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  • Training for Command

    "Just throw strikes!" I can't tell you how many times I heard that phrase (or some version of it) yelled from coaches, teammates, parents, and fans during my playing days. As you can imagine, it was typically yelled when the pitcher (often myself) was having issues finding the strike zone. I found that phrase to be somewhere between silly and just flat out stupid. You think the pitcher is trying to throw balls out of the strike zone???

    Now, let's back up for a second. Many of you know the difference between command and control, but to make sure we are all on the same page: control is the ability to throw pitches in the strike zone while command is the ability to throw pitches where you want within the strike zone. For example, a good little league pitcher may have control--he throws his fastball over the plate for a strike the majority of the time. But if you ask that little leaguer to throw it over the inside part of the plate he will not be able to intentionally execute that request. This is because he doesn't have command yet. Of course, control comes before command, and if you don't have control you certainly won't be able to train for command.

    Generally speaking, elite pitchers can do two things that others can't: (1) throw their fastball harder and (2) command their pitches. Most of the time, we are focused on number 1, and for good reason. We all know that the next level is easier to reach if the velocity is there. But too often we neglect number 2.

    While velocity will help you reach the next level, command is what truly separates pitchers at that next level. When I was playing, one thing that really stood out to me at Spring Training was the difference in command between minor league pitchers and major league pitchers. The MLB guys typically had command of 2-3 pitches, while the minor league guys had command of 0-1 pitches. This was more of a separating factor, in my opinion, than pure stuff.

    Now back to the brilliant, "Just throw strikes," comment I mentioned previously. Telling this to a pitcher is not going to help or otherwise make that pitcher throw strikes. The real issue is that most pitchers don't train for command. For that matter, too many pitchers don't even train for control. Many of you may be scratching your head at that comment, so let me explain. Most pitchers do not specifically focus on where they want the ball to go with each throw/pitch. Too often pitchers are just throwing to throw or to just get their work in. I've heard pitchers describe the intent of bullpens as "working up a lather" or "getting a feel for my pitches" or some other generic, intent-less phrase. Instead, that pitcher should have a specific goal or focus for every throw.

    I have written, as have others, about the importance of "deliberate practice," and I encourage you to read this post if you haven’t already had the chance. In a nutshell, deliberate practice is where an athlete has a specific, identifiable intent with every action. For example, during each throw--whether it is playing catch, throwing a bullpen, long tossing, etc.--the athlete focuses on the precise target he intends to hit. Then, based on the result of that throw, he changes his intent (where he is "aiming") in order to adjust for any miss. This extra focus is exhausting and takes great concentration, but all of the greats do it.

    However, even if you have the specific intent and are “deliberately practicing” with the goal of improving the control or command of your pitches, most drills do not provide the type of feedback that is most needed in order to make immediate adjustments in order to improve your command. Take throwing a bullpen to a catcher, for example. You want to throw a fastball to the outside corner of the plate and the catcher sets up there. You deliver the pitch and the catcher receives the ball and throws it back to you. Did your ball cross the outside corner? Was it a few inches outside, was it down, was it up? It's often difficult to tell because catchers are taught to "frame" the pitch--in other words, make the pitch location look better than it really was.

    With these thoughts in mind, Oates Specialties carriers two products to assist an athlete in improving their control and command, no matter where they are in their journey (e.g. Trying to learn control or specifically working on command).

    The first product is called the Advanced Command Trainer. It is a 17" X 17" target that is 17" off
    the ground, designed to resemble the size of the strike zone in a game.

    The Advanced Command Trainer has a target area with vinyl padding that the athlete can aim at when on the mound or throwing flat ground. The beauty of the Advanced Command Trainer is that it provides immediate feedback on the accuracy of a pitcher's throw. It does that in two ways: (1)
    the pitcher can clearly see if the ball hits the target (i.e. The strike zone), and (2) the pitcher can hear the ball hit the padded vinyl. The immediate sensory feedback of hearing the bang of the ball into the Advanced Command Trainer is tremendous, as it allows the pitcher to make adjustments based on the previous throw.

    The second product is the Target Pad. The Target Pad consists of 10 "targets" (5 red and 5 white) that are made of vinyl and are of varying size, ranging from 4 to 20 inches. The targets attach to the Target Pad with Velcro and can be moved to any location on the Target Pad.

    This allows pitchers of all capability to work on their control or command. Pitchers struggling with control can use the larger targets placed in the middle of the strike zone while advanced pitchers with a solid grasp on control can hone their command by utilizing the smaller targets placed on the edges of the strike zone. The Target Pad is a great tool because the targets give the pitcher a specific visual to focus on and the pitcher can determine whether he was successful in hitting the individual target with his pitch.

    The bottom line is this: command is something that all pitchers who seriously want to play at the next level need to focus on. And the only way to achieve command is to focus on it during training sessions and to deliberate track those training results. Oates Specialties' Advanced Command Trainer and the Target Pad are two great tools that can assist pitchers in doing just that.

