Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The #1 Reason for Inconsistent Pitching Velocity

As anyone who reads my posts regularly surely knows, I've devoted a significant portion of my life to figuring out how to help young athletes become faster, stronger, more durable and how to make guys throw baseballs faster.  Sure, having a great change-up and a filthy curveball is nice, but let's be honest: throwing gas is what gets scouts' attention and earns you fame, fortune, scholarships, and, of course, intimidation on the mound.

However, my interest in velocity isn't just limited to how to get to "X" miles per hour; it also extends to understanding how to stay (or improve upon) "X" miles per hour over the course of a single appearance, season, or career while staying healthy and developing the rest of one's pitching arsenal.  Erratic radar gun readings are as much a problem as "insufficient" radar gun readings.

My foremost observation on this front has been that velocity is much more erratic in high-level teenagers than any other population. I've had loads of high school guys top the 85mph mark over the years, so we've built up a good sample size to consider.  While some of these guys are quite consistent, I find that they tend to have more 4-6 mph drop-offs here and there than any other population with which I've worked.  A guy that is 84-87 on one day might come back at 75-81 five days later - seemingly out of the blue.

However, I don't think it's just a random occurrence.  Rather, in my experience, EVERY single time it happens, it's because he has let his body weight drop - usually due to being on the road for games and not packing enough food.  We see it all the time in kids who throw great up in Michigan, but then head down South for tournaments.  All of a sudden, they are living out of hotels and eating out of restaurants multiple times per day - which certainly isn't going to be as conducive to maintaining body weight as "grazing" around the house and chowing down on Mom's home-cooking multiple times per day.  To make matters worse, a lot of kids lose their appetites when they get out in the heat - and not many people from across the country are prepared for the weather in Georgia or South Carolina in July.  So, insufficient caloric intake becomes completely inadequate caloric intake - and that's not exactly a recipe for throwing the baseball faster.

Beyond just the body weight factor, though, you also have to look at the fact that the advanced teenage pitchers are generally also the best athletes - so their coaches almost always have them out in the outfield or at SS/3B when they aren't pitching.  Playing a position interferes with a solid throwing program and just doesn't give a kid a chance to rest. There are more calories burned, too!

What's interesting, though, is that kids who don't throw as hard - say, 70-79 - never have variability in their velocity readings; they are super consistent.  Why? Well, for one, they usually aren't quite good enough to get on travel teams and in competitive scenarios that would require them to have to consciously consider how to maintain their weight.  Rather, its Mom's home-cooking all the time - so it's easier to maintain their weight.  And, they may not be talented enough to be able to play other positions when they aren't pitching.

This difference is really interesting because both populations - independent of strength and conditioning - are at ages where their bodies are changing and (presumably) getting heavier naturally as they go through puberty and gain muscle mass.

This rarely applies to anyone who has pitched in the professional ranks for more than a year or two.  You never see a professional pitcher go out and throw 5-7mph slower than normal unless he is hurt or coming back on very short rest.  These guys have found their "set points," and have learned over the years how to get in enough calories when on the road (out on their own means cooking for themselves, plus eating whatever their clubhouse dues gets them at the park).  Plus, they aren't playing the field.

All that said, regardless of your age, experience level, and current velocity, don't skimp on calories.  If you look at every bit of research on the pitching motion, body weight predicts pitching velocity. If you're on the road, make sure you pack some shakes, trail mix, bars, fruit, nuts, jerky, or whatever other convenience food helps you to get in the calories you need to light up the radar gun. 

In summary if you are looking to maximize your throwing velocity specifically or more generally improve overall sport performance quality nutrition is low-hanging fruit for all athletes. If you are putting in a lot of effort and time into developing your body and sport specific skills it would be a shame if you consistently put yourself behind the 8-Ball by neglecting how to feed your body. In sport, especially baseball there is plenty that lies outside of your control. Nutrition is without a doubt one of the few variables you can control and those that figure it our early will provide themselves with A HUGE competitive advantage.

