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Tag Archives: Ron Wolforth

  • Disappointing Results from Training? : By Ron Wolforth

    For most of us, one-size-fits-all programs and programming have always been an undeniable fact of life. We had a coach, mentor, or teacher who followed a specific philosophy, recipe or process and simply hoped for the best.

     

    After all, most systems are better than no system at all, so we quietly accepted reality and moved forward.

     

    We intuitively realized that some coaches, mentors, teachers, philosophies and/or processes fit some individuals far better than others.  Many have come to grasp the fact that such a universal reality will never completely go away.  Perfect just does not exist.

     

    That is the reason many of us are unconsciously in the constant search for a better “fit” for ourselves, our children, our family, our teams and/or our organizations.

     

    But as far as physical training is concerned, technology and the evolution of thought behind training has evolved considerably in just the last 10 years.

     

    We are just now fully grasping the incredible benefits of customization and hyper-personalization of our athlete’s training protocols.  In fact, when we step back and look at it from a distance, such a process actually makes perfect sense.  Instead of forcing each unique athlete to conform to a rigid choreography and a universal cookie cutter model of training, we go through a four-step process that, at the Ranch Consortium, we refer to as Assess, Categorize, Customize, and Prioritize.

    Without getting too abstruse and deep into training methodology, here is why such a process is a gigantic leap forward.

     

    The science behind this is good.  Whenever we take a group of dynamic systems… such as a collection of baseball pitchers… and expose them to a strict process or protocol… such as a one-size-fits-all weighted ball program… the results are fairly predictable.

     

    Some flourish, most show very little change, and some get injured or go backwards.

    For a vast majority of the history of training athletes, this was simply standard operating procedure.

     

    It was great if your athlete was on the “flourish side” of the bell curve and it was unfortunate if he happened to get injured or went backwards.

     

    The authors of the particular “process” would champion and highlight their successes and for the most part ignore the failures. (By the way, that certainly included our early days at the Texas Baseball Ranch®.)

     

    If you happened to be on the wrong side of the curve, you often went in search of the next process, hoping that this next one was a better fit.

     

    This went on for years and years.  Nothing to see here, simply keep moving forward.

     

    But slowly things began to change.  Technology improved.  Thinking and understanding evolved.  Some of us in multiple disciplines and arenas of athletic training and performance enhancement rejected the status quo, consensus, conventional thinking and group think.   Thanks to works of Bernstein, Nyman and Bosch, we began to understand “Dynamic SystemsTheory” and how it relates to our athletes individually.

     

    We started down the complex road of hyper-personalization and built training processes which were led not by efficiency, but by the individual constraints of each individual athlete.

     

    In short, we wanted to assist each athlete in overcoming and/or reducing the specific constraint that was MOST limiting or interfering with his performance right now… currently… today!  At the Ranch Consortium we refer to this by its Motor Learning equivalent: A Constraint-Led Approach to Motor Skill Development.

     

    I wrote a whitepaper entitled, “The Case Against Weighted Balls?”  We made it into a short book. If you would like a copy of it, please call or email our office and we will mail you a copy for free: Please let our Office Manager, Anna Dugger, know if you are a player, parent or coach.

    Office- 936-588-6762
    AnnaDugger@TexasBaseballRanch.com

     

    Now to be clear, the title was intended to be provocative.  We in fact believe that over-weighted and underweighted balls as throwing tools are exceptional.  However, they are simply tools.  They are not a silver bullet nor a panacea, and if used incorrectly, they can in fact place athletes at greater risk of injury.

     

    The purpose of my paper was to share our 20-year relationship with the utilization of weighted balls in training so that players, parents and/or coaches would have a better understanding of how to maximize the benefits of weighted ball training while minimizing their risks.

     

    If you are interested in utilizing weighted balls as part of your process, I believe the book is quite helpful and informative.

     

    However, after reading it again for the first time in several months, I realized I omitted a very, very valuable piece of the puzzle and a critical influencer, and I wanted to correct that now.

     

    A huge component of our success has been the assessment phase.  No one single person has been more influential in that regard than Phil Donley.  Not only is Phil one of my most favorite people in the entire world and a wonderful man, he was light years ahead of his time, helping us understand what sound structural assessment entails and how to interpret the testing information.

