Cant’ pass to your right but don’t have a buddy to practice with? Enter the ShadowBall Pro – the world’s first size 5 rugby ball that can be passed and caught independently of a training partner.
Big chunks of meat happy to bludgeon their way through the opposition we have in abundance here in SA. Highly skilled players who can pass both ways are less abundant. Perhaps this “half a rugby ball” and newly-developed training drills could give local players that extra competitive edge?
Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Human Performance Sciences (CHPS), which focuses on the interdisciplinary study of human performance in sport, dance, exercise and other physical activities, has teamed up with the creators of a training aid called the ShadowBall to help improve the basic passing, catching and kicking skills of rugby players.
This ball enables solo practice anywhere, anytime, unsupervised, and without the need for a training partner. This means players can work on passing and catching techniques and improve some of their visual skills for rugby in their own time at their own pace.
The ShadowBall was created by Johannesburg-based sports scientists, but the concept of a rebounding oval ball was first developed for American Football. The ball was reshaped for rugby by Gary Crookes after finding the PassBack American FootBall on the internet.
“The ShadowBall Pro is the world’s first size 5 rugby ball that can be passed and caught independently of a training partner. All that the player needs is a flat rebounding surface, such as a wall. The ShadowBall Pro is engineered to rebound and come spiralling back to the passer,” explains Grant van Velden, Sport Vision and Decision Making specialist at the CHPS.
Van Velden says the distinct characteristic of the ShadowBall is that it looks like “half a rugby ball”, something that at first glance gave many coaches and players doubt about its value. “However, we saw its potential as a training aid and an innovative approach to practising the passing and catching skills of the Maties Rugby players as they prepared for the Varsity Cup and Varsity Sports 7’s competitions.”
After experimenting with a few different training drills, Van Velden helped design the “ShadowBall Handbook” which contains a number of different training drills. The Handbook is a result of a detailed study performed by the Centre, working with the ShadowBall sports science team. “Drills with names like ‘Hooker Hold’Em’, ‘Scrummie Shuttle’, and ‘Kick Backs’ were all designed to help improve the basic passing, catching and kicking skills of rugby players, with the added benefit that they would challenge the rugby player’s visual skills of eye-hand coordination, anticipation timing and reaction time.
“The development of these visual skills is crucial for the overall development of a rugby player. It is great to now have a practical training aid that we can use to help improve the basic skills of the rugby players in South Africa,” Van Velden says.
According to Prof Liz Bressan, Director of the CHPS, her team has used the ShadowBall during training sessions with a number of prominent rugby players, among them a few Stormers backline stars – Juan de Jongh, Cheslin Kolbe, Gio Aplon, Louis Schreuder and Dewaldt Duvenhage and most recently the SARU Boland Rugby Academy in Wellington.