• 27 September 2017
  • 2 min read

The way rugby players pick up and place a ball significantly improves if players make a small change, according to research.

Bringing the ball closer to the body speeds up the body’s turn at the waist and improves the speed of a ball pick up and place move by up to 18 per cent.

Dr David Sanders, an expert in automation and robotics in the University of Portsmouth’s Faculty of Technology – and a big rugby fan – used robotic arms to test and develop the new ‘rules’.

His research is published in the journal Sports Science & Coaching.

He said: “Methods for picking up and placing the ball are not usually considered by rugby coaches and, even when they do look at it, the focus is more on how the player passes the ball, rather than on how they pick it up and hand it away.

“Picking and placing need to be considered differently, in a class of their own.

Methods for picking up and placing the ball are not usually considered by rugby coaches and, even when they do look at it, the focus is more on how the player passes the ball, rather than on how they pick it up and hand it away.

Dr David Sanders, School of Engineering

“I wanted to find a way of improving performance and technical play. Picking up a ball and placing it into the hands of another player is entirely different to throwing a ball. The difference is simple but critical, and it’s been ignored by coaches and researchers, despite all the evidence of other moves in ball sports having been proven to improve performance.”

He found the speed at which the waist can rotate is improved if the ball is brought close to the body with bent arms, before the player pushes out and straightens their arms as they hand off the ball. This small change brings big benefit because, as the centre of mass (the torso, arms and ball) moves towards the centre of rotation (the waist), the rotational velocity increases.

I wanted to find a way of improving performance and technical play. Picking up a ball and placing it into the hands of another player is entirely different to throwing a ball. The difference is simple but critical.

Dr David Sanders, School of Engineering

A scrum, lineout, ruck or maul happens about every 30-40 seconds during a game of rugby and it is during these activities that the picking up and placing move becomes important.

The move is especially important when these often set-piece-moves do not go to plan because they are interrupted by the opposition. Placement needs to happen as quickly as possible, before a player is tackled, ball captured, play brought to a stand-still and/or a scrum results.

Dr Sanders tested various rules using a robotic arm and, when the adjustments were refined, tested them on 93 rugby union players, men and women aged 17-50.

A second’s advantage can mean the difference between winning and losing at elite level, but even in non-elite sports, polishing and refining techniques to make them better, faster and more effective is always worth the effort.

Dr David Sanders, School of Engineering

By using the new rules, the speed of the movement for some players went from 0.74 seconds using traditional method of picking up and passing, to 0.63 seconds, an increase of 17.5 per cent.

Dr Sanders said: “A second’s advantage can mean the difference between winning and losing at elite level, but even in non-elite sports, polishing and refining techniques to make them better, faster and more effective is always worth the effort.”

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