Sunday, April 2, 2017

Train to Reign: Spring Training tips from MLB

  Spring training, particularly before the exhibition games start is my favorite part of the baseball season. The media focuses more on what players did in the off-season to improve. As a preparation coach this is what I love to hear about!

This is my annual Spring Training breakdown of stories that contain plenty of helpful lessons and tips for young athletes. Admittedly, this is their job, they are full grown men and they don't have academic commitments to worry about but there are still plenty of core principles that will serve you no matter what level you currently compete at. 

Be a Good Teammate

  Leadership comes in many forms and one of the most effective ways to build a strong team is to be a good teammate. In a sport with such a high failure rate it's tough to maintain your confidence with all of the inevitable ups and downs over the course of a long season.

If you're a veteran leader or "star player" you have a tremendous opportunity and the platform to make a difference in someone's life. Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals is a champion on the field of play and in the game of life and he goes out of his way to pick up his teammates. It's not surprising with leaders like Wainwright why the Cardinals have sustained a high level of success for well over a decade.


The Power of Sleep

  In the world of sport performance sleep is low hanging fruit! This is not a "talent" or a physical ability but it does require some effort. If you implement a solid sleep routine and make it a habit the payoff is huge!


"We consider sleep to be one of the most important activities we do as human beings. It is while we sleep that peak physical and mental recovery occurs. While this is important to us all, it is imperative in a sport such as baseball, where the players are required to play each and every day."

Brad Pearson, Head Trainer Boston Red Sox

Nutrition-Key Driver of Performance

  Speaking of low-hanging fruit... Nutrition like sleep doesn't require any special skill but you will need to put forth a little effort to make sure it's an asset and not a detractor of performance. You may have to learn a few basic meal prep strategies but it's relatively small investment when compared to the large payoff. 

In the past Major League teams invested little in making sure their athletes had access to food options that fueled optimal performance. But when you consider the man power lost to time on the disabled list the effort to provide quality nutrition is a drop in the bucket relative to all of the salary they pay guys to rehabilitate. I don't think it's a leap to say that a lot of that injury time could have been prevented had guys recovered optimally and nutrition and sleep, are key elements of that.


Players realize the advantage is more than a matter of convenience: You are what you eat. And the better a player fuels his body, especially when his work hours can be so upside-down, the better he'll likely perform.


Verlander Invests in the Future


Some of the things that standout:

Don't dwell on mistakes! Learn from the mistake and then move on, if you allow it to linger it will eat you alive.

Think long term! In order to sustain your skill over the course of long season and career you'll need to take care of business off the field. That means learn/develop a solid arm/body care program that works for you.

All pitchers have unique mind sets, pitches, strengths and weaknesses but there is one thing they should all have in common:

“Most of all, I see the drive to want to be great, which is one of the most important things."

Justin Verlander

Verlander Seeks Improvement

  One of the key traits that sets athletes apart from their peers is the desire to constantly search for areas to improve. Last season Justin Verlander nearly won and maybe should have won the CY Young award in the American League. While he could have been content he wasn't. Verlander looked back over his season and he tweaked things in an attempt to get of to a better start in April and May.

This is very important lesson to learn for all athletes. You can always improve your level of skill. It does require grit and determination not to mention a plan that makes sense. This plan should consider where you are at currently in your stage of development.

During the off-season Verlander talked to trainers, physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, shoulder specialists, as well as doing his own exhaustive research.

Verlander takes bits and pieces of information from all of these professionals and then incorporates what works best for him. At this point in his career Verlander has developed a deep awareness of his unique needs. This is a critical lesson for athletes to learn! Only you know how certain exercises, practice routines, food, and sleep patterns affect you. My advice, develop a performance team to help you gather quality information. Then it's up to you to develop your own self-awareness. Keeping a journal can help, use a small notebook or your phone to take notes on everything! When you review those notes you'll start to notice certain patterns.


Train to Improve and to Maintain What You Have

  Detroit Tiger short-stop Jose Iglesias had a reputation for not being a good teammate, and as a defensive player  he was known for lots of sizzle but no steak.


