Our story begins with a husband and wife.
He’s good with computers, and she has a passion for volleyball. You’d be forgiven if you assumed that they didn’t spend much quality time together.
But Brian and Sanci Hall figured out a way to combine competitive sports and simulation software to create a commercially viable business model.
The Newport News couple are the creators of VolleySim, a virtual volleyball training app that helps players and coaches “visualize specific decision-making aspects of the game.”
How did two people, who first met while serving with the U.S. Army in Baghdad’s Green Zone, become the owners and designers of a sports training app?
It all started when Sanci, a coach for the Peninsula Juniors Volleyball Club, “dragged her poor husband to volleyball games.”
Brian sat in the bleachers. He watched the matches. He asked questions: Why does the libero – a defensive player – always get the balls that are hit at her? How do you teach that skill?
Sanci, who played volleyball in high school and college, answered him. She said that the player was reading the hitter, watching her hips, hands, shoulders. She was looking at the angle of her opponent’s approach and how the ball was being set. She told him that teaching the reading of other players is really hard. It takes time and lots of experience on the court.
Brian didn’t agree with the last part of that sentence.
The thing about Brian was that he wasn’t watching the game as a simple spectator. He was watching it as a man with a computer science degree from William & Mary and years of U.S. Army artillery and training expertise.
He was watching it as a virtual training scenario developer who takes first-person simulators and repurposes the technology for training soldiers.
“I’ve been really immersed in the idea of teaching things to people quickly and efficiently in a first-person view that replicates what they are about to see,” Brian said.
Part of his work involved designing programs that helped soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan identify potential improvised explosive device threats. Teenage girls blocking, spiking and setting shots on a volleyball court couldn’t be farther away from a war-torn city in the Middle East, but Brian found the connection.
“I realized there were some significant similarities between recognizing certain IED patterns on the ground to reading the tells of a volleyball player just like you would in poker,” Brian said. “We should be able to do this on a mobile device to be able to train anywhere at any time.”
Sanci was skeptical at first, but Brian was able to change her mind.