    I encourage each of you to evaluate what you are doing to work on your control and/or command and to begin giving it as much attention as you do your velocity training.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

    brian@oatesspecialties.com

  • Can Command be Learned in Season? BY: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS

     

    The coach looks down the list of pitchers he has available on his roster. He has to make a choice on who starts, who comes in relief, who closes, and who sits on the bench. The majority of the time the coach is going to select his harder throwers. He may decide to pick a few guys who have deception in their delivery like the old Dontrelle Willis or Chris Sale. He also may choose a couple lefties, if any are available, because there just aren't that many of them out there. But the coach will ALWAYS have to pick someone with command. Before we get into a debate about command and what that word means, my simplified definition for the purpose of this post is the ability to throw strikes and to not walk multiple batters in a row. Notice, I did not mention the ability to hit the glove on every single pitch, or the ability to throw off-speed pitches in the strike zone at will. The truth is that those abilities are not the norm and are typically the skill of an elite pitcher. But the bottom line is that a coach cannot allow runs to be scored without a chance of defending against them. Now some of the pitchers reading this post may have just felt their heart sink. You may be thinking that it is impossible to gain command in the middle of the season, and that you have no choice but to wait until the off-season to work on your command, but I can tell you from experience that it is possible.  Let me share with you how I approached control that I think can be of benefit to pitchers who are currently in season.

    The first approach to throwing strikes for me was to continue throwing at normal intensities. I found that every time I tried to slow things down and guide a pitch in to the catcher's mitt I would either get hit hard or the ball would be in the dirt. I found that throwing at my normal intensity was critical for throwing strikes and having my best stuff. I was a 100% max effort every throw kind of guy, and I am certain that I needed to throw that way to have better command.

    The next step in my progression was to play the “Giant Game of Darts."  This "game" was introduced to me by Ron Wolforth.  The premise is simple: if you missed low, aim higher next time. If you missed outside, aim further inside. Now this sounds like common sense, but I still see pitchers who aim for the same spot every time even though they continuously miss to the same spot each throw. As an athlete, you must make adjustments every single play. As pitchers, there must be adjustments made before the play starts. I cannot tell you how many times I would be missing high out of the strike zone, and I would have to aim in the dirt in order for it to be a strike. This may sound extreme, but it worked for me. One thing to keep in mind, the game of darts is ever changing. From batter to batter and inning to inning, it is crucial to know where you missed on the previous pitch, and make sure the next pitch is not a miss to the same location. To me, this is what makes the Advanced Command Trainer an invaluable tool because you can clearly see if you miss the target.

    The most commonly overlooked component with command is an athlete's breathing. Before I lose your attention, let me explain just how important breathing is. You take over 20,000 breaths in a single day. The majority of these are taken with poor posture and shallow chest inhalations. This means your body is already lacking oxygen and has an abundance of CO2 which changes the PH level in your body, making it more acidic. This change will not allow the body to perform at its best. During my certification of CPPS last year, we spent an entire day talking about the importance of breath and the correct manner in which to breathe and brace. Looking back at my playing career, I didn't give my breathing as much attention as I should have, and I believe this was a major contributing factor to my injuries and poor performance. If you are interested in learning to breathe properly, I highly recommend you spend approximately ten minutes to watch the video below. It is a game changer.

    Last, something that may surprise a lot of people is adaptive training or “Khaos Training” in season. I have written a series of blogs on the importance, implementation, and equipment needed to create an ever changing training environment for an athlete. The majority of people believe this is designated for the off-season, but I believe it is a necessary component in season as well. Obviously, the volume and workload of the training will be different in season versus out of season, but an athlete needs to keep forcing his body to adjust to new stimulus.  Training these constant adjustments is critical for having command of pitches during a game. Training should not end when the season begins. It should just change and become more specific and precise.

    In conclusion, the above are several things that I believe to be beneficial for increasing a pitcher's command in season. A pitcher must be able to throw strikes and not walk batters in order to benefit himself and his team. In the end, it is all about making adjustments. You must have the right mindset, intent, and training demands in order to succeed in making those adjustments. If you are struggling with command are you going to just throw your hands up in despair and wait for the off-season or are you going to make changes now that will help you and your team?

     

    Be unique and #BeELITE!

  • Bowlvalanche! Should Strasburg “Simplify” His Mechanics? by Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    Bowlvalanche… That’s what I call it.

    It’s a term I coined a long time ago.

    Any time 3 or more of anything falls, I call it a “that thing” valanche.

    This is an Avalanche…

    This is a Ballvalanche…

    A Toothpickvalanche

    And this thing…

    This accident waiting to happen…

    If you attempt to add to or take away from this chaotic cluster nut, the slightest perturbation of the equilibrium could begin a cascade of events resulting in a bona fide bowlvalanche.

    How do you avoid this catastrophe? To paraphrase hall of fame pitching coach, Elmer Fudd, “Vewy carefully.”

    Take away what you must.

    Add what you need.

    But be very cautious in doing so.

    It’s like that when you work with pitchers too.

