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General Topics

Free flowing information about sports training, exercise equipment, and general topics of interest.

  • Command, It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore – Part 1 By: Coach Flint Wallace

    (This is Part 1 of a 2-Part Series)

     

    Command is a skill, and like any skill, we know it can be improved with the RIGHT type of training.

     

    So, What is Command?

     

    In my opinion, Control is the ability to throw the baseball in the strike zone.Command is the ability to throw the baseball where you want in the strike zone, and for your misses to be in the direction you are attempting to throw.

    • Example: a fastball low and away- Hit the spot or miss, just low and/or just away, not miss up and/or in.

     

    What Are Bullpens For?

    • Bullpens or sides should not be where a player works on command.
    • Bullpens or sides should be like a quiz, they should be used to see if what you are doing for your command work is paying off.
    • Bullpens or sides should be for executing pitch sequences that you would use in the game.

     

    Every Throw!

    Command work should be a part of just about every throw a player makes, but for that to happen, we, as coaches, must create ways for the players to stay engaged throw after throw.

    • The way to achieve peak levels of improvement and to maintain the desire to keep improving is to work on tasks of “Just Manageable Difficulty”.
    • The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty.
    • We experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of our current abilities.
    • To achieve this optimal zone, we must also measure our immediate progress. Seeing yourself making progress in the actual moment of training or performing of the task is incredibly motivating.
    • Every pitcher needs a notebook to track their daily progress.

     

    Ideas to Enhance Engagement

    • Point Systems for every aspect – Long Toss, Drill Work, Flat Grounds, Bullpens, PFP’s, etc.
    • Charting – have each player chart his own throws.
    • Rankings – post daily. #1 Guy and Most Improved get out of field duty as an incentive each day.
    • Daily Recognition- “Sharp Shooter of the Day”.

    Every time a player achieves 75% twice in a row, on the command aspect of the activity, make it a little harder the next time.

    • Move the distance back
    • Decrease the size of the target
    • Add an obstacle or barrier

     

    Add Emotion!

    Emotion is the throttle to quicker, faster, and more efficient development of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability for the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning, experience, or following injury.

     

    Long Toss Ranch Style

    How we teach daily catch/long toss Ranch Style:

    • Use a screen with a target or pitching pad, or you can use a partner.
    • Between 45 feet-105 feet: must hit the pad 5 times (or your partner) without taking any steps to catch it before you can back up.
    • After 105 feet: must hit the screen 5 times (or your partner) with taking only one step to catch it before you can move back.
    • We start out with our Marshall 1 drill.
    • We do it for the first 3-5 distances.
    • Then we switch to our Walking Torque drill.
    • We do that until we can no longer reach the target in the air or we can’t throw the ball on line (not miss right or left).
    • Then we switch to our Step Behind w/Arm Swing drill or we do our Double Hop drill.
    • We do that until we can no longer reach the target in the air or we can’t throw the ball on line (not miss right or left).
    • We stay at that distance for 5-8 throws.
    • Then we start our pull-down phase.
    • We continue with Step Behinds w/Arm Swings or Double Hops.
    • We throw the ball on a line with minimum arc.
    • We make 1 throw then take a couple more steps forward.
    • We throw with the same intensity (velocity) on each throw on the way back in as we had with the farthest throw of the day. We are just trying to use the expanded intensity all the way into the compressed distance.
    • We stop at about 75 feet and make 3-5 throws from that distance.
    • We have our guys keep track of the total number of throws and the number of times they hit the screen or partner on the way in.
    • Keep track of the percentage.

     

    Wheel Drill

    Set Up:

    • 8 locations set up in a circle about 3-5 yards around a center point.
    • Target located about 15-30 feet from the center point.

    How to Perform:

    • Run from one of the starting locations around the circle to the throwing point in the middle, plant your back foot and throw to the target.
    • Then move to the next starting point and do the same thing.
    • Do so until you have made it completely around the circle.
    • Each time you start a new complete circle, change either how the player approaches the middle (Backpedal, Shuffle, etc.) or what the player has to do as he reaches the middle (Turn Glove Side, Turn Throwing Side, etc.)

     

    Next week, I’ll share with you four additional ways to train command including “Variable Distance”, “V-Flex”, “Strings” & “Khaos 101”.

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

     

    If you felt this type of approach was helpful to you and you’d like to receive more explicit details regarding the development of individual throwing athletes inside of a team or group setting, then the “Ranch Revolution Coaches Inner Circle” would be the ideal membership for you.  I personally lead this group. The membership gives you online access to our complete video vault (9 different cogs) containing information for warm-ups, arm care, throwing drills, mobility & flexibility, nutrition and more.  Each month, you also receive a copy of our “Pitching with Confidence” newsletter and audio, as well as our monthly blog and weekly mindset (these are great to also share with your players).  In addition, there’s a bi-weekly Vlog from me covering topics specifically for coaches.   

    Email me at CoachWallace@TexasBaseballRanch.com for more information and to find out how to get your first month’s membership FREE.

  • Fire vs. Poise - By Coach Ron Wolforth

    Is it any wonder young athletes are confused, frustrated, hesitant and/or unsure?

    On one hand they routinely hear from their coaches, instructors and parents that it is absolutely imperative to do things with passion and emotion. They have to act with fire, fervor and enthusiasm.

    On the other hand, they are also continually exhorted to keep their heads about them when the game gets tight. They are advised to be cool, calm and play with poise and self control.

    So what is it?  Passionate or Coolheaded?  Emotion or Poise?  Fire or Self Control? 

    The obvious answer is… “It just depends”.

    The challenge is… it depends upon ‘what’ exactly?

    The late Earl Nightingale may have offered us a clue when he said “History tells us, when it comes to excellence and superior performance, the path is clear. Identify what a majority of people do in any specific endeavor and then do the exact opposite. ‘Mediocrity’, by definition, is conventional thinking condensed down into a universal, standard operating procedure. Excellence then, in contrast, is behavior that is uncommon, atypical, extraordinary and unique.”

    So the next question then becomes, “If fire and poise are both critical to success, how do we assist our young people in understanding when to unleash their passion and when to be imperturbable and stoic?”

    Keeping Nightingale’s insight in the front of our mind, let’s look first at what is commonplace. 

    At practice and at training, the typical interaction and behavior is businesslike, pedestrian, routine, mundane, repetitive, unremarkable and monotonous. 

    In a game on the other hand, when the scoreboard is turned on, the behavior is considerably different.  In the heat of competition, energy gets ramped up significantly.  We see angst, tension, intensity, heightened emotions, celebration and reveling from both coaches and players. 

    So what do we at the Texas Baseball Ranch® suggest?

    We endorse training and practice to involve a great deal of high energy… to have angst, tension, intensity, passion, celebration and intentional emotion. 

    We recommend that behavior in games should exude poise, control, focus, composure and presence of mind.  Especially as the game gets to its most critical moments, exceptional performers are able to manage their emotions, remain present and execute their skills based upon the specific demands of the game.   

    In short: 

    In Practice / Training: Ramp the intensity, energy and emotion WAY up. Whenever possible, compete with consequences. Continually and constantly celebrate and reinforce what you want to see more of.   

