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  • 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.

  • 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

  • Throwing Weighted Dogs Can Increase Velocity! Wait… What? - by Randy Sullivan

    Seems the rage these days is about these new weighted ball things and how they increase velocity.

    Funny…

    When we started using weighted balls as part of our process in 2009, in my community you
    would have thought I was Jack the Ripper! Naysayers unfairly blasted me privately, and publicly to the point that I finally gave in and stopped using them for a few months.

    I soon came to the realization that critics will be critics and accepting their slings and arrows is simply the price I must pay for the privilege of working with all the fine young men in my care.

    Continue reading

  • Warning: Connection Ball Vandals Could End Your Baseball Career - by Randy Sullivan

    We get banged on a lot on the internet about our TAP connection balls. If you aren’t familiar with the connection ball, it’s pretty simple. It’s a yellow inflatable ball that has a little texture to
    the skin. verlanderconnectionWe use it as a tool to create feel and feed the mistake on a few different arm action inefficiencies. We blend it into a series of drills designed to elicit more efficient, powerful, and durable movement patterns.

    How did we start using them?

    Continue reading

  • Shut It Down Or Keep Throwing? Maybe There’s an Alternative- by Randy Sullivan

    Yesterday I got a call from a minor leaguer who said he was interested in coming in for training before next season, but he was planning on going into complete shutdown mode for about 2-3 months. After I hung up, I had a penetrating thought that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the kind of thought that makes you wonder what you’ve been thinking for all these years.

    Continue reading

  • Why We Don’t Run Long Distances by Randy Sullivan

    “Did you throw your bullpen?”

    “Yessir.”

    “Good. Now go run your poles while I work with the infielders.”

    Given the amount of research available on the topic, I am always amazed in a camp when I say,

    “Raise your hand if part of your practice involves running poles.”

    Incredibly, approximately 60% of the attendees still raise their hands.

    Continue reading

  • I Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong - by Randy Sullivan

    “Just throw strikes.

    Don’t worry about velocity.

    Just get lots of out…

    Win lots of games…

    And the college recruiters will see you’re a winner and they’ll want you to be a part of their program.”

    That’s what I told my son, Ty.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong...

    Continue reading

  • I Don't Know Why Your Arm Hurts! by Randy Sullivan

    Good Afternoon,

    My name is Randy Sullivan.

    I am a physical therapist and a baseball coach.

    They call me “The Arm Pain Assassin.”

    I am one of the best arm pain specialists on the planet and if you ask me why your arm hurts I will tell you…

    Continue reading

  • The Only 4 Things That Matter In Pitching - by Randy Sullivan

    A couple of days ago, I got an email from a student named Andrew that really got me thinking.

    “Hey Randy, I’ve started back throwing and I was looking for some help on the role of the glutes in the delivery. I understand a glute load allows for stabilization of the trunk and can create a bit more ground reaction force, but I’ve also seen the EMG study where they claim that GRF in the drive foot isn’t as crucial. I was wondering if you could point me to some literature or elaborate yourself on the role of the glutes. It’s very difficult for me to take full advantage of mechanical concepts unless I understand the “why” and what goal is attempting to be achieved. Thanks Randy!”

    Continue reading

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