This is just one of the many “details” that separates Physical Preparation for Baseball from other performance programs.  It doesn't just help you develop your athleticism and sport specific skills; it helps you with strategies to make getting in enough quality calories conveniently when you may be pinched for time or kitchen access.

Stay tuned for updates on our Select Preparation for Baseball program, the complete solution for the baseball athlete.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Most youth baseball players are broken!"- USA Baseball, Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers

I recently had the opportunity to meet with several high-level folks within the baseball community. I wanted to share the information that came out of these talks, as they are extremely relevant to the developing baseball athlete.

Carlo Alvarez- Sport Performance Coordinator of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Chris Walter and his Strength and Conditioning Staff with the Detroit Tigers
Rick Riccobono- Chief Development Officer for USA Baseball

From these conversations, I have the following random thoughts and comments with more explanation in the weeks ahead. 

Carlo Alvarez- Pittsburgh Pirates

I’ve known Carlo for many years and his insight is so valuable because he has worked at he Major and Minor League level in addition to leading the athletic development program for prep football powerhouse St. Xavier in Ohio for nearly a decade.

  • Early specialization is a HUGE problem affecting Major Leaguer’s! They are so beat up when Carlo gets them he has to spend an inordinate amount of time just cleaning them up.
  • For first year pro’s the emphasis is on re-sets/regressions because of muscle imbalances/asymmetries.
  • Focus on developing QUALITY strength, master body weight first.
  • First 6 months with the Pirates workouts are nothing more than 1 hour long warm-ups, teaching athletes to become efficient movers with emphasis on Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) like crawling, jumping, skipping, carrying, hanging…
  • You don’t win championships freshman year or in rookie ball. What you should do is establish your culture and environment. Athletes need to understand your methods and terminology.
  • Establish progressions and regressions for each athlete with the team context. Don’t lump everyone together! Chronological and Developmental age don’t match up.
  • Early specialization is a DISORDER as in you missed the order.  
  • Early and single sport specialization leads to movement inefficiency, asymmetries and muscle imbalances, stress fractures, over-use injury. 
  • Athletes are getting "chewed-up" due to lack of progression and individualization. 
  • Still maturing young athletes are thrown into advanced/high intensity programs and their bodies can’t hold up.
  • Of the 40 athletes the Pirates drafted in June 2015, 75% came BROKEN!
  • The Pirates have 3 phases to their training program. All but one of the draftees had to be regressed below Phase 1, not Phase 1 but below it.
  • These aren’t novices; they are the most talented and skilled athletes in the country.
  • Problem can be fixed
  • It starts with EDUCATION- parents, coaches, athletes
  • Build a community to support and invest in an honest, ethical process that’s long-term, scientific, analytical and experientially based.
  • This problem is bigger than all of us and it’s affecting everybody. All stakeholders must come together for the long term good of the game.
  • Best athletes in this country aren’t playing baseball
  • Expenses, urban areas, boring? (Carlo’s son chose lacrosse over baseball, kids get to run and be aggressive)
  • Have to figure something out, Most teams not even thinking this way. They have no developmental/rookie program
  • Huge competitive opportunity for those willing to invest in a Long Term Athletic Development Model (LTAD) 

This leads me to…

Rick Riccobono- USA Baseball

USA Baseball is thinking about the need for “grassroots” development. In fact they are developing a comprehensive document that outlines a Long-Term Athletic Development Model specifically for baseball.

  • The plan will highlight what the developmental cycle or career arch of player should look like within the sport if they want to compete at an elite level.
  • Baseball is an early introduction not early specialization sport; this is an extremely important concept to understand.
  • Not only the “elite” athlete, everyone that loves the game has a role.
  • Baseball for life; staying connected to the sport for health, fun and to grow and connect others to the game. Paying it forward through coaching, volunteering…
  • People need to understand LTAD.
  • USA Baseball overhauling talent acquisition and strength and conditioning processes.
  • Two main reasons for above; keep the athletes they have healthy and ensure they are attracting the highest quality athletes possible.
  • Current youth baseball culture in America “me-centric.”
  • Parents paying for high end experience, shapes expectations, “what’s in it for me”…
  • The players that make it the ones they want are humble and blue collar.
  • Good things happen for kids like that!
  • Multi-sport athletes are more durable, competitive, and mentally resilient and they aren’t “used up.”
  • Intangibles, are established in a LTAD model.