    Imagine this Tupperware Jenga display represents the complexity and individuality of the throwing motion (and its probably not far off). One can easily visualize its precarious nature. When attempting to make mechanical adjustments, if you add too much or add it too quickly you could get a bowlvalanche. On the other hand if you take the opposite approach and start minimizing movement, taking things away… one wrong move and… you guessed it… bowlvalanche!!

    When you’re adding or subtracting from a pitcher’s mechanics, to have to tread very lightly. It’s the message Coach Ron Wolforth gave me a few weeks ago when he referred our shared client, Justin Verlander.

    “Do what you need to do, but leave as little fingerprints as possible.”

    My intent is not to disparage anyone, and by no means do I ever claim to have it all figured out. Every pitching coach I know truly has a heart for helping his players improve, but often our knowledge is incomplete.  In our attempts to help, we do more harm than good. Sometimes we add too much, putting a disruptive personal stamp on the athlete, forcing movement patterns that inhibit the pitcher’s ability. What often follows is a cascade of disconnections and kinesthetic confusion that leads to an erosion of performance that can progress to pain or injury.

    Sometimes we fall into the archaic 1980s approach of reductionism. We try to “minimize movement to maximize efficiency”.This represents a deep lack of understanding about injury and performance.  It’s a failed model. For over 30 years pitching coaches at very high levels have taken a “less is more” approach while attempting to produce “a repeatable delivery”. We continually misunderstand the difference between simplification and efficiency. We “simplify” the pitcher’s mechanics to the point of robbing him of athleticism and more importantly, his adjustability.

    The hardest thrower we’ve ever developed (99.7mph on our mound and 98 in a nationally televised Division 1 game) was

    drafted in the 12th round by a MLB club. Over the next 12 months, they “coached him” down to 85 mph, then released him. Well done!

    A recent AP article suggested that injury-plagued pitcher, Stephen Strasburg might ditch the windup and pitch only from the stretch this season. “I’m not trying to reinvent myself, but just trying to simplify things as much as I can and be able to repeat my mechanics.”

    And here we go again. In pursuit of this elusive “repeatable delivery” the pitcher’s movement is pared down to it’s simplest form. The athlete loses athleticism and explosiveness, but more importantly he loses his adjustability.

    So what does it mean to have an adjustable delivery?

    To explain this we must address the fundamental flaw in reductionist thinking – that a repeatable delivery is even possible. Listen closely…

    The repeatable delivery is a unicorn!

    It does not exist.

    You cannot repeat your mechanics.

    Every pitch will present a unique set of subtle, yet important deviations or errors. Instead of repeatable mechanics, what we need to pursue is world-class, in-flight adjustability that gives the athlete pre-organized solutions to self-correct when his delivery begins to veer off course.

    Dr. Nikolai Bernstein proved it with his famous Blacksmith experiment back in the 1920s. He
    took some of Russia’s greatest blacksmiths, tagged them with lights at strategic places on their bodies (the first biomarkers) and used serial photography and rudimentary motion pictures to observe them performing the singular task of driving a nail into a log with one swing. What he found was revolutionary to the motor learning industry, yet many coaches still don’t get it. When he compared the movement patterns of these high level hammer swingers across all subjects, Bernstein noted that they all demonstrated slightly different swings. They all achieved the goal every time, but no two subjects displayed the same pattern. But, more importantly no single blacksmith was able to repeat the same movement pattern on any of his trials. The results were always the same – the nail was pounded into the log — but the path to get there was different every time. It created a problem in motor learning science known as “the degrees of freedom problem”. Top down, centrally controlled models frequently used to explain movement patterns do not account for the variability present in all human movement.

    Instead of seeking repeatable mechanics what we’re really looking for are repeatable results.

    Many times when you eliminate complexity, you remove the margins for adjustability.

    If an athlete can’t make real time adjustments to his movement, he has no means to self-correct and he is left to the mercy of his connective tissue restraints (e.g. UCLs and labrums). Training subconsciously with variable stimulus (weighted balls, varied surfaces, multi-dimensional drills, and modulating goals) while permitting creativity allows for self-organization of patterns with built-in adjustability. When the athlete’s arm begins to stray off course he already has a pre-formatted solution to the error and his body automatically rights itself and returns to a mote efficient, powerful, accurate, and durable pattern.

    As a matter of principle, I avoid making injury predictions. But in my humble opinion, Stephen Strasburg should not try to “simplify his mechanics.” Instead he should develop an efficient throwing pattern that minimizes his disconnections while maximizing his adjustability. Otherwise, he may be looking at another trip to the DL and ultimately a catastrophic…  bowlvalanche.

    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

     

    P.S We’ve recently announce the dates for our Elite Performers Bootcamps for the rest of 2017… CLICK HERE!

    P.P.S. Learn all about our incredible 2017 Ultimate Summer Training Program RIGHT HERE.

  • It seems complicated, but it's really quite simple - by Randy Sullivan

     

    There are about 5 things you need to do to change your pitching career:

    1) Start With The Pain. Even a small amount of regular pain can keep you from ascending to higher levels -- especially if that pain is in the medial elbow, anterior shoulder, or posterior shoulder. Your body's survival instinct will always trump your desire to achieve. So if you want to move up in the game, you must solve even the smallest amount of pain as the first order of business.