    In the game: Remain focused, cool, calm and collected.  Manage your emotions.  Be strategic, intentional and purposeful.  Stay level headed and remain in the present moment. 

    This is EXACTLY the opposite of what occurs all around the baseball universe every year. 

    We believe having fire, passion, emotion and enthusiasm is indeed critically important to success.  It is our belief that emotion is even more important during the daily grind of practice and training. If athletes become accustomed to handling pressure, anxiety, tension, conflict and emotion during their regular work, they will be far better prepared to remain reticent and unflappable during moments of intense duress.

    Botton Line: Be uncommon. In practice, when everybody is sleep-walking and going through the motions, be fiery and intense.  When everybody is amped up in the heat of competition, instead be calm, unflustered, clear-eyed and level headed.       

          This will not happen by accident.  It must be on purpose.

       – – – – – – – – – –

    ATTENTION Coaches – Did you miss our Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp?   Don’t worry, you can still order the event DVDs which include all 17 presentations featuring Brent Strom (Houston Astros), Derek Johnson (Cincinnati Reds), Dewey Robinson (Tampa Bay Rays), Vern Gambetta (GAIN), Dave Lawn (Univ. of AZ) plus nine others including the entire TBR staff.  You’re definitely going to want these for your library.  Go to www.coachesbootcamp.com or give us as call and we’ll get you set up!

    ATTENTION Pitchers – There are only two opportunities remaining to get to The Texas Baseball Ranch® and participate in an Elite Pitchers Bootcamp before the start of the 2019 season.  Those dates are Dec. 28-30 and Jan. 19-21 (Martin Luther King Holiday).  This is the perfect way to get a jump start on the 2019 season and your competition!  To learn more or register go to: https://www.texasbaseballranch.com/events/epbc/

    SPECIAL 1-Week Session –  We are offering a special 1-week training session (Dec. 17-21) for college (and high school) players who’d like to get some extended training in over the winter break.  It will follow a similar format to our summer program.  You must be a Ranch Returner to participate in this particular session.  For more information or to register, call The Ranch office at (936) 588-6762.

  • Practice vs Training By: Coach Flint Wallace

    Practice and Training are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

    Every baseball team and player practices, but not all of them train.

    Let me explain what I mean…

    Practice is what we universally call anything that involves throwing, hitting, throwing a bullpen, taking ground balls and fly balls, etc.

    Practice is defined as, “Repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it”.

    Most practices are just designed to engrain or imprint a player’s current level of skill, so they can just perform that skill more routinely.

    The issue is that this is often the only development a player receives.  There is little or no portion of their time dedicated to training.

    Training is defined as, “The act, process, or method of one that seeks to improve skill, knowledge, or experience in a certain area”.

    Training would be things like working to increase bat speed, throwing velocity, running speed, fielding range, etc.

    Practice is applying what you learned.  Training is learning how to improve something or do something new.

    Practice is about getting enough reps in so you can perform your skill instinctively.  Training is about being able to perform that skill better than you could before.

    Practice is about successfully performing a skill over and over.  Training is about pushing until you fail.

    Practice is often about looking good.  Training often looks ugly.

    Practice is often about being efficient.  Training is about improvement.

    Practice is often the same old routine.  Training is about change and adaptation.

    Understand that top-level players train, they don’t practice.

    So please don’t mistake practice for training, but make sure every rep of every drill or exercise is working towards improving.

    Until Next Time… Keep Getting After It!

     

    At The Texas Baseball Ranch®, we can help you determine the specific areas you need to focus on in you’re training.

    We have three dates remaining in our 2018 Summer Elite Pitchers’ Boot Camp schedule.

    Learn more about these exciting, information packed 3-Day events at
    http://www.texasbaseballranch.com/events/elite-pitchers-boot-camps/

    OR

    If you’d like to spend more time with us this summer, check out our Extended Stay Summer Intensive Program.
    http://www.texasbaseballranch.com/events/tbr-summer-program/

  • Is Baseball’s Current Instructional Pop Culture Giving Weighted Balls A Bad Name? BY: RON WOLFORTH

    The competitive baseball universe is very akin in many ways to our Western Culture at large, trends and fads are always in motion. As we all know from life experience, trends and fads simply come and go. In 2018, ‘weighted balls’ and velocity enhancement programs are decidedly in vogue. Even as I travel around the world to places like Italy, The Netherlands and Australia, I see weighted ball programs coupled with their promises of fantastic jumps in velocity. If you are a relative newcomer to the world of competitive baseball, you may not be aware that this was certainly not always the case.

    In 1993, I started my first instructional academy in Langley British Columbia, Canada. For nearly the next 10 years, the utilization of weighted balls was decidedly not mainstream. Although a couple of very unique places were utilizing over-weighted implements, the baseball universe at large was decidedly against the use of anything other than a regulation baseball for throwing. The process of throwing balls weighing more and/or less than a regulation baseball was almost universally thought of as risky, perilous, crazy, fraught with danger and an exponential increase in the risk of injury.

    Today, 2018, weighted ball velocity enhancement programs are commonplace on the internet, at high schools, colleges and in instructional academies across the country. Today it seems everybody has a velocity enhancement process. That represents a significant change in the training culture in just 25 years. That’s great news, right?

    The answer, yes and no. We’ve obviously come a long way in reducing our irrational fear of a simple tool. That’s a good thing.

    On the flip side, hardly a week goes by that we don’t get an email or a phone call at the Texas Baseball Ranch® saying something along the lines of, “Our son has never had arm trouble before and this last offseason/month/week etc. his trainer/coach put him on this new weighted ball program… and now he is hurt/out and needs surgery. We heard you are the ‘supposed’ weighted ball/arm health people… why is this happening? Is this common? What do you suggest going forward?”

    Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch also gets regular questions along these same lines. As we also know, typically, for every call or email you receive there are many, many more who have similar issues but are not calling or are calling someone else. Suffice to say, with all the new velocity enhancement programs out there today, arm injuries are on the increase and weighted balls are, in our opinion, often getting an unfair bad rap.

    From Randy Sullivan- Florida Baseball Ranch,

    “We field 3-5 calls per week from parents of players ranging in age from 12-24 who most often have tried a mail ordered, one-size-fits-all weighted ball program and are now experiencing arm pain. It’s sad really, for many it was their first attempt at improving their ability to throw and they often regret trying the cheapest, simplest route. One-size-fits-all anything often becomes a dangerous shortcut.”

    Let me start by giving you a short history of the Ranch’s utilization of weighted balls and possibly assist people in understanding the role that a well-designed weighted ball program can play on arm health, durability and performance.

    Weighted Balls Are Simply a Tool. They are NOT a Panacea or a Quick Fix for Anything. They Can Be Beneficial, or They Can Be Utilized Inappropriately and Have Deleterious Effects.

    The Ranch History of Our Utilization of Weighted Balls

    The Beginning

    In 2002, inspired by the work and research on weighted bats by Dr. Coop DeRenne, we began in earnest using underload and overload principles in the training of our throwers. In other words, we began utilizing weighted balls. We started with 3 weights: a one-pound ball (16 oz),1/2-pound ball (8 oz) and an underload ball (4 oz). The balls we used were called ‘D-Balls’. They were a hollow yellow rubber ball and filled with a type of black graphite with a black cork stopper. I’m not even sure if they even make them anymore. The balls simply were not very functional for the punishment we were placing them through.