Chris Walter- Detroit Tigers Strength and Conditioning Director

I recently had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with Chris and two members of his staff at Comerica Park. Chris is in his second full season as the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Tigers.

  • The Tigers best players take care of the “fundamentals”
  • The Fundamentals-

  1. Core training (not sit-ups and crunches)
  2. Self Myofascial release- Foam rolling, lacrosse balls, massage sticks
  3. Mobility-combo of flexibility and body control/awareness (not just stretching, this is important to distinguish)
  4. Deceleration- can you control your body and put yourself into a position to re-accelerate. Best athletes have tremendous brakes!
  5. Coordination-the ability to move fluidly with rhythm and timing
  6. Recovery- getting quality sleep? Do you eat performance-promoting foods? Not supplements here but REAL food!

  • The Tigers best overall athletes also happen to be their best players
  • Fundamental movements skills (FMS) and uncompensated range of motion is the foundation that must underlie sport specific skill. FMS are essential if you want that sport specific skill to be optimized and sustainable/durable.
  • Performance testing is not a large priority always-think safety first.
  • They don’t spend much time on speed and agility, just don’t have the time and it’s best optimized during adolescence. This is why all of the agility/foot work training with Nick Casetellanos doesn’t “stick.” He was a one-sport kid growing up. His window of adaptation has closed! Another strike against early specialization.
  • Strength can always be addressed later when their bodies mature. Once that coordination and speed window closes though it’s closed forever, can’t get that missed time back.
  • Coordination/FMS and Speed/Agility/Quickness must be emphasis during developmental years
  • Most people would be surprised how basic (not easy) the Tigers training programs are. You won’t see them flipping tires or jumping on 50-60 inch boxes. Too risky and doesn’t help anyway.
  • Exercises/programming can’t be to easy, guys will get bored
  • Exercises/programming can’t be to hard/complex because guys won’t do it. They are baseball players not Cross-Fit wannabes or body-builders. They train to enhance on field performance and to stay healthy.
  • Manual shoulder work- bands can be tricky especially with young athletes who lack good shoulder/cuff/scapular strength. Manual resistance provided by an experienced coach is an awesome arm care strategy.

What’s Next?
In the case of Carlo Alvarez of the Pirates and the Tigers Strength and Conditioning staff I also presented to them what I am doing with my Complete Baseball Performance program (CBP). I wanted their honest assessment of the program.

I fell strongly that in order to expand and grow as professionals we need to challenge our comfort zones. While I am very confident in my education/experience it’ still a little intimidating to have folks who are at the pinnacle of their industry audit what you’re doing.

I was very reassured with their assessment that CBP is indeed a solid if not essential piece for the developing baseball athlete.

I am extremely excited about the opportunity to team up with the Michigan Red Sox organization and Bloomfield High baseball as these are two groups that share my interest in a long term athletic development strategy.   

Some of the most successful Major League Baseball organizations achieved lasting success due to their player development emphasis. In developmental baseball you have to work with what you’re given and the improvement from within is an essential strategy for success. Viewing our athletes not in the context of whom or where they are now but rather who they can become with progressive and nurturing coaching strategies should be the resounding agenda for any youth baseball organization.

This an exciting time to be associated with the Red Sox and CBP as we are working on some fairly ambitious projects. We are doing the essential work to position ourselves as leaders in the baseball industry with respect to education and talent development/projection/evaluation.

Stay tuned in the weeks as we start to unpack our agenda for the Baseball community in Southeastern Michigan.

Details on Complete Baseball Performance can be found here.