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!

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