     

    Today his influence is all over our processes. For those unfamiliar with Phil, here is a little about him:

    Phillip Donley is a retired Colonel U.S. Army Reserve. He was Chief Physical Therapist at Akron City Hospital (1958-1960), Instructor and Assistant Athletic Trainer at West Head Athletic Trainer and Professor of Physical Education at West Chester University (1965-1991). He owned a private Sports Physical Therapy Clinic in West Chester in 1981 to 1995. Since 1997, he has served as a Consultant to the Philadelphia Phillies for 10 years and the Philadelphia Eagles for 5 years. He now treats patients part-time at the West Chester office of Optimum Physical Therapy Associates. He also performs research and clinical care lectures on shoulder and full body kinetic chain topics.

     

    In closing, the primary reason so many people are often disappointed with their training is because their specific training is simply not a great fit.  It may have been a better fit a year ago or it might be a great fit 6 months from now, but right now, there are things that are far more important. It may even be a great fit for your roommate or teammate, but it isn’t for you. 

     

    Getting the wrong plan will at best minimize your gains and at worst ruin or significantly sidetrack your career.

     

    To have the BEST chance of your training having a large positive impact on your performance, you should:

     

    • Assess your current physical structure, mobility/flexibility, strength/strength balance, movements/mechanical efficiency, recovery/ability to bounce back and performance parameters (velocity, command, swing-and-miss stuff).
    • Then Categorize– from those assessments, guide each athlete to the exact area(s) and protocol(s) that they need most at this moment.
    • Then Customize– building a hyper-personalized, holistic plan for the next 8-12 weeks so that each athlete works on the specific areas they need most.
    • Then Prioritize– creating a hierarchy of our process to make certain we hit the most urgent things first.

     

    The best news in all of this is that today in 2020, there is a viable, far more effective way to train than following a mail order program on the internet.  And indeed, sometimes your very career may depend upon it.

     

    Until next time, stay curious and keep fighting the good fight.

     

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

     

    Important TBR Updates

     

    • We have only 2 remaining Elite Pitchers Bootcamps on the summer schedule after this weekend. The August 7-9 is SOLD OUT but there are still spots available in our Labor Day Camp, September 5-7. Due to current COVID-19 state mandates, we have reduced the number of attendees to 2/3’s of out normal 45 cap. For more information on these popular events, please visit www.TexasBaseballRanch.com/events. We are also loosening up our cancellation/change policy so that people can be comfortable in making plans now in the face of current and future uncertainty. **We also have an option for you to extend you bootcamp weekend and stay for an additional week(s) and participate in out “Extended Stay Summer Developmental Program”.

     

    • Would you like to train at the Ranch for a longer period of time this summer? Our “Extended Stay Summer Development Program” is the program for you. We have one session remaining this summer. It is a two week mini session, August 3-13. More information is available at www.texasbaseballranch.com/events/tbr-summer-program/.

     

    • Response to our “Ranch Remote” training option has been exciting. It’s a program for people that would still like to get access to, and ongoing instruction from, the TBR staff but prefer to avoid travel due to the virus. Click here to get more information on this NEW, hyper-personalized training option. The number of participants in this program is limited to 36 so if you’re interested, don’t dealy.

     

    • Like many of you, we have heard the news that many Junior Colleges across the country have cancelled their fall season and in some cases, the entire 2020-2021 athletic season. This obviously is both disappointing and frustrating for many young men. At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, we have decided to put into place a fall training program for those young men who would like to take a ‘gap’ year, focusing on a structured developmental program that will best prepare them for college baseball when it finally does return. Please email info@TexasBaseballRanch.com if you would like more information on this option.

     

    Please call (936)588-6762 or email us: info@texasbaseballranch.com
    for more details or to sign up for any of these options.
  • How We Individualize Workload To Decrease Injury Risk And Maximize Performance Gains : By Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    To become an elite throwing athlete, you need to throw … a lot.

    Quick, off the top of your head, name me one skill in life where becoming elite at that skill involves …

    NOT DOING THAT SKILL.

    You want to be a great guitar player?

    Sure. 

    Here’s what you do … 

    Don’t play guitar too much.

    Save your bullets.

    Take three months off every year to give your body time to recover.

    You want to be a great chemist?

    Ok, listen up.

    Whatever you do … 

    Don’t do too much chemistry

     

    When you want to do something well, doing that thing a lot seems ridiculously self-evident.

    Yet if you ask medical experts and baseball traditionalists about the key to preventing throwing injuries, that’s exactly what we hear.  

    It stems from what I believe to be a fundamentally flawed assumption — that all throwing injuries are due to OVERUSE.

    When the assumption is that OVERUSE is the cause of injury, the natural course of treatment is UNDERUSE.