Iglesias improved his defense in 2016, at least in analytic measurements, significantly. His went from minus-3 to plus-3 in defensive runs saved. According to FanGraphs, his zone rating went from 2.3 to 11.6.

Iglesias took measures this off-season to build off that improvement. 

“Absolutely, agility and quickness are part of my game and I’ve got to keep that,” Iglesias said. “But also, I am working on trying to avoid injury, to be injury-free — that was the goal of my off-season training."

Strength and conditioning for baseball should be multi-faceted.

Iglesias incorporated agility, strength and conditioning training, neuromuscular training, rotational power training and a nutrition program. He also monitored his sleep patterns.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ve got to be careful about what you put into your body. And how hard you train." 

Best Spring Training 2017 Quote:

“Without struggle, there is no progress. Without failure there is no progress.”

Los Angeles Dodgers LHP, Rich Hill

PLAY BALL!

  There is a resounding theme with all of these Spring Training stories. All of the elements discussed are related to behaviors that are well within your control. They don't require any special physical talent or skill. That said they are all essential for maximizing your performance on the field of play and in the game of life.

There are so many thing in the game of baseball that are not within your direct control likes statistics, wins and losses, even playing time. But it should be noticed that all of the results and outcomes tend to take care of themselves if you focus on executing the behaviors that you are able to control.

Happy Baseball 2017!






Sunday, January 29, 2017

Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Journal

For the second issue in a row I was offered the opportunity to write an article for the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society.

My latest article is all about the importance of strength and conditioning for the modern baseball athlete. You can read the full article by clicking the link below.

Why Strength and Conditioning is Essential for the Modern American Baseball Player


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gift ideas for baseball athletes

  If you are looking for last minute gift ideas for your young baseball or softball athletes here are a few moderate to low cost training tools that provide awesome value!

Functional Training Bands
These fit  easily into an equipment bag and can be attached to a fence or post. Great option for core/shoulder stability strength.

I would go with the extra light (purple) or light (magenta) versions. In this case you're using these bands to help develop movement control and not maximum strength. Ideal for teenage athletes.

This week on Instagram I will be sharing videos of my favorite exercises using these bands.

Medicine Balls

Outstanding tool for developing rotational power required for hitting, throwing, pitching and even running the bases (turn and go!). I suggest 4 pounds for middle school athletes and 6 pounds for high school athletes. You don't want to go to heavy here. The emphasis is on efficiency and speed of execution. If the ball is to big/heavy it tends to lead to compensation and poor mechanics.

These are ideal for throwing in to brick walls or up against the fence. Check my Instagram out the 2nd week of January for exercises using med balls. Why January? This is when you'll want to start incorporating these into your offseason training program.

Mini Bands

These are small but pack a powerful training punch. They easily fit into your baseball bag. These bands can be an outstanding tool for conditioning the hips. Hip rotation is an often overlooked quality when it comes to conditioning for baseball. You can use mini bands to help prepare your hips for the rotational demands of playing baseball. I  would go with all 4 resistance options (Light-X Heavy).

I will be posting mini band hip conditioning exercises on Instagram the 3rd week of January. I will give you a few pointers on how to effectively use mini bands.

I just checked and the mini bands and the functional training bands are on sale this week. Just follow the link.

If you haven't started thinking about your off season conditioning plan now would be a good time to start. The three training tools that I listed here are all easy to implement options that will help you perform better on the field and help ensure your durable enough to stay there!





Sunday, November 20, 2016

Is Cross-Fit a good workout for Baseball players?


  Baseball is as competitive as ever and young athletes are always looking for an edge on their competition. One of the ways they seek to do this is with off field strength and conditioning.

This can be a powerful addition to a baseball athlete’s sport performance plan. That said the type of off-field training you choose is very important.

If you choose what’s “trending” in the fitness industry you are not optimizing the potential off-field training has to improve your on-field performance.