    Eventually, Mr. Robert Oates of Oates Specialties began to work with us to customize the balls to withstand the rigor in which we took them through. That evolution and innovation between Oates Specialties and the Ranch remain constant even today.

    It is important to point out that the baseball universe even in 2002 was much different than the one of today. In 2002 we were seen, of course, initially as heretics, crazy and dangerous in using weighted balls in any matter, shape or form. We were regularly excoriated publicly on websites, message boards and blog posts for our ‘reckless’ behavior and ‘placing the athletes in our care at unnecessary risk just to gain a few miles per hour’.

    In hindsight, all this scrutiny was actually a blessing. Every day when we went to work we had no doubt that the world was watching, just waiting to pounce on our ‘dangerous’ and ‘ineffective’ training methods.

    Several times I actually had rather influential baseball people get me in private and say, “Ron, just between you and me… off the record… how many TJ’s did you have at the Ranch?” Apparently, many people thought it impossible that we could do both… arm health/durability AND performance enhancement.The baseball universe at that time simply believed it impossible to thread the needle between those two outcomes.

    Ah Ha #1. Prehab vs. Rehab

    The first thing we did was make weighted balls initially the cornerstone of our Arm Care Program. We didn’t race to velocity enhancement initially because quite frankly we didn’t know what we were going to find, so we started slowly with arm care.

    By that time (2002) I had attended for several years in a row the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Conference in Birmingham Alabama. The impetus of the conferences was not performance enhancement; however, I found the symposiums to be exceptional on the topic of rehabilitation. Strangely enough, in the area of ‘rehab’ there appeared to be widespread acceptance on the use of weighted poly balls and rebounders.

    It occurred to me…THIS is exactly where we are going to begin with weighted implements. Weighted balls would be utilized first as a prehab/arm car process allowing our athlete’s soft tissue to first become accustomed to the stimulus/load and then… after a period of assessment… see where we go after that.

    Ah Ha #2. The Reformation-The Engineer and Pushing the Performance Envelope.

    In 2003, we invited a man by the name of Paul Nyman to speak at our Coaches Boot Camp. He was an engineer with a track background but a love of baseball. He gave two presentations that fundamentally and forever changed the way we trained at our facility. For several years we had been in search of a training process that rejected the conventional paradigms and antiquated, ineffective training methods. In Paul Nyman we found exactly that.

    Paul Nyman gave us a new paradigm and a new perspective. We referred to our personal iteration of Nyman’s dynamic systems paradigms as “The Athletic Pitcher Program”. Even publicly, I have long described Nyman’s work as essentially the ‘Reformation’ in baseball training. Today, Nyman remains the single greatest outside influence upon the Ranch and its fundamental training processes in our history.

    In 2003, Nyman proposed the unthinkable. He offered a structured, incremental weighted ball throwing program coupled with radar as objective feedback. To Nyman and his engineering/ track background, it was basic common sense. To the baseball elite, it was heresy.

    Ah Ha #3. Deceleration Is as Important as Acceleration

    Dr. Mike Marshall won the National League Cy Young Award in 1974 and set a Major League record for most appearances by a relief pitcher in 1974, appearing in a mind-blowing 106 games. He is the holder of two Major League records, both of which he set in the 1974 season: most appearances (games pitched) in a season (106), and most consecutive team games with a relief appearance (13). In his record-setting 1974 season, he pitched 208.3 innings, all of which came in relief appearances.

    Those statistics alone should force any logical trainer/coach/athlete to sit up and take notice and to ask questions. Dr. Marshall endorses a very unique movement pattern that in many ways is the antithesis of the current orthodoxy. Many people simply could not grasp his nonconventional approach and/or Dr. Marshall’s often bombastic and acerbic manner.

    We brought Dr. Mike Marshall in as a keynote presenter to our annual Coaches Symposium and just as advertised, he challenged the status quo and turned the preverbal instructional apple cart upside down, taking no prisoners with regard to his absolute disdain for contemporary methods of pitcher development. In our opinion, Dr. Marshall made a very compelling argument giving evidence that not only were the current standard training processes ineffective, in fact, they were complicit in the influx of injuries and surgical interventions.

    While Dr. Marshall had very, very few complimentary things to say about our training or our approach, we in turn learned a great deal from him regarding the critical importance of systematically preparing soft tissue for the rigors of pitching in competition, as well as the often-overlooked nature of the efficiency of an athlete’s pattern of deceleration.

    Dr. Marshall was the first person we ever heard articulate the connection between deceleration and acceleration, “The body and arm will only accelerate itself as efficiently as it can decelerate itself.”

    So, from Dr. Marshal we took two very critical pieces to our current training protocols:

    #1) That our process of preparing our athlete’s soft tissue for throwing needed to be far more robust than our previous methods.

    #2) That the efficiency of our athlete’s patterns of deceleration not only matters with regards to health, durability and recovery but also are influential with regards to velocity enhancement.

    In other words, if my soft tissue isn’t sufficiently prepared for the push or my pattern of dissipating energy and slowing down my arm is inefficient, a velocity enhancement program almost certainly needs to be postponed until those areas are adequately addressed, or injury will all too often be the result. At the very least, any efforts at velocity enhancements will be constrained or hampered if these areas are deficient.

    Unfortunately, this description of inadequate preparation of soft tissue and/or inefficient patterns of deceleration is far more common than most people think. It’s yet another reason young men get injured while embarking on a velocity building program. In our opinion, weighted balls too often serve as a diversion to the root contributors of injury. Ah-Ha #3 is a classic case in point.

    Ah Ha #4. Start with the Pain and Hyper-Personalize

    Fresh off the presentations of Paul Nyman and Mike Marshall, we began to experiment with weighted balls as a velocity enhancement process. However, we did so with two crucially important caveats:

    A. The athlete currently does not have arm/shoulder/elbow issues

    B. The athlete had a minimum of 6 weeks throwing weighted balls in our arm care process

    If the athlete passed out of that basic 2 step criteria, they were eligible for our initial velocity enhancement process. We referred to this process as “Starting with the Pain”.

    As an important side note, every single session would end with an arm health self-re-assessment. In other words, when each athlete would finish a session, we would immediately check with them on the status of their arm. If they rated their discomfort as a 4 or higher, they would automatically be withheld from the next scheduled session until their arm health returns to normal. If, at any time during the session, their arm discomfort rises above a 4 on a 0-10 scale or anything feels odd or strange, they were to immediately suspend their training session.

    This basic process remains standard operating procedure almost 15 years later.

    First- always prepare the soft tissue for 4-6 weeks prior to our initial push.

    Second- closely monitor every athlete’s arm health each session and adjust their processes based on the individual.

    Third- never hesitate in delaying or suspending the process if the arm is not responding well. Learn to train your pitchers to be intimate with their arm and understand that some days it is simply time to shut it down and decide to fight another day. In other words, if you’re ‘not feeling it’today, many times the right call is to suspend your push for today and come at it again later in the week or the next week. Injury will certainly place a REAL delay in your development. It is never a good idea to push to the point you become injured.

