Case Study: DHL Stormers

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DHL Stormers

South African professional rugby team, the DHL Stormers, use the NordBord and ForceDecks to test and monitor players, as well as collect normative data of their everyday training programs.


Based in Cape Town and competing in the transnational United Rugby Championship, which features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa, the Stormers use VALD systems to test and monitor players as part of their everyday training programs.​

Nico de Villiers is one of the club’s strength and conditioning coaches and helps oversee an extended squad of up to 50 players, including several full South African internationals. His department uses ForceDecks and the NordBord to assess and monitor players in both the high performance and rehabilitation environments, and to collect and analyse normative data used to create baselines for players.​

In this case study, de Villiers explains how the Stormers use the NordBord and ForceDecks as part of their training and rehabilitation, as well as to test strength asymmetries and capture  objective data aimed at helping players return from injuries in optimal condition.

Herschel Jantjies using ForceDecks (supplied)
Herschel Jantjies using ForceDecks (supplied)

Hamstring testing with the NordBord

With hamstring injuries being a common occurrence in professional rugby, the Stormers use the NordBord Hamstring System not only to test overall hamstring strength but also to measure asymmetries.

“We assess our squad’s eccentric hamstring strength capabilities and see if there are any glaring weaknesses based on normative data or our in-house Z-scores,” de Villiers explained.

“Players who have a significantly lower score than their peers, and who show some weakness in other hamstring assessment like a Single Leg Bridge, will have some intervention to address those strength issues,” he added.

De Villiers says that while it’s not unusual for each individual to have differing hamstring strengths, the NordBord helps capture objective data used to measure significant asymmetries that require intervention from trainers.

“If a player has very strong eccentric strength scores in both legs, but are not equally strong on both sides, we’re not too concerned about it.”

We start taking note of asymmetry above 15 percent and will only really address this if the weaker side is also weak compared to normative data,” de Villiers said.

The Stormers also use the NordBord to collect longitudinal data in a bid to measure the baseline and get injured players back on the park in optimal physical conditions.

“We also use the NordBord to help in the rehabilitation of players who are coming back from injuries to get their eccentric strength scores back to pre-injury baselines or better,” de Villiers said.

Measuring strength and jumps with ForceDecks

Along with the NordBord, the Stormers also use the ForceDecks Dual Force Plate System to test players’ force-generating abilities and to help aid their recovery from injuries.

“We use ForceDecks in both the performance and the rehabilitation setting,” De Villiers said.

“In the performance setting, we will assess all our players’ force-generating capabilities with and without time constraints. This helps us prescribe and tailor training intervention to both enhance their strengths, and to mitigate certain weaknesses within their power profiles.”

Sazi Sandi performing an isometric mid-thigh pull (IMTP) on the ForceDecks.

Sazi Sandi performing an isometric mid-thigh pull (IMTP) on the ForceDecks.

Capturing objective data across an entire squad also allows the Stormers to use the measurements to assess how players are performing on the back of training and playing games at the highest level.

“With ForceDecks accurately measuring various metrics during Countermovement Jumps, we also use the plates as a fatigue-monitoring tool during the season to see how our players respond to load and whether there is any residual fatigue 72 hours after a game,” de Villiers explained.

ForceDecks Vision
ForceDecks Vision

Creating baselines to inform injury rehabilitation

“The rehab setting is probably where we use ForceDecks the most,” de Villiers explained.

“Not only is it very useful to assess whether a player is back to pre-injury baseline power and strength scores, but also to highlight specific areas of asymmetric deficit.

“Whether it is concentric force production, eccentric velocity, Rate of Force Development or dipping depth in a jump, we can have much more specific interventions to prepare the player as they get closer to stepping back onto the field,” he said.

De Villiers says the more objective data his strength and conditioning department collects, the better it is for creating baselines and tracking player performance over time.

“I believe you only really know what data is telling you once you have enough of it to make correlations and comparisons within the group, and between on-field key performance indicators and the data we get from technology like our VALD systems.”

Why the Stormers invested in VALD technology

“With the Stormers switching to the Northern Hemisphere’s United Rugby Championship in the midst of a global pandemic, the team’s strength and conditioning department invested in VALD technology to help better anticipate potential injury concerns.

“I think what attracted us to the NordBord was the research that was done on it that showed some good correlation between eccentric hamstring strength and injury reduction, “de Villiers said.

“With our players coming back after a significant lockdown period during the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we’d have some challenges with soft tissue injuries. To help us to make decisions around training and intervention, we invested in the NordBord to help us with the process during that period.”

“A good Nordic score is not the be-all and end-all of hamstring injury prevention – we don’t make all our decisions based on it – but it’s still a handy tool to have when we don’t see our players for a while, such as when they have time off, or they’re on tour, or when we get new recruits into our system.”

