Saturday, September 26, 2015

Random Thoughts On Sports Performance: September Edition

Despite being one of the fastest runners on the team and maybe even in the sport, Detroit Tiger centerfielder Anthony Gose has a very pedestrian 67% stolen base success rate. What gives?

"He's still learning how to steal bases," said Tiger manager Brad Ausmus. "He's got the speed but there's a little bit of an art form to stealing bases. Especially when you are fast. People are very aware of you, so you have to learn to pick your spots and read the pitcher.”*

There are many athletes with average speed that steal plenty of bases and succeed at a high percentage because they have developed the skill of stealing bases. Ausmus also highlights that being known, as a fast runner can also be a negative because it draws extra attention from the opposing team. Being fast can be a bonus but you definitely need to work on the details to master the craft!

Something else that young players can learn from Gose…  "When I was in A-ball, I told a reporter before the season that I was going to lead that league in stolen bases," Gose said. "And after I stole a bunch early, I told him I was going to break the team record in Low-A. I stole 76 bases and broke the record.

"The next year (in High-A) he comes to me and said he wants to hear my prediction and I said I'm going to steal 100 bases. I stole like 45 and got caught 32 times. So I'm done with predictions. I will just say I am going to steal as many as I can."*

At the lower levels of the sport you can get away with number goals (results) but as you gain more experience and advance the competition gets a lot better and focusing on results will lead to a lot of frustration similar to what Gose has experienced this season. Focus on your approach (“I am only going to run in breaking ball counts when the pitcher is in the wind-up and has a high leg-kick”) rather than setting your sights on getting to a certain number. Focus on the things that are within your control (your approach/game plan) and the results will take care of themselves, especially when you have a good approach (coaches should help you develop one)!

While we are on the topic of sticking to your approach or process…

Much was made last winter of Tiger third baseman Nick Castellanos’ work with coach Matt Martin to improve his defense.

He carried that ethic through spring training and into the season. But somewhere in May, Martin saw him slack.

"Instead of going above and beyond, he was doing the minimal," Martin said. "For a lot of guys, that can be enough." But in Casteallnos’ case it wasn’t good enough.**

"He needs to stay humble, needs to stay hungry," Martin said. "You never arrive. You have to continue to improve on a daily basis. “**

Martin uses the analogy of a knife to describe the need for constant improvement and Miguel Cabrera is the example.

"Miguel and I work on things (defensive drills) two times a week in the cage – nobody sees that here," he said. "Miguel Cabrera wants to be a complete baseball player – wants to be great at running the bases, defense, everything. It doesn't just happen. He works at it.

"And he has the best knife there is. But he continually sharpens it. Some people are like, 'Hey, I got a great knife, I'm in the big leagues, and I’ve had some success.' Well, you need to keep sharpening that knife."**

Castellanos, for a time, stopped sharpening his knife.

"I had such high expectations for Nick, especially after he came to Lubbock (Texas for off-season training) and he had such a great spring training, process-wise," Martin said. "Results, they are hit and miss. But he got off to that great start, process-wise, and he started seeing results in that first month and he settled a little bit.”**

He carried that ethic through spring training and into the season. But somewhere in May, Martin saw him slack.

"He's in a good position now, but in a month from now, he needs to be in a better position than he is now. There is no such thing as staying the same. There is only progress."**

So just in case you think you’ve got this game of baseball figured out take a cue from Miguel Cabrera, you need to constantly sharpen your skills to stay at the top of your game!

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) just hired a new manager of player development. Why is this newsworthy other than the fact that you might be a tennis fan? Because it’s another acknowledgment by an American Sports governing body  (USA Hockey is the other notable) that our kids just aren’t athletic enough to compete at the elite levels. In short our best athletes aren’t introduced to tennis during the developmental years because most young athletes have already decided to specialize and will never give tennis a shot. On top of that the best tennis prospects in our country only played tennis during their developmental years and thus don’t have the athletic foundation to support advanced skill. It won’t be easy for the USTA to develop elite American tennis players but the solution is a simple one, find better athletes!***

Sean Newcomb drew little attention from scouts as a high school pitcher in Massachusetts where the season is short and the opportunities to pile up impressive numbers is skewed by the cold Northeastern spring weather. His counterparts in the South drew more attention and also accumulated lots of wear and tear from essentially playing year round. Newcomb was “forced” to play football and basketball and while his baseball career took a bit longer to fully develop he’s doing so know at the ripe age of 22.