    2) Get Aligned and Balanced. Physical asymmetries, imbalances, tightness, weakness, or deficits in motor control will impede your performance and could put you at risk for injury. If I gave you the keys to my Meserati (I don't have a Meserati... yet) and it had 3 fully inflated tires, and one flat tire, you'd probably want to get that last tire taken care of before you tried to drive it 185 mph. Identifying and correcting physical constraints will be vital to your progress.

    3) You Have To Move Better. Movement patterns that are disconnected add extra stress to soft tissue and make it more difficult to drive the baseball in a straight line toward the plate. This could prevent you from achieving optimal velocity, command, or off-speed stuff and could ultimately derail your career. We have identified 11 common disconnections that might put you at risk for injury or keep you from perfroming well.

    4) Build A Bigger, More Powerful Motor. Once you're properly aligned and balanced, and you're moving well, it's time to drop a 6.4 -liter Hemi V8 under the hood. Developing beastmode power requires hard, smart work. It's one thing to be strong, but it's more important that you're able to produce force rapidly. Building mass alone is not the answer. You have to be able to MOVE YOUR BIG MASS!!

    5) You Have To Recover Better. If you want to be a prolific guitar player, you have to be able to practice the guitar more than most reasonable people would practice. To become a world class throwing athlete, you have to be able to throw more often and at higher intensities than the average throwing athlete can throw. If you want to ascend to higher levels of competetion, you have to be able to answer the bell and deliver the goods everytime the coach calls your number. That demands a killer recovery plan. There are steps you can take before and after a throwing episode to ensure you bounce back and re-enter the training cycle quickly to have your best stuff every time out.

     

    A couple of days ago, the The Twin Cities Frontier Press published a story proving that our processes for achieving those 5 simple steps can change a pitcher's career even at the highest level of the game.

     

     

    Click the button below to read how Minnesota Twins starting pitcher, Kyle Gibson used our methods to overcome chronic nagging arm pain that has adversely impacted his performance over the years. The changes he made this off-season have him throwing pain free and more powerfully than ever. Kyle is poised for what could be the best year of his professional career.

     

    TAKE A LOOK

     

     

    The next opportunity for you to experience the world class Ranch training process that has worked for thousands of pitchers at every level, from little league to the big leagues, will be at our combined Texas and Florida Baseball Ranch Elite Pitchers Boot Camp, March 10-12

     

    The early-bird discount has passed, so I can't offer you that, but if you register by midnight on Feb 24th, I can still give you $200 off.

    We'll even make it easy by accepting half the payment now and the other half 30 days from now. Call us at 866-787-4533 if you have any questions.

  • Ideal World vs. Real World Arm Care By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS

    I want to provide some feedback and tips that I have learned from my time as a pitcher.  To provide a little more information about myself, I was an undersized individual with the heart and will to do whatever it took to succeed. I cannot tell you how many times I was told that I was not big enough to accomplish my dreams. But through sheer determination, I became the ace of my high school pitching staff, topped out at 92mph off the mound, and received a college scholarship from a nationally ranked junior college. I would not have had any of this success without proper arm care. I never would have thrown as hard or been able to answer the bell and take the mound each time my coach called on me without it. Proper arm care allowed me to achieve success in my baseball career.  Most people would probably agree that arm care is critical for success, but let me ask you one question. Do you have obstacles preventing you from your ideal arm care routine?

    If you answered no to this question then, like Coach Ron Wolforth often says, “you did not understand the question.”  We all face obstacles in the game of baseball, but there seems to be a lot more when it comes to things like arm care. I am convinced this is because arm care is not glorious or fancy.  After a game, everybody wants to shower and eat, and family and friends want to talk to you, just to name a few of the post-game distractions. Another obstacle is that you often need special (expensive) equipment in order to implement proper warm-up and cool down protocols. I see on Instagram the craze with cryotherapy, deep tissue massage, electrical stimulation devices, and so on. I believe each one of these devices and techniques could have a place in health and recovery. But are these expensive, time-consuming recovery techniques applicable in the REAL WORLD or only in the IDEAL WORLD? I for one believe they realistically could only be used in the IDEAL setting. Perhaps some professional facilities or a fully equipped training room would have these options at your disposal. Realistically, the majority of people do not have the space, money, or expertise to use such equipment day in and day out.

    So now what?  A typical baseball player faces many obstacles such as a lack of time and equipment, so how does one overcome these? I would like to share the way I overcame these obstacles, and how I wish I would have overcome others in the past. I believe first and foremost it is critical to realize arm care is a MUST not just something you hope or strive to do.  The next thing to combat is time. I remember times where we would be late arriving to games because of school, schedules, traffic, and other unavoidable things. So to overcome this, I would carry my glove and a weighted ball to class on game days. I felt like just holding and moving the weighted ball around would help me be loose for the game. I remember carrying my wrist weights to class, and I would perform exercises to loosen up. I would make sure that I had everything in my bag that I needed. I recommend never relying on someone else to bring something when it is this important. I would always find a quick 10 minute window to perform resistance tubing exercises. Finally, I would never pick-up a baseball without throwing weighted balls first, even if it was only a couple of throws, because it was critical for me and the health of my arm.  When I look back, I wish the Baseball Training Sock would have been around for me to use because I could have performed weighted ball throws on the bus or in class.