For example I frequently get asked what I think about Cross-Fit for young athletes and baseball players.

First, I respect the culture that Cross-Fit creates for it’s members. They do a great job of creating camaraderie and an environment that motivates folks (who might otherwise despise exercise) and encourages them to test their limits. From a programming perspective for the most part they focus on full body movements and not isolationism like bodybuilding, so that’s a plus.

However, there are several things that concern me when applying Cross-Fit type programming to developing young athletes and more specifically baseball players.

Most young athletes lack foundational strength.

Kids that can barely hold themselves up in a basic push-up or lunge are being tasked with highly technical lifts and explosive movements.  Young athletes with poor posture, limited joint mobility/core stability are being subjected to high volume (lots of sets and reps) training programs that overload their already weak and under conditioned bodies.

Just like with throwing or hitting, it’s important to do things RIGHT before even considering doing them A LOT.

The movements place a lot of stress on the wrists, elbows and shoulders. For that reason alone it’s not a good fit.

And it’s not just the stuff that is included in these workouts that can be problematic it’s the stuff they are leaving out.

A rotational sport like baseball requires a lot of dedicated work to address the small hinges that swing big doors. Qualities like thoracic spine mobility, hip mobility, rotator cuff strength and function, anti-rotation core strength and opposite side rotation are essential for enhancing on-field performance and more importantly ensuring the athletes can play consistently and not sitting out due to nagging injuries.

I would go so far as to say programs like Cross-Fit are not workouts at all. They are practices. They make you better at Cross-Fit. It’s a competition!

Just like baseball is a competition and you use batting/fielding/pitching practice to improve your skills so that you can improve your on-field performance.

I’m all in favor of athletes trying different sport/competitions but for competitive baseball players Cross-Fit type workouts just aren’t a good fit.

Instead of enhancing performance most popular fitness trends will push athletes closer to the brink of injury, while reinforcing poor movement quality and joint mechanics especially in the case of one-side dominant, single sport, rotational athletes (baseball, tennis, quarterback).

I see baseball players being exposed to programs that are inappropriate due to lack of specificity (Cross-Fit, Football programs). Or training modalities that actually hinder athleticism (body-building, long slow distance running) or workouts that amount to little more than a glorified warm-up routine that doesn’t meet the complete needs of what should be explosive/powerful athletes (band programs).

The answer is finding a conditioning program that meets the unique needs of the modern baseball athlete. They don’t need to be pampered but they also should not be hammered. A training program, should boost athletic performance and not teach a kid merely how to survive a workout…

I developed my program Forever Fit over 15 years ago to meet then needs of all developing young athletes. To give them what they are missing out on due to lack of free play.

In the last 5 years I have been working hard on developing Baseball Fit because this generation of baseball athlete needs what it provides. Modern baseball athletes need something that counteracts the unique demands of their sport while also providing them with the crucial athletic growth they need to realize their full potential on the field of play and in the game of life.





Sunday, October 2, 2016

Reign of Errors: Why Birthdate Is So Influential In Baseball


  Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers described the relative age effect in sports; athletes born in the month(s) immediately following the age-cutoff date are disproportionately overrepresented in the sport.

For example, data kept from 1950-2005* shows that most American Major League Baseball players were born in the month of August (503). Further, every month after August of a particular birth year until July 31 of the following year,  (313) there was a steady decline in the likelihood that an American child would become a major leaguer.

What is so magical about August? For more than 55 years (beginning in 1950 when organized Little League baseball got its start), July 31 had been the age-cutoff date used by virtually all non-school affiliated baseball leagues in the U.S.

The Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) database contains birth information about all major and upper-level minor league players active since 2002. According to the data, 18.6 major league players were born per day in August, compared to just 12.5 players per day in July. The BIS data also shows a 26.6% spike in August while July comes in at 15.4% below average.

The result:

In almost every American youth league, the oldest players had been the ones born in August, and the youngest were those with July birthdays.