Yet another example of a young athlete that played multiple sports during the developmental years and then once he focused on baseball at the college level he took off, becoming a 1st round pick.  Newcomb was also attractive to professional organizations because of the relatively light workload he experienced in high school. Excessive workloads in the developmental years usually set the stage for major arm injuries at the college and pro level. Playing multiple sports keeps a young athlete’s body fresh and gives them the best opportunity to reach elite status in a single sport once they are fully matured.

Speaking of talented young left handed pitchers…

The Tigers had to trade a great player (David Price) but they received a terrific athlete in return by the name of Daniel Norris. Another guy who played 3 sports growing up and then “took off” in baseball, no doubt due to his overall athleticism!****

I know a lot of folks believe baseball is boring and even I must admit I do fear that the younger generation may turn away from the sport due to the “slow pace.” One thing all baseball coaches should encourage is for the kids to have fun at the ballpark! Here is an awesome example from two Los Angeles Dodgers on how to do it!

Whatever happened to the idea of kids racing for fun? If you are looking for the perfect “drill” to enhance speed and acceleration just put two buddies on a starting line and then tell them the first one to that cone or tree wins!  

In summary keeping things simple and mastering the basics is the "optimal" route to becoming the best athlete you can be.


Related Info:

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s athlete gets a big boost by playing multiple sports!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Optimizing Performance: Back To School Edition

Your kids have had about two weeks to get acclimated to their school routines. That means increased academic, social and athletic demands and most significantly their cognitive abilites are really being taxed. It's all stress to some degree and it all goes in the same "stress bucket." So we want to make sure our kids are doing a few simple things that when done well will allow them to not only survive but to thrive!

The most important thing in my mind to boost performance in any endeavor is nutrition. Most kids eat at minimum three times a day and if you include snacking it could tally up to 6 feeding opportunities. Each opportunity is a chance to take a step toward improving performance on the field or in the classroom, if the choices they make are good ones. Poor choices however may be neutral at best (as we know kids can be super resilient) and at worst they can lead to foggy thinking, delayed reaction time, and poor recovery from exercise and training.

Nutrition is easily the single fastest and most effective way to improve performance!
In fact poor nutrition during the teen years is crucial to optimizing your brain health!

A close second is quality rest and recovery time.  Below you can learn why...
Sleep is the second fastest way to improve performance!

All that said I wanted to get you a few quick options to get the kids' and your day off to an awesome start. The nutrients in these options will power their brains and their muscles!

No junk in any of the recipes/products! Made with real food!

Also great options for on the go parents or professionals!

Protein Bars- For breakfast on the go or quick after school snack:
They also have a great sale this week, 25% off select varieties. No coupon code necessary.

High Quality Super Pure Beef/Turkey Jerky option:

Protein Pudding (gluten/dairy free but your kids won't notice):

Place 2 tablespoons of chia seeds in the bottom of a glass bowl. Mix one serving of vegan protein powder (chocolate works best/vanilla tastes "funky") with just 1 cup of non-dairy milk of choice (almond, hemp, coconut) unsweetened if possible. Stir the blended protein into the chia seeds. Cover the bowl and place in refrigerator overnight. It will be ready to go come morning.

Options- you can add chopped nuts or cacao nibs (together or solo a serving about size of thumb) to provide a little crunch and make the meal more "hearty."

Sprouted rice or buckwheat crisps also are awesome add-ons!

Try it first without added sweetener. If you need it add just a bit of stevia to the protein/milk mixture. The chia pudding also provides a nice snack option or quick take to work/school meal.

Power Oatmeal:
(Be sure to mix ingredients AFTER cooking).
1 serving cooked rolled oats oatmeal (1/2 cup precooked)
1 to 1½ scoops vanilla or chocolate Grass Fed Whey
Add a few chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, peanut/almond butter or fresh fruit.
Enjoy, and show the world how smart your kids are!!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Truth About Hard Work

Growing up, hard work was a badge of honor.

“That guy is a hard worker.”

If someone was willing to sweat a little more or go a little longer...they were deemed successful.