    All of the above occurred before the game, but after the game there are even more distractions. As I stated earlier, your teammates are ready to go eat or celebrate (if victorious) or people want to see you, which can pressure you to rush or even skip a proper cool down routine. I would do the same things I just mentioned above on the bus ride home. If we were home that day, I would perform my IDEAL cool down. I was and am a big proponent on doing what you did to warm-up to cool down as well. I do believe I would have greatly benefitted from the compression floss to enhance my recovery since I could perform it anywhere, and reap the rewards.

    Now what about equipment? I whole-heartedly believe that some equipment is needed to have a great arm care routine. The equipment that I utilized on a daily basis was resistance tubing, weighted balls, wrist weights, and exercise bands. You would never find me without this equipment. If I was still playing, I would also include the baseball training sock and the compression floss as well. If you look at the cost of these items, they are relatively inexpensive, and certainly far less expensive than some of the items I mentioned previously. One of the reasons I know how blessed I am to work for Oates Specialties LLC is because I personally used the products. They helped me in more ways than I can describe, and it did not cost my parents a fortune. That does not mean to say they did not spend a lot elsewhere, but I remember my mom and dad would let me pick one item at a time. Slowly I began to accumulate everything (including first class instruction) I needed to succeed. Fortunately, you do not need expensive tools to have a good arm care protocol. I believe you only need a few pieces of equipment and the knowledge of how to incorporate them.

    Am I saying there is not a place for the more expensive implements? Absolutely not. You can use all different types of equipment to enhance your arm care and recovery regimen. There are clearly reasons why professional teams spend a ton of money equipping their training rooms with such equipment.  I just believe they are used in an IDEAL setting, which can be attainable sometimes, but not all the time.

    In conclusion, there are numerous obstacles or hurdles that can get in the way of accomplishing your goal. To me, these obstacles were the most acute when dealing with arm care, and I just wanted to provide information on how I personally overcame them. We each have our own specific obstacles, so figure out what it is that may be preventing you from succeeding, and find a way to combat it!

    Be Unique and #BeELITE!

  • Arm Care: It's Not Sexy, But It's the Most Important

    Baseball holds a special place in our society and, because of this, there is often nostalgia associated with the game. We discuss the game's greatest players with such reverence. We talk about the game's unwritten rules, the beauty of a perfectly executed hit and run, and a knee buckling curve ball. Many of us have vivid memories connected to a certain game, team, or players. This is what makes baseball America's Pastime. But the nostalgia for the way the game was played yesteryear, has created generations of baseball people who have been unwilling to adapt--unable to see that certain things about the way baseball athletes train needed to be updated and brought to the 21st century.

    Fortunately, over the last 15 years or so, there has been a titanic shift throughout the baseball world. The baseball community has slowly, but surely, began to change its mindset with regard to training. Oates Specialties has been proud to be a part of this movement.

    Perhaps the greatest change has come with regard to the perspective of how pitchers should train and prepare to pitch. The most notable result of this paradigm shift is the proliferation of academies, coaches, and trainers who are using new training tools and movements in order to help pitchers build a bigger motor. In other words, these coaches and trainers understand that the number one way to increase velocity is to build athleticism and explosiveness in an athlete. The primary focus of this training--as applied to the throwing motion--is on the acceleration phase. This is important. We all know that a pitcher has zero shot of making it to the next level without adequate velocity. But if that pitcher can't stay healthy, it really doesn't matter how hard he throws.

    To provide an illustrative example: say you drive a Honda Accord and one day I walk up to you and give you a Ferrari. I then tell you to go as fast as possible. What I don't tell you is that the Ferrari has faulty brakes. Those brakes may or may not stop the car. Would you want to see how fast that Ferrari could go? Not if you're sane.

    The bottom line is that a Ferrari without good brakes isn't much good at all. It's a recipe for disaster. The same is true for an athlete who successfully improves the acceleration phase of his delivery without intentional and serious focus on the deceleration phase. At the end of the day, assisting an athlete in increasing his velocity isn't the most difficult task. If you help that athlete become a more explosive, athletic version of himself on the mound he will likely gain some MPHs (achieving increased velocity is more nuanced than this, but you get my point). Instead, the most difficult task is to help an athlete increase velocity AND decrease arm tenderness/soreness/pain while also improving recovery between outings. This is a very different task. Think about it: if you increase velocity you are increasing arm speed, which means your arm is having to endure a greater load and more stress placed on it. It also means your body has to bring to a stop an arm that has accelerated to a higher speed in the same amount of time/space.

