It was November 28th, 2015. We were down by one point to #6 Notre Dame with six seconds left in the game. As I jogged out to the center of the field to attempt a 45-yard field goal, I could feel every person in the stadium staring at me—a red sea of 50,000 people cheering, watching, and hoping that I would win the game for our team.
As I lined up for the kick, the stadium lights felt like a spotlight highlighting my every movement. But as I looked up to the uprights and took a deep breath, I felt a wave of calmness wash over me. I knew I could do this; I had done it before. In fact, I had done it at least a thousand times before—in virtual reality.
My name is Conrad Ukropina. I was a kicker for Stanford’s football team from 2013-2016. During my tenure, we won 53 games total, three PAC-12 Championships, and appeared in five post-season bowl games, securing two Rose Bowl victories.
I now work in business development at STRIVR. Every day, I talk to companies and athletic teams about how STRIVR can help their people retain more information, improve decision-making, and get extra repetitions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I love what I do because I really believe in our product and our ability to make people better. I know I seem biased, but I am proof—I experienced STRIVR’s impact firsthand while a kicker at Stanford. And it led to one of the biggest moments of my life.
I came to Stanford as a preferred walk-on and spent three years as the backup kicker. Even though the role of backup was not easy, I had trained diligently, waiting for my opportunity—working meticulously on my technique and form, following a regimented strength program, and taking care of my body. Despite being second-string, I knew that someday I would get an opportunity, and when I did, I didn’t want to leave anything up to chance. I wanted to be ready to seize the starting role.
After years of mentally and physically preparing, the opportunity came—I would get the start in our 2015 Spring Game, which is often a good indicator of how the lineup will play out for the upcoming fall season. A strong performance in this game would secure my status as the starter. This was my chance.
But the Spring Game didn’t exactly go as I had hoped; in fact, it went the opposite. I had the worst day of kicking in my entire life. I missed every single one of my field goal attempts. Three attempts. Three misses. Pretty much the worst possible outcome for a kicker, especially one competing for a starting position and a scholarship.
There is no other way to sum up that experience other than that I had failed. I failed in front of my teammates, friends, and family. And as disappointed, frustrated, and embarrassed as I was, more than anything I was confused. I thought I had used my time as a backup to prepare for this moment. I thought I was ready. How was I so wrong?
After that game, I spent some time considering what I could be missing, and the answer became clear: I needed more reps. My three years as a backup did not provide me with the experience I needed. What’s more, I could only physically take so many kicks each day without hurting my leg. I had trained hard and felt good, but I realized I just wasn’t fully prepared for the intense mental pressure of lining up a kick when it actually mattered.
That’s when I found STRIVR.
A few weeks after that Spring Game, I began working with STRIVR. The other players on the team had been using it for over a year, dating back to when it was an academic project by my coach, Derek Belch. I figured I would give it a shot too. I had nothing to lose.
There’s a lot of academic research that has confirmed the advantages of learning in an immersive environment. But I have to admit, even with scientific validation, I was initially very skeptical. In the time that I had been playing football, I had heard of so many “groundbreaking innovations” that completely fell flat. Why would this one be any different? And would it actually help me?
The first time I used STRIVR, I was blown away. It was like nothing I had experienced before. When I slid on the headset, I was propelled onto the field, lined up in a kicking position, and was able to relive kick after kick after kick. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t physically on the field. It didn’t matter that it was video. It didn’t matter that I was standing in the football offices. It felt like I was there—on the field, kicking.
I quickly discovered that STRIVR was actually better than watching regular video, looking at pictures, or closing my eyes and visualizing. I could see and live the small details of practice that I couldn’t recreate off the field otherwise. The ball flight and rotation, the distance from the uprights, the angle of my foot hitting the ball—it was all identical to my real-life practice sessions.
Further, I only saw makes. No misses, ever. Over and over again I saw the ball come off my foot and sail through the uprights. In doing so, it felt like I was rewiring my brain to only know what success looked and felt like.
I settled into the routine of using STRIVR for 15 minutes each day. In doing so, I could hone in my technique, lock in an effective preparation routine, and quickly build my confidence—all in a way that preserved my kicking leg. By using STRIVR, I felt like I was getting more off-the-field repetitions than any other kicker in the country.
This is what I needed.
The whistle blew, the snap came, and my instincts took over. I watched as the ball came off my foot and, just like I had seen a thousand times before, sailed through the uprights. I kicked the game winning field goal to beat Notre Dame.
Winning that game was a huge victory for our team, but it was also an enormous personal victory. The years I spent developing and fine-tuning my technique, routine, and regime, and my more recent efforts using STRIVR had all culminated in that moment. In those six seconds, I rewrote my own story—from a backup who went 0-3 to one of the top kickers in the country.
That season I went on to convert 83/85 (97.7%) of my attempts, a Stanford record.
I ended my Stanford career converting 94% of all attempted kicks (154/164), making me the most accurate kicker in Stanford history and breaking eight more Stanford kicking records along the way. I was one of four kickers invited to the NFL Combine, and the only kicker in Combine history to be perfect: I converted 20/20 field goal attempts.
STRIVR helped me be a better football player, but the technology is not unique to kickers, to football, or even to sports generally. From quarterbacks to store managers, from hospitals to manufacturing facilities—any scenario where a person is practicing a skillset—using STRIVR will only make that practice more effective. The mental and physical reaction to experiencing VR, the ability to practice from anywhere, and the opportunity for endless repetitions are all things that are unavailable with any other form of training.
My own experience is just one of many success stories that speak to STRIVR’s ability to have a significant positive impact on human performance. As we continue to take on more customers, we are seeing more and more individuals, teams, and companies have their own success stories—stories that continue to validate our training method as both disruptive and superior to anything else. To say that I am excited to be a part of STRIVR’s mission to empower people to perform at their best would be an incredible understatement.
Because I am living proof that VR training works.
by Conrad Ukropina