The Tulane University football program experienced an incredible turnaround season in 2022. One of the programs that contributed to the team’s success was a new, unconventional initiative to strengthen players’ mental game by practicing in virtual worlds using virtual reality headsets.
Believe to be the first of its kind in college athletics, Patrick Bordnick, Dean of Tulane’s School of Social Work, and a group from the school worked in collaboration with the team’s athletic trainers and implemented a virtual reality-based mindfulness program to improve mental performance and well-being.
According to Bordnick, the VR experience is an “Excellent resource to supplement their sports training. The key to working with elite athletes is that they already have muscle memory and the ability to compete in their sport. At this level, it’s 90% a mental game. Virtual reality helps improve that mental focus.”
The football student-athletes used the Oculus Quest 2 headset 2-5 times per week and during halftime. They watched special videos tailored to their specific needs to improve their performance and concentration. The method worked so well that other Tulane sports teams – including cross-country, volleyball, sailing and baseball — are trying it. Tulane is also building a research project around it.
“For many years, we’ve often thought of training for sports as weight training and practices. Now, we’re getting into the mental side of the game, or mental wellness and focusing on the behavioral health of the student-athletes. We all need to practice self-care, and virtual reality-based mindfulness is a great way to do it. It takes less than 10 minutes per day. We’re here to support our student-athletes and help them become the best people they can be in their respective sports and life,” Bordnick said.
Patrick Bordnick Dean, Tulane University School of Social Work
Bordnick is a pioneer in the use of virtual reality for substance abuse assessment and intervention.