For example, someone born on July 31, 2000, would almost certainly have been the youngest player on his youth team in 2011, his first year playing in the 11-and-12-year-olds league, and of average age in 2012, his second year in the same league. Someone born on Aug. 1, 1999, by contrast, would have been of average age in 2011, his first year playing in the 11-and-12-year-olds division, and would almost certainly be the oldest player in the league in 2012.

Twelve full months of development makes a huge difference for an 11- or 12-year-old. The player who is 12 months older will, on average, be bigger, stronger, and more coordinated than his younger counterpart, not to mention more experienced. And those bigger, better players are the ones given opportunities for further advancement. Other players, who are just as skilled for their age, are less likely to be given those same opportunities simply because of when they were born. Bryce Harper would've been a star no matter his birth month, but a player like Dustin Pedroia (8/17/83) who has less natural aptitude for the sport, might have gotten a small leg up over similarly skilled players because he's an August baby. It's clear by the numbers that this small advantage can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.


In 2006, USA Baseball changed the domestic age determination date to April 30 of the current year. The age of a baseball player as of April 30 is that player's "league age" for the season.

According to USA Baseball:

The primary reason to change the domestic determination age is so most players on a team will spend the majority of the regular season at the same chronological age as their league age. Currently, more than 95 percent of all local Little League programs start their seasons before May 1.

 Most youth baseball organization members under the jurisdiction of USA Baseball have adopted the April 30 age determination date.


With the new rule it will take a while to shake out how this affects rosters at the Major League level but I think we should definitely be aware of the historical data. Those who fail to acknowledge history could lose out on a significant pool of talent if we don’t think this thing through a little more critically.

For example, does moving the cutoff date from July 31 to April 30 really matter? It doesn’t’ appear that this will actually fix anything over the long-term. All that will likely happen is that kids born in the month of May will now have a big advantage. After all, players born immediately after the age determination date have been shown to have a decided advantage over players born in the months just before it because they are more physically mature and able to dominate their competition at the youth level.

Allan Simpson in the February 2005 edition of Baseball America wrote-

Research has shown that a majority of players on youth league all-star teams of all age groups are born in the four months immediately after July 31. That advantage carried forward to the major league level, as more 2004 big leaguers were born in August (123) than any other month, and the fewest were born in July (89).

If we chose to we could acknowledge that cutoff dates matter. We could set up different tracks of development, one for the early developers and one for the potential late bloomers. Keep those late bloomers involved during their developmental years and continue to provide them with quality coaching and instruction.  The results should be significant.   In 2 or 3 years, you would have a much larger talent pool to choose from.

According to Bill James online:

If organized baseball could manage to develop these overlooked ballplayers as well as it develops August-born (now May) talent, there would be 25% more MLB-caliber players. The league could expand to 7 or 8 additional markets without a drop in quality, leading to more revenues for the league, owners, players, and individual cities.

The solution won’t be easy but even a small group of committed individuals can make a big difference. By placing an emphasis on athlete development rather than arbitrarily rewarding those with the happy fortune of being born in August… or now May we can start to create the necessary social proof that will be vital for getting the attention of the entire baseball community.

The organization that decides and acts to serve in the best interest of their young athletes will undoubtedly become an Outlier, an organization with humble intentions that will become the beacon for others to follow.

*In 2006, the age cutoff date moved from July 31 to April 30.
















Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Happened To Those Little League Heroes?


  A team from Endwell, New York recently won the Little League World Series. And it got me thinking how many kids that have played in the Little League World Series have gone on to play Major League Baseball?

Here's an eye-opening statistic for many parents and coaches...

In the 69 years of the Little League World Series, a total of 45 players have made both the Little League World Series and MLB, including 13 current players who first made their names on the fields of Williamsport, Pa. How can this be?

Aren't we watching the greatest 11 and 12-year-old players, in the world?

What is happening to these players between the ages of 12 and 18?

Here's what happens...

We're really not seeing the most talented 11 and 12-year-old players in the game.  What we really see is the most physically developed 11 and 12-year-old players in the game.

