February 2014 Newsletter

This month’s newsletter is going to touch on a couple of different topics. A few weeks ago, I started to write an outline that only focused on one area of baseball. Since then, several scenarios have arisen and led me to think about pitching development and its place in regards to the games being played and the upcoming season.

Pitching and playing in baseball games is where all players want to excel, whether it is your spring league, travel ball or the high school and college season. To have fun and succeed in front of our families, friends and teammates are the primary reasons why we play the game.

Who doesn’t like to see their child perform well in an event? Whether it’s in sports, music or in the academic world, we all want to see our children succeed and be happy about the work they put into their accomplishments. The most significant aspect of these performances is the work required beforehand.

The amount of practice and repetitions are absolutely crucial to insure that our peak performances are at their best. There are many books written about this type of practice, some of my favorites are The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, The Mental Conditioning Manual and So What, Next Pitch by Brian Cain and Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. In these books, repetition during practice and the mindset to be at your best is necessary for game time peak performance. Anything less than a focused effort is most likely just wasted time.

Why is it so important to go out and play games over and over? Studies show that players in sports such as football, gymnastics, ice skating and most any Olympic sport, spend at least 5 times the amount of practice than they do in any of their games or events. In baseball, everyone seems to think it’s just the opposite and that it takes 5 games to 1 practice session in order to become proficient in the game. There is something wrong in this thinking!

Performance in a game and performance in a practice requires a completely different set of motor programs for the baseball player to develop. Practice is what allows players to perform well in games. Then why do we consistently compete in weekend tournaments where we may get only 15-20 times at bat, maybe 10-15 swings and sit on the bench or stand on the field waiting for a ball to come our way? We could spend the weekend getting 150-200 repetitions at game speed whether it is hitting, fielding or pitching related work and put in the deliberate practice needed for our continued development. Then, when we get to high school we have made significant progress towards the magical 10,000 hours of deliberate practice needed to become a master at that skill.

In The Little Book of Talent, by Daniel Coyle, Tip #45 talks about spending 5 hours of practice for every hour of competition. Here are the reasons why:

Games are fun. Tournaments are exciting. Contests are thrilling. They also slow skill development, for four reasons:

1. The presence of other people diminishes an appetite for risks, nudging you away from the sweet spot.
2. Games reduce the number of quality reps.
3. The pressure of games distorts priorities, encouraging shortcuts in technique.
4. Games encourage players, coaches and parents to judge success by the scoreboard rather than by how much was learned.

The message here asks why we focus on the radar gun as a measurement of our kid’s skill level when continued development is more important for long term success? Does it really matter if your child walked more batters than ever before if he is allowing himself to find a biomechanical rhythm that will establish a lasting motor program with a positive effect on his long term delivery? Is it more important that little Johnny pitches 7-8 innings on the last day of a 3-day tournament so that he gives his team the best chance to win the 10 year old President’s Day tournament?

C’mon folks. Let’s be realistic. Do you really think Michael Phelps cared that he finished in 5th place in a tune up race so he could work on something specific in his event? He went on to win a gazillion gold medals in the Olympics.

Deliberate practice….deliberate practice….deliberate practice. This needs to be the goal for the development of our baseball playing child. End of story.

While I am on my soap box, I wanted to clue you into another article I came across by my good friend and nationally known pitching developer, Randy Sullivan. Randy is also a trainer to hundreds of high school, college and professional players. In his article he talks about clueless coaches who are training for power by sending pitchers out on long distance runs, or foul poles as it is stated in the pitching world. I wanted to share part of it with you.

I used to think endurance training in baseball players was just a waste of time, but a 2012 meta analysis published in the Journal of Conditioning Research showed that endurance training 3 times per week actually decreases power. High octane performance is all about power, So we don’t do any exercises lasting longer than 12 seconds. If players wish to do endurance training on their own, that’s ok with me, but try to educate them on the possible negative consequences.

I think the 300m test is worthless as a measure for baseball endurance and “recoverability”. I haven’t seen any research indicating that pitchers, or position players recover faster by training outside the ATP/CP system. I do believe you can train the ATP/CP system to reload more quickly. The fast-paced style first employed by The University of Oregon Football team provides anecdotal support for this concept.

When players train outside the ATP/CP system, the endurance they are gaining with such training is not specific to baseball.

I am not exactly sure what people mean when they use the term “metabolically efficient”, but we do have a highly organized and effective recovery program involving arm care exercises and weighted ball holds which promote blood infusion to fatigued soft tissue. Our idea is that infusing tissue recently subjected to repetitive micro-trauma (which is the actual cause of post game soreness) will allow an influx of non-differentiated mesenchymal cells which can then morph into the necessary form needed to begin the rebuilding process.

The myth that long distance running helps “flush” lactic acid has long been debunked. A 2004 study showed there to be absolutely zero lactic acid built up after 7 innings of pitching. These results makes sense when you consider that lactate is a byproduct of anaerobic glycolysis, the energy system that kicks in after about 12-14 seconds of activity and gives way to oxidative phosphorylation after 2 minutes. Neither of the aforementioned energy systems are utilized in a baseball game in which the average play is less than 5 seconds in duration.

Since the act of making a pitch takes less than 2 seconds, the only time a pitcher uses the latter 2 energy systems is when he is wasting his time running poles after the game. Ironically, depending on the intensity and duration of his run, he might be producing lactic acid with his so called “flush”.

The training and guidance we are giving our pitchers is what makes us special at ThrowZone. We are constantly striving to find better teachings and methodologies and never thinking that we have the answer…..whatever the answer is.

We always question ourselves……we attempt to ask better questions……we realize that we do not have all the answers at the present time. We do know that we work smarter and more efficiently than anyone else because of this approach.

We had a tremendous past week getting our professional players prepared and ready for spring training. We saw and spoke with 9 major and minor league players who asked us to be part of their training regimen. All of them came to us and asked for help and that is exactly what we did. We watched their bullpens, throw to hitters and answered training and arm health questions. This was not a fluke thing, every January to February we get more and more of these requests.

One of the coolest aspects of this special training is that 7 of the 9 players grew up playing baseball in the Santa Clarita Valley. 2 of them were students who we have known for at least 10 years and the other players were of various ages when they contacted us. Lastly, one of the major league players called me out of the blue to ask if we could work together because he was told we were the best. Blessed and humbled is all I can say.

Contact us today and see how we can help with your throwing and pitching development before it is too late. And visit our website at www.throwzone.com for more information.

Until next time…….