A new soccer training facility in Langley allows players to work on their skills indoors, using a robotic trainer that can fire ball after ball, faster than any human.
It uses the TOCA Touch Trainer, a computer-controlled machine developed by a California company that fires multiple balls at speeds of up to 50 miles and hour in rapid succession.
It provides an indoor training experience that is as close to the real thing as a player can get without setting foot on a field, according to USC CEO and co-founderAlexander Elliott.
“It’s really like a video game come to life,” Elliott commented.
He would know.
Elliott is a former Vancouver Whitecaps and Team Canada soccer player, who most recently played for the German Club Sportfreunde Siegen.
After retiring in 2012, Elliott went on to become head coach of the men’s soccer team at Capilano University and assistant coach of the U15 Whitecaps FC team.
As deployed by USC. the TOCA system can provide four or five virtual opponents and teammates, and can run a sequence hundreds of times to allow a player to work on their weak points.
According to the manufacturer, TOCA is an trainer that has no personality, and therefore no emotion that might disrupt a practice.
Elliott is careful to add the system is no substitute for on-field training with real, live players and a coach.
“We are an [addition to training] not a replacement,” Elliott cautioned.
When the first USC centre opened in North Vancouver a year-and-a-half ago, people came from as far away as Langley, Coquitlam and Surrey to practice, Elliott said.
Now, they have less of a trip.
Elliott describes the Langley facility as a place “where soccer culture and technology meet.”
Elliott observed that in a typical 90-minute soccer practice, players only get a few minutes of ball time, about six minutes on average, and about 30 drills where they run through different on filed scenarios.
With the TOCA machine, those numbers take a big jump.
A player can go through as man as 400 situational repetitions and game situations, everything from receiving and passing, receiving and shooting, cutting out a pass and securing a pass, to cutting out a pass and beating a player.