    Ah Ha #5. Mechanical Efficiency (Connection) Matters… A lot

    In 2005, I watched a sports medicine TV program about an orthopedic doctor who specializes in treating world class elite long-distance running athletes. His comments regarding injuries in this very specific population of athletes really resonated with me.

    He basically said that most doctors treat the injuries to elite long-distance runners from a faulty paradigm. This was the gist of his comments:

    Of course, world-class distance runners have incredibly high workloads, that’s the very reason why they are world class, so if your instinct is to treat the injury primarily or exclusively by the simple reduction of their workload, you will be of little practical use to your athletes. They run, that’s what they do. They run a great deal and that’s why they are elite.

    Instead, he urged the doctors to look deeper and closer, and not be so plastic in their perspective. Elite long-distance runners are far from normal. Therefore, he concluded a conventional approach to injury reduction for the general population will not typically be beneficial to the elite long-distance runner.

    If, he argued, the elite runner has an inefficiency in his running form or their shoes do not fully support their feet, under any considerable workloads of course injury is eventually going to often be the result. Therefore, he proposed, in many cases, the workload was only a symptom or an ancillary contributor to injury and not the cause itself.

    For example, if a runner actually ran on the side of his/her feet, would managing his/her workload be a sufficient solution? The obvious answer is absolutely not. Reducing his/ her workload may delay the final breakdown but would do NOTHING toward a solution. The only solution would be to improve the efficiency in which he runs.

    That made absolutely perfect sense to me. Applying this orthopod’s logic to throwing athletes, it became obvious to us at the Ranch that mechanical efficiency also really matters when it came to deciding who was approved to take part in our velocity enhancement programs. Over the past 12 years, we have identified 12 primary movement pattern disconnections that have the potential to add stress to soft tissue.

    So, when we initially assess athletes and find a significant level of one or more of the 12 disconnections, coupled with arm pain or difficulty recovering from throwing sessions, that indicates to us that we must first reduce the disconnection, reduce the discomfort of the arm and increase their ability to recover and bounce back before we throw them into a velocity enhancement program.

    To us at the Ranch, this simply is common sense. If I have some arm discomfort on a regular basis currently and NOW I’m going to really ramp up the stress, load, and intensity, why should I be surprised when injury or shut down is the result?

    Bottom line: In our opinion, this is one of the most common reasons so many young arms are injured from weighted ball programs and velocity enhancement programs. They are already on the edge of injury right now. The weighted ball just simply was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Ah Ha #6. Holism- Everything Matters. The Continual Search for the Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity

    Many players and their parents desperately want development and performance enhancement to be simple. They want their coaches or instructors/trainers to explain the incredible complexity of human performance with catchy phases, teaching cues and/or one-size-fits-all recipes to success.

    In the privacy of quiet reflection, most of us would realize this type of process is simply fool’s gold.

    Need velocity? Just get on the internet and obtain a good weighted ball program.

    Need arm health? Just get on YouTube and watch a good arm care process.

    Need command? Throw more frequent bullpens.

    Need better secondary stuff? Ask your instructor/coach for a new grip. Maybe find out how Clayton Kershaw holds it.

    In our estimation, these suggestions are not bad in and of themselves, they are simply endemic of a much bigger problem. Most people routinely underestimate the complexity and difficulty of consistently performing well at highest levels of competition. At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, we have run head first into that reality, again and again, ourselves over the past 15 years.

    In 2010 to give our team at the Texas Baseball Ranch® a foundation to understand and deal with that complexity, I created a chart to guide us. It has since been edited and slightly improved upon, but the foundation remains unchanged in 8 years and is a fixture in our core philosophy.

    This chart was my effort to remind myself and my staff to continually recognize and appreciate the complexity of high performance, to refrain from the constant lure of trying to explain the unexplainable to a client and yet create a sensible foundation from which we could make valid and sound decisions and judgments.

    The 6 Primary Contributors to Substandard Performance

    What is keeping you from having a healthy, durable, electric arm?

    • Type I Contributors- Structural Related
        Physical misalignments, asymmetries, strength imbalances, constraints in                mobility/flexibility and/or strength/stability
    • Type II Contributors- Movement Pattern Related
       The movements related to actually throwing the ball; the mechanical efficiency of   the athlete’s movement pattern
    • Type III Contributors– Preparation Related
       Wake-Up warm-up, pretraining, pregame, postgame, ramp up to season or to     session/game
    • Type IV Contributors- Training Related
       How your training processes affect your abilities (strength program,   mobility/flexibility program, conditioning program, throwing program)
    • Type V Contributors-Workload/Recovery Related
       How much, how long, how often, how many per inning, how quickly you return to   full speed.
    • Type VI Contributors- Internal Systemic Related                                                                            Sleep, nutrition, hydration

     

    Why is this chart so important? What does it have to do with the efficacy of a weighted ball program? Simple…

    Everything matters.

    For example, the belief at the Ranch consortium is:

    If the athlete’s physical structure, alignment, strength, balance, mobility/flexibility or stability is considerably limited, constrained, compromised or deficient, a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.

    If the athlete’s mechanical efficiency is questionable or marginal and has manifested abject pain or difficulties in recovery, then a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.

    If the athlete hasn’t built a minimum of a 6-week foundation of preparation for their soft tissue, a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.

    We have taken our share of criticism from some corners of the baseball universe that we overly hype pain and for our ‘overzealous need’ for multiple assessments before engaging on a velocity program. We truly don’t mind the criticism. Everyone should be free to come to their own conclusions. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the criticism cogent.

    As I alluded to previously, we have been attempting to tread the needle between arm health/durability and performance for the past 16 years. In that time, we have found some really good news that we wish everybody in the baseball universe would understand and take advantage of, and that good news is this…

    The Really Good News

    #1. We have found that if we can simply assist each athlete in reducing or eliminating any regular discomfort of his elbow or shoulder and/or significantly improve his ability to recover/bounce back, that athlete will in fact nearly always (85% of the time) experience a slight but notable uptick of 1-3 mph in velocity in 4 weeks of his improvement in his arm health and durability.

    This should only make sense. If the athlete’s arm feels better…he will naturally ‘step on the accelerator’.If his arm is more durable, he can throw more often and for longer stretches of time. Do those behaviors appear to support enhanced velocity? The answer is without question… yes!

    #2. We have found that as the athlete improves his mechanical efficiency and builds his throwing foundation, any weighted ball program we place him under in the future will be far more effective.

    Final Comments

    The fact many people often forget is that ALL balls are ‘weighted’. Every ball ever created has weight. The common vernacular of ‘weighted balls’ infers that the balls they are utilizing are typically heavier than the 5 ¼ounce regulation baseballs. Coop DeRenne used the terms ‘overload’ and ‘underload’ to help further clarify his process. We of course are shaped by the works of DeRenne and Nyman and use similar language.

    I do believe it is a rather foolish and antiquated position to take that a 5 ¼ounce ball is somehow a ‘safe’ weight but 3 ounces or 7 ounces are dangerous.

    We suggest viewing the weight and size of the balls in your training as a specific type of stimulus, and just like dosage/time/frequency in medicine matters, so does the specific stimulus in training. Sometimes the individual is ready for and indeed should have ‘more’. Other times, ‘more’ would be dangerous.