When we see a 5'10”, 170lbs. 12 year old, that is a player that is just bigger and stronger than other kids his age.

NOT more talented.

Here's where it goes wrong...

Other kids his age start to develop physically.  4 years later that physical development levels out and often the physically dominant player has relied on that physical dominance and has neglected the skills of the game and have not developed the essential work ethic.

I get emails all the time from Dads of players who are just realizing this and they are now scrambling to play catch up.

Sometimes it's too late.

So, if you're not one of those early developers, hang in there, work hard, things tend to balance out.  If you get cut don’t give up. 12 years old is far to early to retire from the sport if you truly love it.

If you are one of those early developers, stop relying on that to succeed. Start layering this early advantage with the skills of the game.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Baseball Off-Season (Part 2)


How to get the most out of your baseball offseason

  In part 1 of this 2-part article on how to get the most out of your baseball offseason I offered the first two of my four recommendations.

Taking time off from baseball skills work should be priority number one closely followed by mastering behaviors that are well within your control (sleep, hydration, nutrition, and academics). For a more thorough vetting of these topics please check out part 1.

Without further adieu here are my final 2 recommendations for getting the most out of your baseball offseason.

Get a check-up/Get a clean up

The offseason is the perfect time to clear up any lingering issues that may have plagued you during the season.

Did your hips or hamstrings stiffen up?
Did you shoulder feel weak?
Do you feel flat and fatigued or run down?
Are you hurt? Do you have any aches or pains?

Now is the time to get those things taken care of! And the best thing you can do is to meet with a qualified professional and get yourself assessed.

I assess all of my athletes prior to starting an offseason program.  I look at joint range of motion, movement quality, tissue quality and posture. I also do a mind-set check. I ask the athlete to reevaluate their goals and ask them how they felt the season went and what they would like to improve.  If you don’t know where you are (assessment) and you aren’t sure where you want to go (reevaluate) it’s very tough to develop a strategy because there’s no direction.

After the assessment and reevaluation process we will develop the initial program that restores and rebuilds the athlete using exercises that are targeted toward improving flexibility, body control and awareness.  Basically we are giving them back what they most likely have lost after the long season.

Studies of pro baseball players reveal:
  • They lose shoulder internal rotation (this is what happens on the follow through)
  • They gain shoulder external rotation (this is the lay-back, cocking position, a case where more is not always better)
  • They lose elbow extension (the ability to straighten your arm)
  • They lose shoulder and scapular strength
  • You will lose overall body strength and power
  • Your posture and alignment will change

Take the time to restore, regenerate, and rebalance (the 3 R’s) your body and mind before you…


Build and maximize your athletic qualities

This is the fun stuff right? After you take care of the 3 R’s it’s time to hit the weight room and the training floor to improve your endurance, strength, speed and power.

In calendar form assuming you stop-playing ball after September and have try-outs in early March your offseason should look likes this:

·     

October- No baseball skill work. Get to work on cleaning up your nutrition, sleep, and hydration habits. Also hit the books hard while you one less obligation. Attach these things as if they are part of your baseball preparation because they are. 

October/November- get assessed and get cleaned up! Your body and mind took a lot of abuse this past season you need to take time to restore, regenerate, and rebalance your baseball/athletic portfolio.

November/December- Work on your movement efficiency. This is the stuff you learned from your assessment. Move well before you move heavy stuff or run fast.

December/January- Develop your work capacity/Endurance and your foundational strength with an emphasis on optimal lifting technique.

January/February-The training will skew more toward general speed and power development.

February/March- it’s almost go time so now we turn our attention toward more specific speed and power development.



If you follow this sequence of events and do this right you have the formula to have an outstanding in-season performance. And you’ll have made huge strides toward meeting your goals on the field of play and in the game of life.

If you’d like to learn more about our formula I’d love to share it with you. Complete Baseball Performance was developed with the end user in mind; young athletes that want to maximize their potential in the sport that they love. Click here to learn how we will help you maximize your potential as a baseball player.