    Limit pitch counts.

    Control innings pitched.

    Take 3 months off every year.

    Those were the recommendations, and most of the baseball world fell in lockstep without question.

    Programs around the country implemented the restrictions, but to the experts’ surprise, injury rates continued to rise. 

    When the data showed no impact on injury rates with rest and “overuse” avoidance, the experts doubled down.  

    “They’re not being obedient … not doing what we said they should do.”

    Soon it became political.

    Any coach at any level who allowed a pitcher to go beyond these arbitrary limits was labeled ignorant, irresponsible, reckless, and even abusive.  Governing boards legislated limits that would lead to disciplinary action if breached.

    Coaches and organizations complied. Yet injury rates kept climbing. 

    Let’s face it. We’ve been chasing pitch counts and innings limits for nearly two decades, and it doesn’t seem to have had any influence on slowing the injury rate. Yet, we continue to mandate draconian restrictions.

    It’s mind-boggling, really.

    It defies logic, and the laws of physiology. 

    Davis’s law in physiology states that all human tissue remodels and aligns itself to resist the stress under which it is place. Any tissue with a blood supply is capable of making itself more robust and resistant to injury. However, it must be is exposed to the right stress. The body will always adapt. For positive adaptations, we must add stress to vulnerable tissue. If we withhold stress, we’re sure to get unwanted negative adaptations.

    Send an astronaut into space for 30 days. In the absence of gravity, his body adapts negatively. When he comes down to earth, his bones are brittle, and his muscles are weak because he hasn’t been exposed to stress.

    The irony is apparent.

    In our noble effort to prevent injury by reducing exposure to stress, we may be making our athletes more vulnerable.

    We must add stress.

    But, we must control that stress, adding it slowly, incrementally, over time.

    If we add it too quickly, the tissue will fail. If we add it at high intensity for too long, the body will respond by laying down the most hardened tissue it can muster — bone. The result will be calcifications and/or arthritic spurs. 

    Please understand, I’m not saying workload doesn’t matter.

    There is a reasonable limit to how much an athlete should throw. However, that limit should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

    You see, managing arm health is far deeper and more complex than merely counting pitches. Arm health and performance involves optimizing what my friend Ron Wolforth calls The Six Types of Contributors To Sub-Par Performance and/Or Pain.  

    Here they are shown in their order of importance.

    If types 1 thru 5 are right, the pitcher could (and should) throw a lot.

    If types 1 thru 5 are wrong, 10 pitches may be too much.

    At least 2-3 times per week, we get calls and visits from players whose loving parents are beside themselves.

    “I don’t know how he got hurt. He never went over the pitch count.”

    We understand.  

    Most parents don’t let their son throw too much. However, in many cases, their sons simply aren’t ready to handle even the smallest amount of  workload. They haven’t stabilized the first five types of contributors. 

    At the Ranch consortium, we want our students to throw a lot, but we also understand that workload must be individualized.  Not everyone is ready to throw a lot.  A couple of years ago, we realized we needed to create a process for objectively measuring and calculating an athlete’s readiness to tolerate high volume throwing.

    At the Florida Baseball Ranch, we measure EVERYTHING.  We enter all of that information into a database we keep on an app in our iPads on the training floor. Our analytics department has formulaically quantified and weighted each possible contributing variable.

    We combine that information with ramp-up data, pain and recovery audits, and performance-related factors like velocity changes, strike percentages, and ball flight metrics. Then we run that data through an algorithm we developed that produces an on-going Arm Readiness Measurement (A.R.M.). This score ranges from 0 to 100 and allows us to individually predict the amount of work each player can tolerate.

    Last fall, the father of one of our 17-year-old students approached me before a training session and said, “Hey, my son threw 90 pitches in a game with his travel team this weekend. Does that seem excessive to you?” 

    “Hold on a minute,” I replied. I typed the player’s name into our Ipad App and called up his A.R.M. “No.” I said. His readiness score is 88 out of 100, so he should be able to tolerate 90 pitches just fine.”

    If the player had scored a 20 on the A.R.M. we would have had a reason for concern. More importantly, we would have needed to dig deeper into his assessment to determine why he had scored so low. Then we would have gotten to work on correcting his deficits so he could score higher on the A.R.M.  

    Imagine you’re a college pitching coach, or you run a travel ball organization. You enter a weekend series or a tournament with 10 pitchers. Three have A.R.M. scores of 80 or above. Four are sitting between 50 and 75, and three are below 35.  You’ll need to lean on the 80+ guys to handle most of the innings.  The four in the middle can eat up a fair portion, but the 35 and below group will probably be limited to only a few innings each.  After the series, you can address the discrepancies that led to the lower scores so they can handle more innings in the future.