    It will take customization, communication, testing, assessment and constant monitoring to maximizes it’s affects and minimize its risks. One thing is for certain, the one-size-fits-all processes that I see firsthand out there now does none of those. They are simple, but they are often far from benign.

    We have indeed come a long way from the 1990’s in terms of our perspective on weighted balls. That’s a great thing. However, in my opinion, until and unless we can move past the desire to obtain a universal, monolithic, catchall weighted ball throwing program, we as a baseball universe will keep running head first into the unintended consequences of inappropriate and misapplied training, with injury and surgical intervention as the much too frequent outcomes.

    But of course, it’s not weighted balls that are the problem. The problem is how they are utilized. As my late father was frequent to remind me when I complained about my equipment, “It’s rarely the bow that’s the problem…it’s the skill of the Indian warrior using it that matters.”

    Indeed.

    A Steven Covey quote that I think is the perfect way to end our discussion of weighted ball training,

    “If there is no gardener, there is no garden.”

    Our advice at the Ranch Consortium, when it comes to weighted balls and velocity enhancement programs, become the gardener. It’s the difference maker.

  • A New Spring and a New Landscape

    As baseball fans and a company whose primary focus is assisting baseball programs, players, and coaches, we love the Spring! One of our favorite parts of the spring is Spring Training. As we have done for several years now, Oates Specialties traveled to both the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League to visit the numerous organizations utilizing Oates Specialties’ equipment. We enjoyed our time with the Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Brewers, Astros, Phillies, Marlins, and Rays, to name a few. In addition, we saw countless major and minor league ballplayers with Oates Specialties’ equipment, including the phenom from Japan, Shohei Ohtani. It is always very humbling to see so many talented athletes choosing Oates Specialties’ equipment to assist them in their career.

    But outside of spending time with our friends in professional baseball, I couldn’t help but notice how much different baseball is today—in terms of training—than when Oates Specialties was founded in 2003. In 2003, the baseball world was not familiar with the terms “arm care” or “dynamic warm-up”, and weighted balls were hardly being utilized. I remember my first American Baseball Coaches Association conference in 2004 where we were showing off the few products we had at that time, including tubing and weighted balls, and people looked at us like we were crazy. In fact, the first several ABCA conventions we had to do non-stop demos so that coaches could understood how to use our products. In the first 5 years of Oates Specialties’ existence our job was essentially to educate coaches on how to train their athletes differently. We continue to enjoy this role, but are thankful that there are so many great sources of information available to the baseball community today (follow us on social media to receive some of this great information, in addition to our website). Our primary focus has always been to assist baseball players in becoming as athletic as possible while also providing unique equipment that could enable players to train in baseball specific movement patterns, and to provide equipment specifically designed for the throwing athlete to help ensure a healthy arm.

    In the early years, so many people questioned us, scoffed at us, or even outright insulted us for thinking outside the box. We often heard the line, “Well that’s not how I was taught to play/train for baseball.” Thankfully, over time, the baseball world caught on to the training revolution. Now there are incredible training facilities throughout the country who teach players how to improve their athleticism in addition to the sport specific skills needed for baseball.

    Unsurprisingly, the very last people who catch on to a paradigm shift such as this are those at the professional level. This is in large part because they don’t have to, as they have the best talent in the world and do not have to focus on development nearly as much. Yet, as the lower levels of baseball changed, it slowly trickled up to the professional ranks. The Cleveland Indians and Trevor Bauer is a great example. Trevor grew up training with Oates Specialties’ products—the Shoulder Tube, TAP Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, and Wrist Weights to be specific—and continued using this equipment on his path to the Major Leagues. When he arrived in the Major Leagues, teams, coaches, and staff noticed and decided to educate themselves on the programs and thought process he utilized. Much of the Cleveland Indians’ staff and front office traveled to the Texas Baseball Ranch to learn Trevor’s training program. The Indians ultimately hired Eric Binder as its Director of Player Development. Eric trained with Oates Specialties’ equipment during his playing career, and has now implemented Oates Specialties’ equipment throughout the Indians’ organization. Below is a picture of Oates Specialties’ weighted balls lined up for use at the Indians’ Major League Spring Training camp.

    The Indians are not alone in this regard, we saw Oates Specialties’ products at all of our stops during Spring Training, and saw professional athletes using numerous types of equipment from Oates Specialties. It is clear that there is a new training landscape—one that Oates Specialties has been privileged to be a part of and looks forward to continue playing a role in.

    If there is anything we can do to help with your baseball training, don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to add you to the list of players, coaches, or teams that have used our products in furthering their baseball goals.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

    Brian@oatesspecialties.com

  • The Top 4 Ways Pitchers Become Disconnected - By Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    “Overhand throwing is an unnatural movement.”

    That’s what “they” say.
    Who says that?
    You know, the ubiquitous yet ever-elusive “they” who reign supreme as the self-appointed authority on just about everything.

    Well… not surprisingly, “they” are wrong again.

    According to a June 2013 report published in the journal Nature, throwing has been “natural” since our Homo Erectus ancestors began chucking rocks and sticks at large prey about 1.9 million years ago.

    Humans are born to throw.It’s in our DNA. And when left to our own devices, most throwers learn to do so without the need for any coaching or guidance. Yet, despite the natural nature (that’s redundant and repetitive) of throwing, injury rates continue to climb and although most players desire to throw at a high level, many never achieve it.

    How can this be?

    As I reflect on this question, I am guided toward yet another stroke of brilliance from Coach Ron Wolforth of The Texas Baseball Ranch. Sometime around 2015, Coach Wolforth presented a list of 11 of the most common “disconnections” that limit a player’s ability to throw hard, demonstrate elite level command, developed high caliber secondary stuff and/or recover on schedule. At the risk of sounding like a slobbering lap dog, I am frequently impressed by Ron’s ability to see through complex problems and pare them down to comprehensible, manageable categories. Hyper-individualization of training plans across multiple dimensions is the hallmark and the desired endpoint of the TBR/FBR consortium but without categorization there can be no systemized path to customization.

    Categorize, then customize.
    That’s the formula and in my opinion it’s brilliant.

    Throwing at a superior level is about being “connected”. When a delivery is connected all the body parts are acting in timing and synergy with one another. Every part is playing its proper role and performing in concert with all the other body parts and those parts are operating around a stable spine.
    Disconnections are defined as instances when a body part acts independently, away from the natural synergy of the rest of the body or apart from a stable spine. Disconnections add stress to connective tissue that can result in injury, premature fatigue and/or difficulty with recovery. Disconnections can also limit an athlete’s ability to summate the forces in the kinetic chain, thereby limiting the ability to achieve optimal velocity. And finally, disconnections can lead to early unraveling of the movement pattern, resulting in command issues and substandard secondary stuff
    Being connected is natural. Disconnections are unnatural.

    So, why do some throwing athletes become disconnected?

    In my experience there are 4 reasons a throwing athlete develops disconnections (and these are listed in order from the most common to the least common).