    Oates Specialties prides itself in carrying the tools every throwing athlete can use to strengthen and care for the arm and improve the deceleration phase of the throwing motion. It is of such importance to us, that we have a category of products on our website entitled "Arm Care" where you will find these tools--most notably, wrist weights, the TAP Baseball Training Sock, First Responder Resistance Tubing, TAP Bell Clubs, Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, Exercise Bands, Rocket Wrap Compression Floss, and the Shoulder Tube. An athlete can, and should, train to both strengthen the arm, but also to properly learn how to decelerate through proper pronation, including how to hold this pronation for as long as possible (short answer: continue rotating over the landing leg).

    Without a healthy arm, a baseball athlete cannot take the field. And without taking the field that athlete cannot compete at his current level, much less make it to the next level. Plus, the longer it takes your arm to recover from an outing the longer it is before you can get back to training to become a better pitcher, regardless of whether the objective is to increase velocity, improve command, or sharpen your breaking ball.

    So my recommendation for each and every one of you is to take some time to assess your arm care routine. How much time do you spend improving your arm's brakes compared to the amount of time you spend on your arm's engine? My guess is that most of you are obsessed with the super charger you are busy building on your engine and haven't really thought about the status of the brake pads. Such a perspective is nothing more than short term gain with long term problems.

    Oates Specialties is here to help you with your arm care needs, so reach out to us if we can assist you in building your arm care and arm health routines.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

    Brian@Oatesspecialties.com

  • Ways to Improve Your Preseason Training By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS

    I want to start off by stating that I sincerely believe in hyper-personalization when it comes to athletes' training, nutrition, and recovery. While everyone has their own specific needs to improve their performance and health, it is possible to provide a general outline of what the best coaches and trainers are doing to prepare their athletes for the upcoming season. The four propositions mentioned below reflect principles I have learned from the great minds of Ron Wolforth, Randy Sullivan, Flint Wallace, Eric Cressey, Jim Smith, Joe Defranco, and Cameron Josse that should be universally utilized by all athletes.

    First, athletes should work on improving their tissue quality.  This is an immediate way to boost durability and performance. For some time, we have utilized Foam Rollers, Massage Rollers, Lacrosse Balls, and other tools to provide a Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). While there is some debate about what is actually happening when SMR is performed, it is accepted by the majority of coaches and trainers as a critical component to improving tissue quality. If you or your team do not have a foam roller, it is an inexpensive tool that will pay off immediately.

    Second, the ramp-up of workload is still something that most players and coaches miss in their preparation. I feel like this is absolutely necessary to mention as baseball season is drawing near and scrimmages/preseason games are about to be played. Randy Sullivan explains this concept well when he talks about athletes' ligaments and tendons, the places where athletes normally break down.  Randy explains that ligaments and tendons are slow to adapt to stress since the blood supply in these areas is very limited.  This is why starting small and building up is critical for athletes, and even more so for athletes who must perform overhead movements, such as throwing.  I have heard Randy recommend throwing into the Baseball Training Sock to start off a progression, as it is the least stressful way to get throws in, and it helps to develop a less stressful adaptation to build upon.

    The next thing that comes to my mind as it correlates to ramp-up is something that comes from Ron Wolforth. He believes that the MLB has it right when they start their pitchers throwing one or two innings in the first outing, and adding an inning to each appearance to create a gradual increase in workload. From these points, it easy to see why an athletes' preparation should not start with scrimmage/game number 1. It should be started well in advance and gradually built upon until the first scrimmage/game.

    Third, developing multiple warm-up routines is imperative to keep players healthy and alert for the entire season. I took this thought from Flint Wallace, who stated his athletes would have a different warm-up for every day of practice, and on game day they got to choose their warm-up. This concept also comes from the “Certified Physical Preparation Specialist” certification that was taught by Jim Smith, Joe Defranco, and Cameron Josse. During this certification, they mentioned that every athlete will show up every day with different needs.  An athlete will never be the same from day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute. As a player or coach, it is your responsibility to progress or regress the training as needed by the individual that day, hour, and minute. This may seem like an impossible task, but if there is variability in a warm-up program the athlete has the freedom to do this without even thinking about it. Therefore, athletes and coaches should create variety in their warm-ups. Ladders, hurdles, resistance tubing, weighted balls, hip mobility, and the Shoulder Tube are all great warm up options for players. This will not only keep them healthy, but they will stay alert throughout the season. Baseball is known for repetitiveness and extended length. When you combine the two you create boredom. Do everything you can do to prevent this mental struggle that boredom creates.

    Finally, recovery is the single most overlooked portion of preparation. The majority of people still believe that when the game or practice is finished, your training for the day is over.  But the elite coaches and trainers I mentioned above actually view it as the START of preparing for tomorrow! Without recovery, it is impossible to come back the following day better prepared to train or compete. There are various methods in building a recovery protocol. I have seen the tools mentioned in the “warm-up” portion also used in recovery along with others such as the Rocket Wrap Compression Floss, Electrical Stimulation, contrast baths, and diaphragmatic breathing, to name a few.  These are all great ways to increase blood flow, and to better prepare the athlete physically and mentally for the next day's work.

