This just in, a great article written by from the the Stellenbosch University CHPS. Read a direct quote below or click this link to be redirected to the University’s article on their website

When it comes to rugby, South Africa is already world-class, but now “half a rugby ball” and newly-developed training drills could give local players that extra competitive edge to remain in top form, says Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Human Performance Sciences (CHPS) .

The Centre, 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 Pro and the ShadowBall Play were created by sports scientists from a Johannesburg-based company named ShadowBall.  The concept of a rebounding oval ball was first developed for American Football  as the Passback FootBall. The ball was improved and reshaped for rugby by Gary Crookes, a Sports Innovation Entrepreneur and manager of the ShadowBall Sports Science Team .

“The ShadowBall Pro is the world’s first size 5 rugby ball that can be passed and caught independently of a training partner. All 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 7s 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.

Bressan says they plan on including the ShadowBall in community rugby projects, which will target the youth. “These projects are still in the pipeline, but will hopefully be delivered by the end of 2014.”

Van Velden says product improvement is also important, so as they expose the ShadowBall and the training drills to more rugby players, they receive vital feedback which helps them to improve the drills even more.

  • For more information please contact Prof Liz Bressan, Director: Centre for Human Performance Sciences, at tel: 021 808 4682, e-mail:, Grant van Velden on or Shadowball team on .
  • On the web:​​​
  • Photos: SARU Boland Rugby Academy players are put through their paces.