    • Their disconnections are taught. Through the years, I’ve studied throwing more than most and I’ve screwed some things up along the way. Frankly, many of the concepts I espoused as a young coach probably did more harm than good. There are about 1000 kids I should find and offer my apologies. I taught what I knew… and I was wrong. Like me, there are many well-meaning coaches who unfortunately possess incomplete or in correct information. I’ve never met a coach who intentionally made a player worse, or chose to put him at risk for injury. Nonetheless, many of the standard teaching points in traditional pitching instruction are simply wrong and they encourage disconnections. “Get your elbow up”. “Point the ball to second base.” “Tall and fall.” “Push off the rubber.” All of these well intentioned commands can lead to disconnections that add stress to connective tissue, rob a pitcher of velocity and negatively impact command and secondary stuff. Yes, indeed… many times disconnections are taught.
    • They are desperately seeking energy in the wrong places. When inefficiencies present themselves, they tend to disrupt the kinetic chain such that a player attempting to maximize production subconsciously searches for motor patterns that might be counterproductive or might even put him at risk for injury. This is most commonly demonstrated in the disconnection that is the highly debated inverted W. Defined as any time the throwing athlete moves one or both elbows into extreme abduction with internal rotation of the shoulder. Typically, athletes who demonstrate this disconnection also exhibit poor lower half efficiency. Lacking support from the ground, they look to their upper bodies to produce the energy needed to approach elite level throwing. In my experience, many times if you can improve the lower half movement pattern, this upper half problem goes away.
    • They have mobility or stability constraints that force them to adopt a particular movement pattern. I say this quite often. Mobility and stability constraints are intimately interwoven. Often one will spawn the other. For example, if you have tight quads or you have poor ankle mobility, you’ll probably have a hard time getting into a glute load. Your mobility restrictions will force you to shift your weight toward the ball of your foot and you’ll become quad dominant. This will project the direction of your load toward the on deck circle on your arm side. From this point, unless you have crazy hip internal rotation mobility and motor control, you’ll either land across your body and throw hook shots toward home plate (significantly stressing your connective tissue in the process), or you’ll disconnect with a lead leg opening early, premature torso rotation, leaning hard to the glove side with your posture, you’ll push or leap with your back leg, instead of rotating, in a move that will cause you to release the ball with your back foot in the air – effectively eliminating any further contribution from your lower half. Mobility and/or stability constraint are often major contributors to disconnection and they’re frequently ignored. If you hope to change a pitchers biomechanical patter, you must assess for contributory physical constraints concurrently with a high-speed video analysis.
    • Their body randomly selects an inefficient pathway as they are learning their movement pattern. One of the fundamental principles in motor learning is known as Bernstein Principle #1 and it states, “The body will organize itself in accordance to the overall goal of the activity.” If given a clear goal, the body will find a way to accomplish the task. Note, however that we said the body will find “a way.” That doesn’t necessarily mean it will always choose the safest or the most efficient way. That’s where master teaching/coaching can play the most significant role in player development. As players begin to self-organize new movements we can use motor learning strategies to maximize efficiency and safety, increase the rate of learning for the student and improve transfer to game performance.

    As a master teacher or coach, it is our responsibility to design and execute training protocols that take advantage of all the available motor learning science principle to suppress, improve or eliminate disconnections. And, it seems to me that it would be a whole lot easier to catch them before they became a problem. Get your athlete connected first. Then add energy. That is the Ranch formula and so far it’s going pretty well… and getting better all the time.

    If you’re a throwing athlete who needs to get connected, here’s how you can connect with us, here are 3 links to get you there:

    • Come spend a week or two with us at our incredible Complete Game Winter Training Program. Stay anywhere from 1-6 weeks and train up to 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. Get connected and ramped up for the best season of your life. Click Here to learn more.
    • Schedule a Precision Strike, One-day, One-on-One evaluation and training session. We’ll spend up to 5 hours in a one-on-one experience assessing you for inefficiencies and physical constrain. Then we’ll take that information and design a custom-made training plan that will leave no stone unturned and you’ll leave not only with a world-class comprehensive training plan but you’ll also be offered a process to stay connected with us so we can help you continue your improvement. Click Here to learn more or call us a 866-787-4533 (866-STRIKE3) to schedule an appointment.
    • Come to a weekend Elite Performance Boot Camp. In what can only be considered 2 days of amazing, we’ll conduct a full court press assessment, teach you all the drills and exercises necessary to correct your inefficiencies. You’ll learn about our leading edge motor learning approach and we’ll teach you all you need to know about strength and conditioning, tissue preparation and recovery. You’ll leave with a plan that will make the complex subject of elite thrower training simple and easy to implement.

    We can’t wait to see you at The Ranch®.

    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

  • What's the Goal Here? The First 5 Crucial Questions Surrounding Any Activity- By: Coach Ron Wolforth

    In 2003, Paul Nyman coined a definition that has become a centerpiece for us here at the Texas Baseball Ranch® for the past 14 years.

    Nyman refers to it as the Bernstein Principle: the body will organize itself based upon the ultimate goal of the activity.  It is derived from the works of the father of biomechanics, Nikolai Bernstein, a Soviet Neurophysiologist.

    14 years later it remains unassailable. Bernstein has actually become a verb of sorts at the Ranch. To Bernstein something at the Texas Baseball Ranch® implies we have a very clear goal, and we are acting in full accordance with that goal and not letting anything interfere with our efforts to achieve it. While the ultimate goal of this specific exercise certainly can and often will change or evolve, our commitment to our current stated goal at this moment must be unwavering. Distraction, diversion or interference must be kept to a minimum if we wish to grow and develop ahead of the rate of our competitive peer group.

    I find so many athletes and their parents confused, conflicted and/or bewildered regarding their personal development. They lack clarity and without clarity you are hard pressed to find conviction.  And without conviction... one cannot find consistent, exceptional performance at the higher levels of competition.

    But I personally believe the Bernstein Principle has merit way beyond the sports arena.

    On a regular basis, I believe one should have a built in personal dialogue loop that in almost every important endeavor undertaken... frequently asks 5 basic questions.

    #1. What's the specific goal here? (Perhaps even... what is the ULTIMATE goal here?)

    #2. Why is THIS goal so important to me?

    #3. What are the specific obstacles in my way to achieving THIS goal?

    #4. What are the dangers along this path to the achievement of THIS goal?

    #5. Who or what resources do I need assistance from to achieve THIS goal?

    For example:

    Debating whether to try to develop a slider instead of a curveball? Ask the 5 questions!

    Debating whether or not to take part in a velocity enhancement program? Ask the 5 questions!

    Deciding on the specific strength/stability or mobility/ flexibility program and process to use. Ask the 5 questions!

    Debating whether or not to transfer schools? Ask the 5 questions!

    Debating whether or not to ask a girl out on a date? Ask the 5 questions!

    Most athletes simply can't answer those questions clarity, self-actualization and self-awareness are too often lacking in their day to day world.

    So they get distracted. They drift off course. They get confused. They get angry. They get frustrated.  They get disheartened and disillusioned.

    As famous mountain climber Alison Levine shared in a TED talk regarding the lessons she learned from climbing Mount Everest:

    "Fear is absolutely' OK... it's normal.  It is complacency that will kill you."

    In my opinion, it is the same with skill development.

    Here's to you developing the habitual inner dialogue of a high performer. Practice utilizing the 5 questions as often as you can in your daily life. I promise you that your productivity will increase.

    Until next time,

    Stay Curious & Keep Fighting the Good Fight

    If you are a Ranch alumni we have a special holiday training session available- reply to this email to find out more.