    As I mentioned previously, this post is not meant to tell you exactly how and what to do. That is highly dependent on each individual and their specific needs, and a proper program should never be a one size fits all. Instead, the items listed above are things I believe players and coaches should be aware of when preparing for this season and every season. Use the concepts mentioned by the coaches and trainers above and make them your own. Develop a proper preparation protocol for you or your players and it will pay dividends.

    Be unique and #BeELITE!

  • Jimmy Chitwood, Alex Cunningham, and The Essence Of Life - by Randy Sullivan

    I recently had the honor of attending the ABCA Annual Convention in Anaheim, CA with my friends from The Texas Baseball Ranch. It was my distinct privilege to be in the auditorium to hear the first speaker, NCAA Division 1 Baseball Champion, Coastal Carolina’s head coach, Gary Gilmore.

    In case you’ve been living under a rock, Coastal shocked the baseball world by rising from a preseason 25th ranking and making history by slaying such NCAA Goliaths as NC State, LSU, Florida, and TCU before finally taking the title against Arizona in a thriller. I believe Coastal’s achievement is the best thing to happen to college baseball (and to baseball in general) in the last 20 years. It proved once again that in this glorious game, you don’t always have to be the biggest, strongest, or even the best team… You only have to be the better than the other team for about 3 hours. It also showed the importance of culture, the value of selflessness, love, respect and service, and the powerful synergy those qualities create.

    During our summer program at the Florida Baseball Ranch, we start every day with a 5-10 min mindset segment. It really sets the tone for the day’s work ahead. It’s something I learned from Ron Wolforth, and we never miss a day. Last summer after the CWS ended, I was inspired to create a mindset I called “Jimmy Chitwood, Alex Cunningham, and The Essence of Life.” It starts out with a quote from former Cy Young winner, Barry Zito…

    “I view my pitching on how confident I was out there, period. And if I lose that confidence, I become a prisoner in my own mind.”

    So what is confidence? That’s a tough one… Confidence is kind of like being in love. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

    Let me show you a clip from the movie Hoosier’s that I believe illustrates confidence at its best.

    First of all, if you haven’t ever seen the movie Hoosier’s it’s not your fault. In my opinion that’s just bad parenting. This is one of my top 5 “must see” movies for any serious athlete. For the children of bad parents, let me lay out the plot for you…

    In the state of  Indiana, basketball is a religion. Years ago — before the “participation trophy generation” — every Indiana high school basketball team competed for the same state championship, regardless of size or location. For as long as anyone in Indiana can remember, the annual high school basketball tournament has been a must see event for all.  From the biggest cities, to the smallest country towns, the single elimination race to the title has always captivated an entire state for nearly a month.  In 1954 one team pulled off the stuff of legend.

    The movie is based on the real life story of tiny Milan High School (called Hickory High School in the film). Gene Hackman plays Coach Norman Dale, a former high level collegiate coach who’s rising star has come crashing down in the wake of an unfortunate lapse in judgement resulting in a physical altercation with a player. Attempting to resurrect his career and his life, Dale takes a job as the Head Coach of Hickory High, in rural Indiana.

    The program has a rich history and the community demands success, even though Hickory only has 7 boys on the team. To the expressed dismay of the town leaders, Dale takes on an alcoholic former superstar, “Shooter” Flatch (played by Dennis Hopper) as an assistant coach. After struggling early in the season, Coach Dale learns that the county’s best player, Jimmy Chitwood whose father has passed away and whose mother has recently become ill,  has become disenchanted with basketball and refuses to play. Local teacher, Myra Fleena (played by Barbara Hershey) has been raising Jimmy since his mother’s illness and has concerns about the pressure of playing in such a rabid basketball community.

    Coach Dale visits Jimmy and persuades him to join the team… and everything changes. Hickory starts winning, and they keep winning, grinding through the playoffs until  they find themselves in the state championship game against a much more athletic team with a much larger student body. With their beloved assistant coach, Shooter, in the hospital for alcohol rehab, and the entire town of Hickory having made the trek to Indianapolis in support of the team, they find themselves struggling in the first half of the game. But in the second half, they turn things around and mount a furious comeback. With the score tied at 40 and 19 seconds left in the game, they get a key steal and call a timeout to set up a play. This is what happens next…

    So my next question is, “How do you become Jimmy Chitwood?”

    How do you develop the level of confidence that allows you to look your team, your coach and your entire town directly in the eye and say… “I’ll make it.”?

    The final pitch of Coastal Carolina’s historic campaign provides some insight into that question.

    In the final game, with the tying run on 3rd and the winning run on second, Coastal finds itself down to their last viable arm, Alex Cunningham. In 42 appearances, he has never saved a game. The count runs to 3-2, and here he stands. He is about to make the most important pitch of his season… of his career… of his life. One way or another, he’ll remember this pitch for forever… Either as the the greatest moment of his life… or the worst. Watch what happens…

    Wistia video thumbnail - Coastal Carolina wins College World Series - Final out and postgame celebration copy

    Wow… I get chills every time I see it… and when I talk about it, I’m moved to tears.

    Like Jimmy Chitwood, Alex Cunningham steps up and drains it!