But I’ll tell you what I figured out about that over the years…it’s a pretty dumb way of looking at things.

I grew up working on my family’s farm, so there was a lot of hard work to be had.

I can’t count how many times I made a big job even bigger, sweating (during the summers it felt like an oven out there) and straining like crazy trying to get chores done so I could play ball.

My dad would always have to correct me and more often than not I had to start from scratch all over again!

It turns out the Mr. Fix–it gene (that my dad, brother and nephew all posses) was never activated during my childhood. When it comes to fixing “stuff” or driving big things (tractors and farm trucks) I was about as awkward as Justin Verlander running the bases or a former President throwing out a first pitch.

 In my efforts to get things done as fast as possible I often made a ton of errors and only after my dad corrected me did I do it the right way.  So I learned the hard way that smart work beats hard work.

 As a young athlete I remember how I spent my time versus how my peers in the same position spent theirs.

 I focused about 90% of my time on preparation. I read books on hitting and the mental side of sports. I dove deeply into sports nutrition and learned how to eat to improve performance and health. I ran sprints outside even in the winter and really learned how to develop my self physically.

And I took batting practice and fielding practice with purpose, not just swinging or throwing as hard as I could.

The things that were within my control nutrition, off-field conditioning and focused skill work allowed me to separate myself from my peers, quite noticeably in fact.

My peers focused about 20% of their time on those things…instead spending more time just hanging out at the field without much of a plan. They would waste time working on things that would not help them improve. As an example I remember a former Detroit Piston player that was supremely talented but during practice he would spend an inordinate amount of time shooting half court shots and shooting from behind the backboard. That situation might come up 1or 2 times during a season! Meanwhile this guy was a very average free-throw shooter. Undoubtedly he could have improved his foul shooting with the unnecessary time spent on his trick shots!

Away from the field my peers often focused their attention on other “fun things” that took precedence over physical and mental preparation.

Now make no mistake… I am not advocating an obsessive-compulsive mind-set where you shut-off all other social outlets but you’re not going to excel with a 4-Hour Workweek mind set.

In fact, while I did work smarter than my peers it wasn’t smart enough. I eventually pushed to hard for to long and lost track of what I was actually preparing for. I lacked guidance once I left the farm I adopted a very isolated mind-set where I pit myself against the world and tried to do everything by myself.

This is why I am so eager to help coach young people. I want to be there to help guide them through the peaks and valleys of physically and mentally preparing for life and sport. The right coach can make a world of difference in the life of a young person.

I am currently working with a young swimmer and this young man is a “hard worker” by anyone’s definition. He would often show up to our workout having already spent 90 minutes in the pool and was due for another 90 minutes after our session. This young man is definitely putting the work in. He just had his end of season finals and he improved significantly across the board (finishing second in the free-style to a boy that is a year-older and winning the breaststroke). I asked him if he expected to perform that well? He said he did expect to perform well and I told him that he should have those kinds of expectations because he puts the work in. He also has expert guidance from swimming coaches that understand athletic development. This “technical” work in accordance with his dry-land training allowed him to perform his best when it mattered the most.

I have come across many young athletes that say they are going to “win championships” or “play Division 1 college sports.” And yet, they spend most of their time hanging out at the mall or playing video games. Those kids are dreaming, which is fine but they should temper their expectations because they aren’t in sync with their work habits.

So how can you start working smart…well, here are a few thoughts to help you:

Decide where you want to go and develop a plan to get there. Then work the plan.

Understand that being busy is not a point of honor. Anyone can be busy…the better question is ‘who gets more of the right stuff done each day?’

Go into your day with Most Important Tasks…2-3 at most. Do those before doing anything else.

When you spend time on something you’re actually saying ‘this is the most valuable thing I could be doing right now.’ Think about your activities that way and look for ways to spend less time doing the things you decide aren’t really that valuable.

I think Abraham Lincoln summed up the way I feel about this very well:

 "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

 He didn’t suggest shying away from the six hours of work…he simply suggested using those six hours more wisely than most would.

 That’s how you get better results than the rest.

And the most important lesson to take from this article... while working hard is a prerequisite to being awesome at anything you must find a mentor, parent or coach, that has your best interest at heart. A trusted mentor will help ensure you are heading down the right path to accomplish your goal.