    There are 2 opportunities remaining for players to join us this winter,  find the dates and more information at www.texasbaseballranch.com/elite-pitchers-bootcamp/ 

    We also have our annual Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp scheduled for Dec 8-10, you can register or purchase DVD's at PitchingCoachesBootcamp.com

  • 5 Major Changes and Upgrades at the Texas Baseball Ranch® by Ron Wolforth

    Based upon the works of Dr. Frans Bosch and Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, the Ranch training systems have significantly shifted toward the awareness of how the brain is being influenced and shaped during each training session and how our practice sessions are either developing/ optimizing or inhibiting with/ interfering with our athlete’s ability to adjust and adapt during competition. It has become painfully obvious to us that the traditional standard practice fare almost always represents a real limitation to an athlete’s ability to adjust.

    Therefore we utilize the concept of Differential Learning and Deliberate Practice in almost every single facet of our training. Our clients systematically enhance their ability to adjust, adapt and overcome…it’s baked into the training cake. It’s part of what they do every day…Practicing Adjustment.

    1). The Multi-colored Pad and Khaos balls are our newest training tools for a process we refer to as Khaos Training. By constantly changing the target and the size, weight and texture of EVERY Ball on EVERY Throw, 1) the brain is actively engaged and 2) The body learns to organize itself quickly and effectively over time.
    k-target-and-khaos-balls
    2). By staggering the distances of our Advanced Command Trainers and utilizing V Flex in our command series and charting our sessions, we have seen dramatic improvements in our athlete’s ability to adjust and engage the brain during otherwise mundane training sessions.

    command-trainer-v-flex

    3). We utilize many of the concepts of Jozef Frucek, Martin Bosy and Fighting Monkey™ and their paradigm of Earthquake Architecture.

    fighting-monkey

    4) We have expanded and improved our utilization of such tools as the Bell Club, Wrist Weights, Shoulder Tube™, Mini Bands and the Durathro™ Baseball Training Sock, *Take special notice the video screen in front of the athletes (red circle) playing slow motion and regular speed segments of elite, world class throwing athletes, focusing in on the specific movement segment the athletes are trying to reproduce*.

    throwingsockand-miniband

    5) We have modified our strength development and corrective exercises to focus on coordination, synergy, variability, malleability and strength specifically at end ranges of motion. Literally everything has at least a component of adaptability and adjustability to it.

    training-tools


    Note from Robert Oates:

    Would you like to learn more about how elite pitchers are developed and how Oates Specialties equipment is used to improve elite athletes? If yes, then I encourage you to attend the Texas Baseball Ranch Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp. For the past 13 years, this experience has been the annual highlight of my year.

    The always remarkable content offered at the event is from world class presenters, and the networking opportunity with people who live and breathe pitching always proves to be invaluable. From the program shown below, it is evident this year’s event will also be extraordinary.

    Coach Wolforth has given us the opportunity to offer you a $50.00 registration discount. Just enter the code OATES (be sure to use all capital letters) in the registration form found at www.CoachesBootCamp.com.

    This year’s Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp is slated for December 7 -10 (Friday through Sunday, with a bonus day on Thursday). Gunnar, Drayton and I will be there and hope to see you there as well!

    Robert


    The 2017 Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp

    For the first time ever the UPCBC will be held in the brand new 4700 square feet theatre and assessment center. (At the Ranch we refer to it as the BIG RED BARN). This allows us a temperature controlled theatre in an awesome facility for the lecture presentations AND immediate access to our two 3600 sq ft training barns for any break out and hands on sessions. In our opinion this property is the ultimate venue for an event of this nature.

    redbarn-at-tbr

    The Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp Agenda:

    Bonus Day: Thursday, December 7: You get insider access to all the latest methods we use with our MLB, college, and younger athletes at The Ranch.
    Boot Camp: Friday - Sunday, December 8-10: Three full days of expert sessions, Q&A, and camaraderie. Learn from your peers, make new friends, and form valuable new connections to further your career as a coach.

    Coach Wallace will talk about the efficient utilization of the Lower Half- both the back hip and glute as well as lead leg disconnections…and The Ranch process of Deliberate Practice in creating systematic gains in Command.
    Coach Kaday will discuss the Power Core 360 and how we enhance torque as well as increasing an athlete’s awareness of synergy, coordination and the summation of force.
    Coach Massey will talk about Recovery and how to dramatically improve it in your pitching athletes with some very simple steps.
    Coach Wolforth will discuss a myriad of topics- from simple ways to better engage the brain at practice for almost immediately higher levels of performance at game time; to the developing real leaders that actually make a difference inside your ball club and organization.

    And Our Guest Lecturers include:

    Jonathan Armold: Minor League Pitching Coach, Texas Rangers
    Brian Cain: World Renown Peak Performance Coach
    Jon Huizinga: Baseball Coach with a holistic training approach emphasizing fuel/nutrition.
    Jeff Krushell: Human Performance and Development Expert & Major League Baseball International Consultant
    Stephen Osterer: Doctor of Chiropractic at Totum Life Science
    Tim Nicely: President V-Flex Technology
    Martijn Nijhoff: Studied Under Frans Bosch; Talent Coach for Knbsb
    Gary Reinl: Author of "Iced - The Illusionary Treatment Option"
    Randy Sullivan: P.T and owner Florida Baseball Ranch®

    For More information or to Register: www.CoachesBootCamp.com

  • Athletes: You Better Be Sleeping

    “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

    Interesting quote, isn’t it? This quote has been attributed to both General George Patton and Vince Lombardi—two pretty impressive guys. Now, these two men are referring to fatigue as it relates to physical conditioning and the fact that their soldiers and players need to be in better shape than their opponents. But the fatigue I want to talk about is different. I want to talk about sleep.

    Most of the time, my posts are movement or mindset focused: new exercises for your workouts, conditioning equipment to implement in your workouts, or the focus, intensity and purpose of a certain training drill. But this post is different. It is about something that you don’t have to buy, learn, or otherwise take time to understand before you implement. Here it is: Get plenty of sleep every night. As in 8+ hours of sleep. No exceptions. If you want, you can quit reading now (perhaps get ready for bed?). For those of you interested, below are a few of the many benefits of getting enough sleep.

    (1) Improve Performance

    Reaction time is demonstrably better when fully rested. Studies show that sleep deprivation can drastically decrease a person’s reaction time. Reaction time is critical for athletes of all sports. For example, in baseball a hitter is forced to decide within fractions of a second whether they should swing at a 90+ mph fastball that is being hurled toward home plate. Or think of a runner leading off of first base who is about to steal second and needs to take off the moment the pitcher makes his move toward home. Or picture a basketball player who is guarding his man with the ball who crosses over and starts to drive to the hoop and needs to quickly reposition his feet. Or imagine a linebacker who bites on the play action pass but realizes the quarterback is about to throw the ball downfield and needs to immediately change direction to cover a receiver. There are countless examples because an athlete's reaction time is critical to athletic performance in every sport, and it is one of the things that separates an elite athlete from the average athlete. Every split second of improved reaction time improves performance. And being fully rested is an easy way to ensure that your brain and body are synced to enhance your athletic abilities.

