I love Spring Training! There are many reasons for this not the least of which is that it's a sign that the long winter is behind us.
I also love Spring Training because (especially the early stages before games are played) there is a laid back atmosphere and players have more time to muse about what they did to prepare for the upcoming season. We also get a glimpse from team leadership on the philosophical direction their organizations are heading.
Have you followed the first few weeks of Spring Training? I have and it is amazing how many interesting stories that have been discussed for baseball players, parents, and coaches.
Let’s take a little tour of Major League Baseball Spring training….
Teams are investing heavily in science and analytics. Specifically, they want to better understand how training, nutrition and fatigue can play a role in player performance.
The St. Louis Cardinals understand that their athletes need a little push to address this aspect of strength and conditioning. This portion of the training rarely garners much attention but is essential for maximizing performance and reducing the risk of injury – more specifically, core and flexibility training.
Cardinal infielder Greg Garcia states….
Baseball players are always like, 'we have to go hit. We have to go throw. We have to go run.' We don't take that time to stretch like we should. So to have an organized class where someone is telling you what to do is, I think, going to be beneficial to us, because sometimes we don't even know what to stretch.
From a physical preparation standpoint, young men love to squat, bench, dead lift and do curls – get big, look good. This is why we can't expect our athletes to do the non-sexy stuff (stretching & conditioning) on their own. We have to implement it into our practice and team workout routines. It's that important!
Tim Notke was a high school basketball coach who said …
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.
The Arizona Diamondbacks 27 year old rookie outfielder from Venezuela David Peralta epitomizes that statement! (http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/david-peralta-chris-carminucci-scout-arizona-diamondbacks-independent-league-082114).
Rick Riccobonno of USA Baseball told me that good things always seem to happen for guys that are humble and put the essential work in. Peralta's journey to success in the Major Leagues speaks to the power of perseverance and never giving up.
Bryan Holaday is in a precarious position as the Tigers third catcher but he's not accepting that label without a fight. Victor Martinez said…
The guy has been working hard. He is one of the few guys I see when I come early in the morning (5:30 a.m.). He works his butt off. I always say, when you work, there is always room to keep developing.
Tiger starting catcher James McCann is also one of the early risers. McCann is often mentioned as being the future "leader" of the Tigers. Successful teams normally have players that demand high standards of each other. But players can lead only when they demand more of themselves than anybody else. McCann is doing all he can to set the tone for his teammates to follow including paying attention to the details like the food he put's in his body.
McCann studied the habits of athletes that have sustained peak performance for well over a decade. McCann said ….
What do they do differently from other guys? They take care of their bodies.
Nutrition is low-hanging fruit when it comes to performance enhancement. It is one of the few variables that lie within an athletes control and the vast majority (particularly young athletes) grossly neglects it. As coaches and parents we need to make this easier for kids by providing better options. It won't be easy but achieving your peak performance is going to entail a little bit of sacrifice in the early stages of habit formation.
The only time your body can get strong is when you allow it to recover. If you're always "in the fire" training, throwing, sprinting you will eventually melt from the cumulative heat/stress imposed upon your body. St. Louis Cardinal ace Adam Wainwright learned this the hard way:
It's hard to admit that some time off helped me, because you want to be out there competing, you want to be out there helping your team. But I have to look at the positives. [With] the time away, my arm hasn't felt as fresh as it does now at any time since 2013. That was the last time my arm has felt anywhere close to this.
Wainwright is an extreme example in that his team always makes the play-offs and usually makes a deep run. But the cumulative wear and tear from those extended seasons gradually weakened his body until it finally "blew up" on him.
With the forced time off Wainwright had time to build the strength back in his body and arm to get back to doing the things he is capable of doing on the mound.
A fatigued body is an injury prone one as well!
When it comes to physical preparation for baseball Anibal Sanchez was another guy that had to learn the hard way after losing time to an injury. Sanchez always focused on shoulder/arm strengthening exercises to prepare for pitching. But he neglected the foundation that is essential for maximizing pitching performance and durability. That foundation is the hips, core and legs. Sanchez credits his new workouts for his renewed vigor for the upcoming season.
Major League teams are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding a way to gain a competitive edge. The Chicago Cubs lead by their innovative leadership team of Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon have implemented a mental skill development element to their organization. The organization has shared their mantra – “C.U.B."
The Courage to do things the right way.
The Urgency to do it right now.
The Belief that we're going to get it done.
Under the leadership of new General Manager Al Avila the Tigers have taken steps to implement the "Tiger Way." Avila said this approach is more of an "internal process" and not one meant for media consumption. In other words, we will let you know on a need to know basis and the media doesn't need to know this. Avila generally summarized this new organizational approach by stating that it's an attempt to get all levels of the organization speaking the same language. As an example the strength and conditioning staff will implement fundamentals of training and evaluation that will be prioritized throughout the system from rookie ball all the way up the Major League team.
I will wrap up with a great quote I ran across from former Boston Red Sox and current Chicago Cub GM Theo Epstein describing how the 2004 Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit in a best of 7 to overtake the Yankees and win their first World Series title in over 86 years.
The biggest thing, I thought, in '04 was we came back because the guys in our clubhouse cared more about the other 24 guys than their own interest.
In the end all of our young athletes want to excel personally. But being part of something bigger than yourself is so powerful and the bonds and friendships you develop will outlast any trophies or statistics.
Along with “my team” of coaches and instructors, we are very excited about the Select Baseball Prep Program. It will provide us an avenue to give back to the game we love and in a way we could never accomplish by ourselves. And it encompasses many of the things I observed from Major League Spring Training:
1. A shared message and philosophy that permeates the program from the pitching coach to the strength and conditioning professional.
2. Nutrition as an essential element of performance, health and recovery.
3. Mental skills training and team building.
4. Smarter training that prioritizes safe and effective performance enhancement.
5. Opportunities to learn from the best and brightest in the sport of baseball
This program is much more than just developing champions on the field of play. It's just as important, and even more for us to develop the next generation of champions in the game of life as well.