    If you want to improve your velocity, your command, or your secondary stuff, you have to throw a lot. But, before you do, you’d better be sure you’re ready to throw a lot.

    Before you make another throw, or pitch in another game, call us at 866-787-4533.

    We’ll develop a customized training plan that links your hardware to your software, and optimizes your warmup and ramp-up. We’ll write a strength and conditioning program that will aid in your readiness and turbo-boost your development. When you execute your plan, you’ll be able to throw safely and with enough volume to accelerate your progress at warp speed.  

    You’ll throw harder.

    You’ll throw more strikes.

    You’ll have nasty secondary stuff.

    And, you’ll do it all without pain!

    We’ll be with you every step of the way to guide you through your process.

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

    Call us at 866-787-4533

    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

  • When It Comes to Arm Issues… By: Coach Ron Wolforth

    In the span of 30 days, we at the Texas Baseball Ranch® had conversations with two DI pitching coaches, two DII head coaches, one DIII head coach, and an NAIA pitching coach, all about the exact same phenomenon.

     

    I thought it might be a perfect time to address this issue.

     

    Here is a synopsis of what they all said:

     

    1. Their team has historically done a very good job avoiding arm issues and surgical interventions.

     

    1. The last couple of years they have seen a definite upswing in the number of their pitchers coming to campus with a weighted ball throwing program and all the requisite paraphernalia.

     

    1. These young men with the choreographed throwing programs end up getting hurt, having extended periods on the shelf, or need surgery at a rather alarming rate that far exceeds the rate of their other pitchers.

     

    1. While they certainly don’t want to micromanage or forbid their pitchers from seeking outside help, they really can’t afford to lose any of their top guys to injury, and they are seriously thinking about limiting or forbidding their pitchers from such programs.

     

    They really wanted to hear our perspective on this phenomenon.

     

    Success Leaves Clues-
    The Unsuccessful Leave Debris Scattered Across the Landscape

     

    Here is a synopsis of our discussions with these men:

     

    For starters, let’s take this completely out of the baseball realm for a moment. For the ailment of high blood pressure, an MD has dozens and dozens of different medications in his/her tool box that he/she can prescribe. What the doctor tries to do, based upon the patient’s histrionics, assessments, and tests, is prescribe a regimen including dosage, frequency, and duration that best fits their patient. They then schedule a follow up appointment and retest and reassess to see how the prescription worked, and if needed, change the medication (choose a different tool) or modify the dosage and frequency.

     

    Next let’s look at world class strength coaches such as Eric Cressey or Lee Fiocchi. Eric and Lee have dozens and dozens of different options in their strength development tool box that they can prescribe. What they do, based upon the athlete’s histrionics, assessments, and tests, is prescribe a specific strength regimen including intensity, volume, and frequency that best fits the current needs of their athlete. They then closely follow the athlete’s progress and retest and reassess to see how the prescription worked, and if needed, change their program or modify the intensity, volume, and frequency.

     

    Far too often in the medical community, some doctors get stuck or are courted by and/or financially incentivized by pharmaceuticalreps to prescribe a specific medication for a certain ailment. Thereby often giving a ‘stock solution’ to otherwise very unique individuals with similar symptoms. As we all can imagine, this rarely goes well. In the medical profession, there is a very appropriate mantra, “Diagnosis and prescription without assessment can lead to malpractice”.

     

    Likewise, in the strength development community, some trainers prescribe a ‘one size fits all’ ‘stock solution’ to strength development. In essence, they have, in their opinion, one very, very good tool and they prescribe it to every one of their athletes. Over the years I have seen first-hand the negative repercussions and unintended detrimental consequences with homogenized strength programs. This is in large part what separates Eric and Lee. They are meticulous on performing their due diligence for the benefit of their individual clients.

     

    In our opinion, we private instructors, pitching coaches, and head coaches should hold ourselves to the same high standard.

     

    The Problem Is Real and It Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon

     

    Returning now to the question surrounding the college and high school pitcher: “Should we then be surprised when an athlete shows up with a ‘stock’ weighted ball or throwing program and becomes injured or has arm issues?”  Answer:I don’t believe so. In fact, I’m personally surprised more aren’t injured. ‘One size fits all’ programing, even those that are sound, will of course often have very uneven results when applied to a universal population.

