In my last blog I discussed why paying attention to pain is so critical in order for athletes to diagnose the cause of the pain. If an athlete can figure out the root of the pain then he can start working to correct the issue in order to diminish the amount of pain felt, which in turn will help to improve the athlete’s performance on the field. It is because of this that Coach Ron Wolforth has made pain the first of his “Big 6” at the Texas Baseball Ranch. The “Big 6” are the 6 elements that Coach Wolforth has labeled as most important to an athlete if he wants to succeed. I will discuss the other five components that encompass the Big 6 in upcoming blogs, but today I am just going to focus on the first—Pain.

At the Texas Baseball Ranch the first step for any athlete who shows up is to start with the pain. What I mean by starting with the pain is that each time an athlete comes to the Ranch Coach Wolforth asks that player if he has any pain or soreness or tenderness. If the athlete answers affirmatively then Coach wants to know where the pain is located and on a scale of 1 to 10 how intense is the pain. This all occurs before any physical activity or training begins. It is similar to what occurs when a person who shows up at the doctor’s office. The doctor doesn’t simply start treating the patient, but instead wants to know what are the symptoms the patient is dealing with, how long have they persisted, how bad are they. Once the doctor realizes what the issues are with the patient he/she then can appropriately decide what course of action to take. Could you imagine a situation where you show up to the doctor (or the ER) and they simply start giving you medicine and treatment? That would be incredibly unhelpful and inefficient.

Unfortunately, however, this is precisely the approach that so many coaches and trainers take. They want to follow a “cookie-cutter” approach and have all athletes perform the same drills and exercises. This doesn’t make sense because each of those athletes have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, a pitcher who throws incredibly hard but is always breaking down doesn’t need to be doing a heavy dose of weighted ball and velocity training. Instead, that individual needs work on the deceleration phase of his delivery and should focus on arm health exercises.

At the Texas Baseball Ranch they like to compare their approach to a medical triage. Figure out what’s wrong, which of those things are most severe, and then address it in the order of severity. By starting with the pain you can best determine how to get rid of it. Once you are able to get rid of the pain then a whole new world becomes available to an athlete. When the pain is gone that athlete can begin to push himself again and the recovery time becomes shorter thereby allowing the athlete to push himself more often. Further, Coach Wolforth has realized that failure to address the pain will cause (1) an athlete’s body to morph iteself/organize itself to reduce the pain, or (2) result in the athlete breaking, usually in the soft tissue surrounding a joint.

In order to determine how to get rid of the pain, Coach Wolforth wants each athlete to identify where the pain is coming from. Is the pain, soreness, weakness, tightness or fatigue located in the medial elbow? The lateral/posterior elbow? The anterior shoulder? The posterior shoulder? Or is it a combination of these areas? By diagnosing where the pain is located it is possible to have a better understanding of what is the contributing cause(s).

Coach Wolforth and the Texas Baseball Ranch have even gone so far as to categorize five possible contributors to the pain throwing athletes’ experience. Type 1 contributors are structural related, such as physical misalignments, asymmetries, and strength or mobility issues. Type 2 contributors stem from movement patterns. Essentially, movements related to actually throwing the ball. This could be in the acceleration or deceleration phase (or both) of the delivery. Type 3 contributors are related to a pitcher’s workload and recovery. This includes how many pitches and innings a pitcher throws and how much rest they have between outings. Type 4 contributors are training related, such as the type of workouts an athlete goes through in order to prepare to pitch. The last category, labeled Type 5 contributors by Coach Wolforth, are internal systemic related. Namely, the amount of sleep, type of nutrition, and hydration levels of an athlete.

By diagnosing where the pain is located and then figuring out which type of contributors are causing the pain, the Texas Baseball Ranch has been incredibly successful in getting rid of the pain. Coach Wolforth is able to do this through specific drills or exercises based upon the contributing causes of the pain. Pain in certain areas or contributors to pain that are identified can be corrected with the proper drills and exercises that help correct the problem. For example, if a pitcher has medial elbow pain it likely stems from a disconnect in the delivery, such as an “early launch.” (Click here to read more about why you want a “late launch”). To correct this specific problem, Coach Wolforth will have the athlete perform throwing drills with a Connection Ball in order to ensure he stays connected throughout the delivery.

Coach Wolforth’s goal in dealing with pain is to decrease the pain by 50% in the first 21 days and from there continue to decrease the pain in similar increments. Part of the great success athletes have had at the Texas Baseball Ranch comes from the ability of Coach Wolforth to help decrease the pain athletes are experiencing, which allows them to push themselves harder on a more consistent basis and results in velocity gains, better command, sharper off-speed pitches, and obviously, a healthier, more durable arm.

Pay attention to the pain and what your body is telling you so that you can better diagnose the cause behind it, with a close eye on the most common contributing factors listed above. If you do this, and vigorously work to correct the problem, you will almost certainly diminish the pain and will eventually be able to rid yourself of the pain. Once pain is gone, you no longer have to focus and concern yourself with how you will physically make it through today’s workout or game, but instead you can start to focus on attacking the day’s workout or performing at your peak in today’s game, thereby making yourself a better, more dynamic baseball player.

Until next time,

Brian Oates