Ghafoer is currently the Head strength and conditioning coach for the SA 7s Team. Previous teams he’s been involved with are The Vodacom Bulls (Super rugby 2017/2018), 2010 Varsity Cup Champs Tuks as well as SWD Eagles. He worked closely with John Mitchell and Pote Human at his time with the Bulls, gaining valuable experience within a world-class high-performance structure and system. He is also an ex-provincial rugby player with caps at a senior level with SWD Eagles, Western Province, and Leopards.
rugbyscsa: What was your pathway to be where you are today (Studies, work experience, etc.)?
GL: I completed my undergrad and post-grad degrees in Sports Science at The University of the Western Cape in 2006 and 2009 respectively. I didn’t work immediately in the field because I played a few seasons of professional rugby but between graduating and my first real job as a Strength and Conditioning coach I did a lot of smaller jobs for clubs like SK/Walmer and False Bay academy.
In 2013 I was playing for the SWD Eagles when SARU opened up an academy in George. I applied for the S&C post and was lucky enough to get the job. I was also later appointed as the S&C for the SWD Eagles
In 2015 I got offered a job at the Blue Bulls and worked mostly with the u21 and Supersport challenge teams. Later on, I was fortunate enough to work with John Mitchel as one of the Strength and Conditioning coaches for the Super rugby team.
In 2018, I applied for the vacant Springbok 7s post and was blessed to get the job. I am currently in my second season with the team and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.
rugbyscsa: Who were the major mentors you have learned from along the way?
GL: I have to mention Johan Lerm, Deon Davids and the late Johan Prinsloo who played a huge role in giving me my first opportunity as a Strength and conditioning coach, they believed in my ability and provided me with opportunities to upskill myself.
During my time as a student and WP u21 player, Stephan Du Toit was our S&C and working with him made me want to pursue a career in High-performance sport.
Another mentor who’s been influential in my career is Dr. Warren Adams. I was fortunate enough to assist him with the Junior national teams and by doing this I learned a lot and gained valuable experience.
rugbyscsa: What, to you, are non-negotiable (and why) for any rugby conditioning program?
GL: When I plan or design a program, my main focus is ensuring that it improves players’ overall athletic ability and compliments his rugby skills. For me, a player must be strong relative to his body weight, fit and be able to move
Strength: it is important to build a good hypertrophy and strength base, preferably during the pre-season, as this provides a good foundation for more specific qualities such as speed and explosive power and builds robustness.
Conditioning: During the pre-season, most of my conditioning programs are aimed at improving the aerobic energy system. In saying this I don’t completely neglect the anaerobic energy system but I feel there is plenty of time to develop this during our intense rugby sessions and during some power sessions in the gym. Some of the benefits of developing the aerobic system include improved ability to perform more high-intensity efforts during a match and the ability to recover more efficiently from session to session which is very important in 7’s. I’m also a big fan of conditioning games and I believe the majority of conditioning programs during the in-season should integrate the physical, tactical and technical aspects of rugby and not be done apart.
Movement: This includes running mechanics, speed (acceleration, deceleration, top speed) and agility programs as well as including prehab sessions daily to improve the athlete’s ability to move more efficiently and decrease the chance of injury.
rugbyscsa: What are some of the most common mistakes you see in rugby conditioning?
GL: I feel too often we gym like bodybuilders by training muscles and not the movement. I’m not saying there’s no place for it but it shouldn’t be the main focus of the program. Another misconception I see is players or trainers thinking that every session should completely exhaust the athlete, leaving them gasping for air or puking. The timing, volume, intensity, and frequency should be considered when planning your sessions.
rugbyscsa: You have work with various rugby teams and aged groups throughout your career, how would your periodization method differ based on the training aged of the players you work with?
GL: When working with developing players which were the case at the academy in George, the main focus was to teach the players the basics and fundamental movement patterns. We had a relatively long pre-season so I could build a good foundation with blocks of hypertrophy and strength work in the gym before moving on to more dynamic power and plyometrics
On the other end, working with Super rugby players we don’t have much of a pre-season so the undulating periodization approach was more suitable. The group of players I worked with also had a higher training age so they could handle the training stress.
rugbyscsa: In your experience of working with the SA men’s sevens team for a couple of seasons, what are some of the fundamental differences between elite 7’s program & 15’s regarding S&C requirements
GL: I would say with 15’s S&C you provide players with programs based on their positional requirements. For example, a props gym program would differ from an outside backs program. With 7s every player needs to have a balance and a good level of Strength, Power, Speed, and Conditioning.
With regards to the force-velocity curve, a higher percentage is spent on max strength and strength-speed in the gym with the 15’s players except for maybe the outside backs and with 7’s we spend more time on Power and speed-strength end.
From a conditioning perspective, 7s players are exposed to a high percentage of high-speed running during training and matches compared to their 15’s counterparts therefore conditioning and rugby sessions are aimed at achieving this.
rugbyscsa: What do you want to see in an aspiring S&C coach resume (qualification, skills, experience, ability’s, interns, etc.)
GL: In my opinion, an S&C coach should at least have a degree in sports and exercise science and it also helps to have a good understanding of the game. I’ve found being an ex-player helped me with this but it doesn’t mean you are not going to be a good S&C if you didn’t play the game. Work experience is also very useful. You could have the highest degree but it would count for very little if you haven’t worked in a gym or on the field with players or a team.
Above all, I think the most important attribute of being a good S&C coach is your ability to build relationships with people. A good player-coach relationship is invaluable.
rugbyscsa: What are some of the biggest mistakes you have made?
GL: Early on in my career I would program hop too often, trying to keep the players interested by changing things up every week. Adding a fancy exercise into the program that no one has seen or done before.
These days I find being consistent and doing the basics really well works best and making small adjustments to the program when results start to plateau
rugbyscsa: What are your current go-to resources for educating yourself?
GL: My main source for educating myself is through networking with fellow S&C’s I’ve met throughout my career. Being on the 7’s circuit and traveling often, living in the same hotels as the other teams, you build relationships with the S&C’s of those teams. We chat often, sharing ideas and experiences. I’ve also had the privilege to work with some pretty good S&C’s at the Bulls and at SAS, where the SA 7’s team is based, so I’m always keen to learn from them.