     

    By the way, I’ve learned this the hard way. In 2006 we had one regimen that we THOUGHT was extremely good. It worked very well for some, it didn’t help others at all, and some it actually took backwards. It was a very humbling lesson for us. Today, in 2019, we have literally dozens of paths an athlete can take, and we use the diagram to below as our foundation. I think it is a great guide for most people who work with groups of athletes.

    #1 First we assess to find out where the athlete is currently.

     

    #2 Then we place the athletes in the most appropriate training
    category based upon their most pressing personal needs.

     

    #3 We then customize and hyper-personalize as much of their training process as possible.

     

    #4 We prioritize their work to make certain the main thing remains the main thing.

     

    The Good News: There Are Things You Can Do…
    A Third Option

     

    Now let’s return to the main issue: Pitchers showing up on campus with a stock weighted ball throwing program.

     

    Option #1-We could simply let them do their thing and HOPE they will be ok. The problem with that approach is that if this guy is supposed to be one of our key contributors this season, can we really take the risk of him being healthy and available to us when the anecdotal evidence suggests that those guys get hurt more often. Is that fair to the rest of the guys who bust their humps every day in search of a championship?

     

    Option #2- We could put our foot down and not allow outside programs whatsoever. The problem with that approach is that it immediately creates a rift between the player and the coaches, and really places a stain on trust, rapport, and team culture. Always keep in mind that the player has consciously invested his time and money into his program, and you refusing to respect or honor his investment is a confirmation that you feel that the athlete is either incompetent, inept, or incapable of making sound training decisions on their own.

     

    Option #3- Or you could do this. Ask the player the following questions:

    • Ask the player to bring you his weekly process. (If he doesn’t have one, it’s on one sheet of paper, or on a laminated card, you know immediately it’s a stock program and what you are dealing with right away.)
    • How many days total are they throwing each week in addition to your team practice?
    • How many throws or how much time is spent on each segment outside of your team practice?
    • How many ‘push’ days a week outside of your team practice does this process call for?
    • What do they do for a wake-up, warm-up, and arm preparation outside of your team practice?
    • What do they do for post throwing and recovery outside of your team practice?
    • Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their physical structure or alignment which shaped their current process?
    • Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their mobility/flexibility which shaped their current process?
    • Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their strength/stability which shaped their current process?
    • Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their mechanical efficiency which shaped their current process?
    • Have they previously had any pain, arm issues, or difficulty in recovering?
    • Is their current workload using this system more, less, or the same as they trained in previous seasons?
    • Can they adequately explain, to your satisfaction, the specific purpose of each of their drills?

     

    Again, I learned the importance of these questions the hard way. For the last 12 years I have roamed the facilities of the Texas and Florida Baseball Ranches, continually asking players those exact questions. While our coaches and players have improved exponentially in their ability to answer those questions over the past 12 years, some players just don’t quite grasp the concepts and/or the full magnitude of their personal training process.

     

    The reason this is important is we obviously can’t assume just because an athlete ‘generally’ knows how to perform a specific drill and carries with him a laminated card and training paraphernalia, he therefore is a master at managing his own process over the course of the season. Subsequently, such a person who is clearly not intimately knowledgeable would, in our opinion, need and benefit from our continued guidance, mentorship, and support.

     

    Remember: You Lead People…
    You Manage Systems & Processes

     

    Based on how each athlete answers these questions, the answers give us great insight into how we should proceed.

     

    If indeed this is a ‘stock’ and ‘homogenized’ throwing program in which there is little or no personalization, cycling, or periodization, then we suggest you as his coach should intervene.

     

     One of the biggest weaknesses of choreographed throwing programs is a complete lack of a ramp-up for soft tissue. Soft tissue pliability, resilience, and robustness takes a gradual increase in intensity and volume over time. 

     

    • Tell him to take his prescribed throwing program and cut it in half for the first 2 weeks.
    • Tell him that if his arm is completely healthy after the first 2 weeks, for the next 2 weeks (weeks 3-4) to increase the volume to 60% of the suggested throwing program workload.
    • If his arm is completely healthy after weeks 3-4, tell him for the next 2 weeks (weeks 5-6) to increase the volume to 70% of the suggested throwing program workload.
    • If his arm is completely healthy after weeks 5-6, for the next 2 weeks (weeks 7-8) increase the volume to 80% of the suggested throwing program workload.
    • If his arm is completely healthy after weeks 7-8, for the next 2 weeks (weeks 8-9) increase the volume to 90% of the suggested throwing program workload.
    • If his arm is completely healthy after 9 weeks, he may add ONE velocity push day or one max long toss day and adopt his full program as long as you are not scrimmaging. If you are scrimmaging, pitching in competition becomes his push day. By all means long toss on a regular basis but trying to set personal all-time best distances is not recommended in our opinion during your competition phase.
    • If at any time he experiences any sort of arm discomfort, he immediately reverts back to the previous week’s volume and intensity, and refrains from any velocity push days or maximum distance long toss.