    (2) Decrease chance of injury

    This one may surprise some of you, but there are several reasons for it. First, as discussed above, fatigue affects reaction time. A tired athlete who is slower to react to a situation on the court or field is more likely to find himself in a vulnerable, injury prone position. A slower reaction time might mean not being able to avoid a collision on the field, or might force the athlete to make a sudden movement from a weaker, more stressful position that is likely to result in an injury. For example, if a hitter’s reaction time is slightly decreased at the plate he might fail to get out of the way of a 95 mph fastball that is up and in, which increases the chance of that player’s injury.

    Fatigue also affects the body’s immune system, making players more susceptible to illness. Perhaps most importantly, shorter sleep periods do not provide the body with sufficient time to regenerate cells and repair the muscles, tissues, ligaments, and tendons from the abuse of workouts, games, and other daily activities. The ability to recover quickly from the abuse that athletes’ bodies endure is of utmost importance. An athlete, no matter how gifted and talented, is never going to achieve his potential if he is constantly on the disabled list or dealing with injuries.

    (3) Decrease Mental Errors

    Sleep loss impairs a person’s judgment. Numerous studies have shown that motivation, focus, memory, and learning are impaired by a lack of sleep. It is critical for athletes to be able to intensely concentrate on the task at hand and anything that might disrupt this concentration can have a seriously negative impact. We have all heard of athletes making mental errors; perhaps it is missing a sign, forgetting how many outs there are (think of those Major Leaguers who have tossed the ball to a fan after a catch when there are only two outs), or forgetting to tag up during a fly out to the outfield. The only explanation for this is a lack of concentration, focus, and/or memory.

    There is actually an incredible, and surprising, study that demonstrates how the grind of a long season can impact judgment and concentration. The study's conclusion was that MLB players show decreased plate discipline as the season progresses. In other words, players begin swinging at balls outside the strike-zone at a greater percentage. One might think that plate discipline would actually improve over the course of a season as players are getting four at-bats per game every night, but this study demonstrated that baseball athletes actually had better plate discipline (i.e. judgment) at the start, not the end, of the long 162 game season. The cause for this is almost certainly mental fatigue during the long grind that is a professional baseball season.

    I want to point out that I have deliberately omitted from this post the science behind sleeping, such as discussing the different stages of sleep and all of the physiological events that occur during sleep. The reason for this is that most of you do not need to know WHY sleeping aids in an athlete's performance and recovery, you just need to know that it does. Simply put, sleep provides energy to both the brain and the body, as the body releases certain hormones that are essential for muscle repair, muscle building, bone growth and promoting the oxidation of fat—all of which are essential for athletes. The bottom line is that a lack of sleep can negatively impact your performance.

    So the takeaway is this: if you are an athlete you must get 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Being an elite athlete is difficult enough, don’t hamper yourself by failing to do something as simple as getting plenty of sleep each and every night.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

    brian@oatesspecialties.com

  • Rethinking Your On-Deck Warm Up Routine:

    An age old baseball tradition is for hitters to warm up in the on-deck circle with some type of heavier than normal bat. It could be that the hitter adds a donut to his bat or perhaps he swings with two bats in his hands.  Below is what you often see on Major League on-deck circles.

    But is a weighted bat (or other instrument) in the on-deck circle really a good idea? The research on this topic screams one answer: NO!

    Let me back up for a second. I have often touted the benefits of the overload/underload training principle. The overload principle is defined as the application of any demand or resistance that is greater than those levels normally encountered in daily life. The body is amazing in that it has the ability to adjust to the demands of physical stress placed upon it. When you stress the body in a manner it's unaccustomed to, the body will react by causing physiological changes in order to handle the stress in a better way the next time it occurs.

    For example, athletes have found great success in increasing their velocity by training with the TAP Extreme Duty Weighted Balls. The weight of these balls force your body to sync up and utilize the most efficient movement patterns in order to deal with the added weight. Similarly, utilizing the overload/underload principle when training an athlete’s swing can be effective if done properly. One problem though is that there are very few training implements that allow a hitter to train in the same plane and same movement as a baseball swing.

    Oates Specialties specifically added the Speed Chains to its line of products a number of years ago because of its unique ability to train a baseball athlete in explosive rotational movements that are very similar to those required when swinging a bat during a game. The Speed Chains are unique in that they allow the athlete to rotate explosively while loaded with weight. Take a look at this post and the video below if you want to learn more about the Speed Chains.

    One important concept to keep in mind though is that overload training slows down the body’s movements. The point of overload training is to place higher/heavier levels of stress on the body’s muscles which will force those muscles to adapt. This is a tremendous training program for the offseason. However, the overload principle is most effective when it is paired together with the underload principle. Underload training involves demands or resistance lighter than those levels normally encountered. The purpose of underload training is to accelerate the muscle firing in order to make fast twitch muscles work at top speed. While overload works on strengthening the movement/muscles, underload works on quickening the movement/muscles. Strength combined with speed is the key to athletic success.

    Now let’s circle back to the on-deck activities of hitters. These hitters are loading up the weight of their bat mere seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. Most hitters do so because of the sensation that their regular bat will feel lighter after swinging the loaded bat. Unfortunately, this sensation does not translate into a faster bat speed. Swinging a heavier bat actually trains your body to move slower. Your arms, shoulders, and hip rotation are all moving at a slower speed because of the additional weight. We know this both intuitively (we are swinging a heavy implement so the speed necessarily decreases) and from studies on the topic. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article that shows the decrease in bat speed after practice swings with a heavier bat.

    When trying to hit a 90+ mph fastball, we don’t want a slower bat speed. We want to have the maximum amount of time to identify the pitch and its trajectory before pulling the trigger and swinging. Plus, a batter’s bat speed correlates directly to the distance the ball travels. For example, studies show that an 85 mph fastball hit solidly on the sweet spot by a bat swung at 70 mph will travel 400 feet. But that same ball struck by the same bat at 80 mph will travel approximately 450 feet. So our objective at the plate should be to make solid contact with the fastest possible bat speed. Oates Specialties carries the Swing Speed Radar so that athletes can focus on improving their bat speed because we should all know by now that if you don’t measure it, you can’t accurately improve it.

    Accordingly, contrary to common thinking and baseball tradition, warming up with a weighted bat is actually priming the athlete to move slower, not faster. Slower is not better when a fastball thrown at 90 mph can reach home plate in approximately 0.42 seconds and the batter must identify the pitch, the velocity, the trajectory, and whether to swing in an even shorter time frame. So I encourage you to stop warming up with weighted bats on the on-deck circle or pregame. Instead, your focus before an at bat should be to prepare your fast twitch muscles to be ready to fire at top speed. This is best accomplished by using a lighter than normal bat, as your body will actually be moving at a faster rate of speed than it does with your regular weighted bat.

    So while it may blow your mind and go against traditional baseball thinking, the best thing you can do before stepping into the box is to leave that donut on the ground, grab a lighter bat than the one you will step up to the plate with, and let a few swings rip. This will wake up your fast twitch muscles and you will be ready to turn on that 90 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

    brian@oatesspecialties.com

     

    Speaking of "on-deck"! If you are interested in transforming your field into one of the best looking facilities around, reach out to our friends at PYT SPORTS for your needs!

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    pytsports.net

    PYT Sports is your one-stop-shop for everything Baseball, from professional dugouts and field equipment to accessories and more.

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