The Stormers use ForceDecks in a similar fashion, measuring force generation on the plates and collecting normative data as a means of ensuring their players are ready to return to action.

“The reason we invested in ForceDecks was actually to help us make better decisions concerning our rehabilitating players' return to play, and to give us more objective data points as they move through each phase of their recovery.”

Seabelo Senatla using ForceDecks (supplied)
Seabelo Senatla using ForceDecks (supplied)

What a typical player assessment looks like

For players returning from an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury – one of the most impactful injuries in professional sport – de Villiers says the Stormers typically focus on five key measurements captured by the ForceDecks.

Five key measurements captured using ForceDecks for the Stormers
Five key measurements captured using ForceDecks for the Stormers

“During the initial phase, a player will only be able to do limited isometric strength exercises,” de Villiers said.

“At the end of the phase, we can assess the player’s isometric strength either through an Isometric Mid-Thigh Pull, an Isometric Squat or single variations of the two.”

“If we are happy with the progression, more concentric strength work is introduced, and the player’s Rate of Force Development becomes the focal point.”

“Using the same test as before, we can now assess how much force a player can produce at 100 milliseconds, 150 milliseconds or 200 milliseconds, or how long it takes to produce maximal force.”

“Once the ability to produce forces at higher rates is starting to return, we can progress to more dynamic work like a Countermovement Jump, which will address the elastic properties of the injured limb.”

De Villiers says that once a player progresses to performing Countermovement Jumps on the ForceDecks, the Stormers can then start to measure how quickly they are improving.

“Countermovement Jumps give us a lot of feedback and data points,” de Villiers said.

“Asymmetries in concentric impulse or eccentric deceleration Rate of Force Development help us to provide more specific interventions in our rehabilitation programs.”

“When the player shows proficiency in Countermovement Jumps, we can start assessing in more detail the limb asymmetry and scope of improvement within each jump.”

“The last step will be to assess the reactive abilities of the injured limb and Single Leg Drop Jumps are used to regularly assess that. The asymmetry in the reactive ability is something that lingers for a while and is difficult to overcome.”

Creating a test battery using ForceDecks

For the Stormers, a typical test battery using ForceDecks consists of the following:

Typical battery of tests used by the DHL Stormers for ForceDecks.
Typical battery of tests used by the DHL Stormers for ForceDecks.
“We will also assess Single Leg Countermovement Jumps just to get some baseline data and normative values for the future. Plus we’ll do an isometric seated plantar flexion to assess calf strength.”

Objective data as a motivational tool

With competition for places in the starting side high and players eager to recover from injury concerns in a timely manner, de Villiers says the objective data captured by VALD systems can be a powerful motivational tool.

“I think it’s important to create buy-in from players, especially in the rehabilitation environment,” he said.

“If we can present objective data to the player and show them where there are still weaknesses and why we can’t move on in the process, you often get better buy-in from them.”

De Villiers says the data can also be used to show injured players their recovery is progressing as expected.

“Often, the data can give a player the confidence to move on to something more challenging.”

“If I can show a player that his isometric strength is back to 90 percent or that his isometric Single Leg strength is similar to a non-injured player, it can provide them with enough confidence to return to action where they might have been sceptical before.”

De Villiers says it’s key for players to feel empowered by the data captured by human measurement technologies like the NordBord and ForceDecks, rather than intimidated.

“It’s important to make the players feel confident about the data and not use the information to scare them,” he explained.

“We use the data to encourage, educate and explain – but never to scare or put doubt about a player’s ability into their minds.”

How VALD technology can help other clubs

With the NordBord and ForceDecks now successfully integrated into the Stormers’ everyday training and rehabilitation programs, de Villiers says professional clubs looking to invest in new technology should consider four key factors.

De Villiers says the systems should:

  1. Save high-performance professionals time.
  2. Save clubs money.
  3. Generate objective insights.
  4. Help solve challenges in performance and rehab.

Streamlining to save time and money

“Ultimately you want your technology to make life easier for you and help you to take time-consuming activities and make them more streamlined,” de Villiers said.

“Often as strength and conditioning coaches, we are deprived of time and are already stretched thin with our daily tasks.”

De Villiers says clubs like the Stormers are desperate to keep their best players on the park – making injury prevention a key focus.

“One of the greatest costs to professional sporting teams are injured players who are not on the field,” de Villiers explained.

“If you can keep the bulk of your squad on the field and the club doesn’t have to pay for players that are in rehabilitation all the time, you are ultimately saving money.”

“As difficult as it is to prevent injuries, if you have access to the right data around your players, you can intervene more effectively and hopefully design some injury-mitigation strategies,” he added.

If you would like to learn more about how your organization could benefit from VALD technologies, please get in touch.


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