    How did he do it? How does one have that much confidence in a situation of that magnitude?

    I believe the answer can be found in his body language right after the pitch… Watch it again…

    What would most people do right after throwing that pitch? They would throw their hands up in the air and celebrate of course! And their body language would scream, “Look at me!! Look what I just did!!!”

    But what does Alex Cunningham do? Look at the video… He immediately turns to his dugout… to his brothers in arms… to his team. He pounds his heart (an expression of love), he salutes them (an expression of respect and service) and throws his glove to the side, welcoming his beloved teammates into his arms for an embrace that turns into a dog pile.

    I’d love to meet Alex Cunningham some day. I’d love to ask him about his thoughts before that pitch. I’d be willing to bet that as he toed the rubber for the most significant moment of his life, he never once felt like it was about him. I would guess that his thoughts didn’t wander to what this might mean to the rest of his life. And I’ll bet be never once felt alone. You see, according to Coach Gilmore, he and the leaders of the Coastal Carolina squad had cultivated a culture of selflessness. They had forged relationships that created bonds so strong that no player ever felt alone. In a moment of that magnitude, it would be easy to surrender on yourself. But when you are fighting for a greater cause… when you know that your brothers’ survival is at stake, you don’t feel the pressure of “what will happen to me?”

    Like a fighting Marine in a battle against an overwhelming enemy, when you know the guys in the foxhole with you will die if you don’t keep fighting, you never consider waving the white flag. And you don’t feel alone… because you aren’t fighting by yourself. You know that everyone of your teammates, your coaches, and your family is there with you… And that gives you strength… That gives you confidence. That, my friends is the essence of sport... That is why we play the game… That is the lesson I have always wanted my sons to take away from the game when they are done playing…

    As the spring season begins for most players reading this story, I would like to submit my question again… How do you become Jimmy Chitwood?

    I believe you do it by intentionally building relationships and fostering a culture of love, respect, and service among your teammates. I’ve been on teams where it happened spontaneously, and I’ve been on teams where it never happened. I don’t think you should wait for it to happen… I believe you should make it happen… on purpose. But it can’t be for phony or selfish reasons. Your motivation for bonding with your teammates and coaches cannot be for your own gain. You can’t pretend to love your teammates so you can attain personal achievement and glory. That will never work.

    You have to develop those relationships out of genuine love and respect for every teammate and coach. It has to be real… it has to be a projection of what is in your soul.

    How do you do it?

    I’d start with one or two guys and build from there. Spend time with a couple of your closest buddies. Ask questions about what is going on in their lives and really get to know what makes them tick. Find ways to help them in their struggles — big and small. Lead them through service. Soon you’ll notice them acting the same way toward you, and your bond will be strengthened.

    But take caution. If you’re not careful, your immediate connection with a few guys will create a clique. You cannot allow that. Cliquish behavior will sabotage the effort and the team’s goals. As soon as your bond with a few guys is strong enough to support others, you must reach out and invite new members into the group. Before long, the light of love, respect, and service will spread through the entire team. If some resist initially, don’t fight it. Leave them in the dark temporarily and move on. Eventually that light will be too bright to ignore, and they’ll either join in or burn under its intensity.

    Building these kinds of relationships doesn’t mean you’ll win every game… It doesn’t even guarantee you’ll have a winning season. But the bonds you’ll form will be unbreakable, and you’ll carry those relationships with you for the rest of your life. When you’re baseball career has ended and life presents you with struggles, all you’ll need to do is reflect back on this season and the love, respect, and service you shared with your teammates. The memories will be a constant source of strength and courage, and during the biggest pitches… during the biggest challenges of your life, you’ll never ever feel alone.

    And that makes you a winner.

    And THAT is the essence of sport…

    Indeed the essence of life.

    Have a great year everyone.

    We’ll see you at The Ranch.

    Randy Sullivan. MPT
    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

    randy-sullivan

    P.S. Our Spring Training Elite Pitchers Boot Camp Featuring the staffs of both the Florida and The Texas Baseball Ranches is all set for March 10-12. Come enjoy the sun, some world-class training, and a Tigers/Blue Jays MLB spring training game. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

  • Are you evidence “based” or evidence “led” in your training? By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS

    Evidence and research can be a great thing. It is the basis for our never-ending quest for knowledge. But what if I told you relying on evidence and research could be harmful or even set you back in your training? I would venture to say most people would highly doubt such an opinion. After all, SCIENCE is ALWAYS RIGHT! I am not here to argue the validity of research, but I am here to ask if you need to be absolutely assured by scientific evidence that something is right before you place it into your training program? In my opinion, the answer to this question is no, not really. Let me explain.

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  • Athletes' Performance Pyramid

    Having on-the-field success is the ultimate goal for all athletes. But how is that achieved? The vast majority of people focus on (1) sport specific training and/or (2) athletic abilities, such as strength and speed. Yet, there are more factors that contribute to success than just those two. We all know people with tremendous physical abilities that never achieve success on the field. I think the following graphic is a great example of the building block components that make up a successful athletic performance.

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