     

    Bottom Line:

     

    • The steepness of season, training/practice, and game time ramp-ups are absolutely critical towards arm health and durability. Get that wrong at your own peril.
    • There is a third option for dealing with ‘stock’, ‘one size fits all’ weighted ball throwing programs and it not only helps with the ramp-up and arm health, it also builds rapport and trust between the coaches and the player as they work together to build a healthy, more durable, more electric throwing athlete.

     

    Until next time,

    Stay curious and keep fighting the good fight.

     

    – – – – – – – – – –

     

    If you know a young man that doesn’t need more innings this summer, but instead needs to improve either his velocity, command, secondary offerings or arm health & recovery, please encourage him to join us at The Texas Baseball Ranch for our “Extended Stay Summer Development Program”.  He will leave with a hyper-personalized plan to help him with HIS specific needs.  More information is available at www.TexasBaseballRanch.com/events.

  • What program are you on, and does it really matter? By: Gunnar Thompson CSCS; NASM-CPT, PES, CES; CPPS

    I have some news for you: it does NOT matter what program you are on or following.  Don’t get me wrong, I used to believe the program that I followed was all that mattered. I was confident that the number of sets, reps, throws, and pitches were the secret sauce that would separate me from all others. I thought, if I could just optimize my program, I would be better than everyone. I wrote everything down. I had a plan going forward. It was PERFECT! Until, things changed.

     

    My body changed. I felt good some days, bad others, and somewhere in between most of the time. There were some days when I was scheduled to go all out—max effort—yet, I physically felt like crap. But it was on my program, so I did it anyways.

     

    My lifestyle changed. Some days I stayed up later at night. Other days I would have other things to do besides train. That's life. But I would literally change everything else to accommodate my workouts because it was my planned program. This led to a lot of internal conflicts.

     

    So here's what I realized from all the trial and error and the numerous seminars I attended by people a lot smarter than me. It's not the program that matters, but rather the system! No, this is not a play on words that can be used interchangeably. There are distinct differences.

     

    A program is a single strict series of exercises, sets, reps, and throws. A system is a series of multiple programs that can be used to achieve a specific goal. A system allows progressions and regressions based on how an athlete feels that day, but it still works toward the specific goal. It is called auto-regulation, a word that I learned from CPPS by Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith. For something to work, it must adapt on a monthly, daily, and even on an exercise by exercise basis. Something Ron Wolforth explains really well is the idea that we want to create adaptable athletes not adapted athletes. It is easy to write a program and follow it to a T, but does it really give you the best chance for success?

     

    At Oates Specialties, we get questions such as “Do you have instructions with your products?” on a daily basis.  I get it. People like to be told what to do and what to follow. Coaches like to implement a program they found to a “T” because, well, it is easier.  It is easy for me to write a program that is thoroughly detailed and planned, but is that really what is best for the athletes? After listening to great minds like Ron Wolforth, Frans Bosch, Randy Sullivan, Joe DeFranco, Jim Smith, Mike Robertson, Joel Jamieson, Louie Simmons and Eric Cressey, I realized why they are the best coaches. They develop a system that they can modify, enhance, or evolve based on each individual athlete.

     

    So I told you programs don’t matter, and you should follow a system. How does this help you right now? This should spur some thought. You should want to do your own research, and come up with a system for you or your athlete. If you want the easy way out, follow a program. If you really want to be your best or help your athletes reach their best, it is time to put in the work and do your research or go to someone who does their homework and has a system in place like the names mentioned above.

    Be Unique and #BeELITE!

  • 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.

  • Denial is NOT a River in Egypt - by Ron Wolforth

    I wish I had a dime for every young athlete who complained to me about working hard and yet… is underachieving in some way… velocity, command, pain/recovery/durability, and/or consistency, etc.

    They are frustrated. They are discouraged. They are sad. They are melancholy. They are despondent. They are at their wits end.

    Coach Gary Ward referred to it as the ‘ain’t it awful’ mindset.

    Continue reading

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