: “Our findings in this latest research suggest that what a player wears could make a difference. Colour could have an effect. For example a team that wears an all-black strip but fluorescent boots, could attract attention away from the honest signals – i.e. the pelvis area and towards the deceptive signals – i.e. the placement of the foot.”

Professor Craig is an international specialist in the study of movement and perception. Before coming to Queen’s she spent eight years at the Sports Science Faculty at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille where she worked on research involving players from top football clubs such as Marseille and AC Milan. She also plays rugby herself – she is a fly half - and has represented Ulster.

This work is part of a much larger project – funded by a prestigious European Research Council starting independent researchers’ grant – that aims to understand how perceptual information picked up by the brain is used to guide action.

The work has just been published in PLoS ONE, an open access scientific journal.

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