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!