Home Posts tagged "Dan Heath"

6 Key Factors for Developing Pitchers

When you ask most people what makes an elite pitcher, you’ll usually get responses like “velocity,” “stuff,” and “durability.” And, certainly, none of these answers are incorrect. However, they all focus on outcomes.

When you dig a bit deeper, though, you’ll realize that these successful outcomes were likely heavily driven by a collection of processes. If you rely solely on what the radar gun says or how many runs one gives up as success measures, you don’t really learn much about development. Conversely, if you dig deeper with respect to the characteristics of an aspiring pitcher’s approach to development, you can quickly recognize where some of the limiting factors may be. Here are six characteristics of any successful pitching development approach:

1. Openmindedness

Very simply, the athlete has to be willing to try new approaches to further his development. What gets you from 80mph to 88mph will rarely be what takes you to 95mph. Openmindedness precedes buy-in, and you’ll never make progress if you aren’t fully bought in. Twins pitcher Brandon Kintzler had a significant velocity drop from 2014 to 2015 - and that loss in velocity contributed to him spending most of 2015 in AAA instead of the big leagues. Fortunately, those struggles led him to being openminded - even at age 31 - to trying out Cressey Sports Performance programming, and he regained his previous velocity and then some. And, before 2016 was over, he was their big league closer.

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2. Prioritization

Good assessments identify the largest windows for improvement/adaptation, and excellent programs are structured to attack these growth areas. All too often, athletes simply want to do what they enjoy doing as opposed to what they really need to be doing. Of course, this relates back to the aforementioned “buy-in” described. Another MLB closer, Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, saw an even bigger velocity jump after his first off-season (2013-14) with CSP.

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A big chunk of that had to do with a greater focus on soft tissue work and mobility training to get that fresh, quick arm feeling back. Sam loves to lift and would tend to overdo it in that regard, so he actually improved by doing less volume. Effectively, he had to prioritize removing excessive fatigue - and implementing strategies to bounce back faster.

[bctt tweet="You can't take a fitness solution to a fatigue problem and expect positive results."]

3. Attention to Detail

Inattentive throwing, mindless stretching, and half hazard lifting techniques all come to mind here. It drives me bonkers to see athletes “give up” reps, and my experience has been that this is the most readily apparent thing you notice when you see high school athletes training alongside professional athletes. When it comes to throwing, athletes need to learn to throw with both intent and direction. Corey Kluber is among the best I've ever seen in this regard; whether it's in lifting or throwing, he never gives up a rep with wasted, distracted effort - and it's no surprise that he's become such a consistent high-level performer in the big leagues over the past four seasons.

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4. Diligence

A great program can be rendered relatively useless if it’s executed with mediocre efforts. The truth is that while many athletes Tweet about hard they work, the truth is that very few of them actually putting in the time, effort, and consistency needed to even come close to their potential. Another Cy Young award winner and CSP athlete, Max Scherzer, takes the cake on this one. Max is always looking for ways to make individual exercises and training sessions harder by adding competition.  He'll have other athletes jump in to chase him during sprint and agility drills, and he'll regularly reflect back on previous week numbers to verify that progress is always headed in the right direction.

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5. Continuity

I think this is one of the biggest struggles with developing arms in the college environment. The nature of the academic and athletic calendars – in combination with NCAA regulations – makes it very challenging to have continuity in pitchers’ throwing programs. As a result, there is a lot of ramping up and shutting down throughout the year. Athletes don’t get the consistency needed to optimally develop, and they don’t get the rest needed to optimally recharge. When you chase two rabbits, both get away.

6. Environment

The right training environment makes a good athlete great, and an average athlete good. It’s why we’ve gone to such great lengths to foster a “family” environment at both Cressey Sports Performance facilities. We want athletes to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, thereby increasing accountability to something more than just a workout sheet.

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Interestingly, as you look at these six factors, points 1-4 are intrinsic (specific to the athlete), whereas points 5-6 are extrinsic (specific to the environment/circumstances). Points 5-6 have a massive impact on points 1-4, though.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath note that while you will almost never effect quick change a person, you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts - and do so relatively transiently.

With that in mind, changing the situation by heavily emphasizing continuity and environment are outstanding avenues to enhancing the previous four factors. First, you’re more openminded if you see training partners getting great results with training approaches you haven’t tried before. Second, you also learn to prioritize when you look around and athletes are outperforming you in certain areas. Third, you pay more attention to detail when you’re surrounded by other athletes working toward the same goal. Fourth, your diligence is enhanced when there is a competitive environment that challenges you to be better each day. And, all these improvements are magnified further when continuity is in place; they happen consistently enough for positive habits to develop.

An appreciation for how these six factors are related is why we structured our upcoming Collegiate Elite Baseball Development program for the summer of 2017 the way we did. The program is 10 weeks in length (6/5/17 through 8/12/17) to ensure optimal continuity. It's for pitchers who are not playing summer baseball.

Each athlete will begin with a thorough initial movement assessment that will set the stage for individualized strength and conditioning programming - which corresponds to six days a week of training.

There will also be individualized throwing progressions designed following initial assessment, and ongoing throwing training - weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis) as part of the group.

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All the athletes will receive manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist twice a week, and nutritional guidance throughout the program.

Last, but not least, we'll incorporate a weekly educational component (a presentation from our staff) to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training.

The best part is that it'll take place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.

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Interested in learning more? Email cspmass@gmail.com - but don't delay, as spaces are limited and we'll be capping the group size.

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Tinkering vs. Overhauling – and the Problems with “Average”

Over the past year or so, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta has been a highly celebrated MLB athlete not only for his dominant performances (including two no-hitters) on the mound, but also for "reincarnating" his career with a new organization. Previously, Arrieta had been a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization - and while he had been a Major League regular, his performance had been relatively unremarkable. That all changed when he arrived in Chicago.

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Source: Yahoo Sports

In Tom Verducci's recent piece for Sports Illustrated, Arrieta detailed that his struggles with the Orioles were heavily impacted by constant adjustments with everything from mechanics, to pitch selection, to where he stood on the rubber. He was even quoted as saying, "I pitched for years not being comfortable with anything I was doing. I was trying to be somebody else."

I'm always cautious to take everything I hear in the sports media with a grain of salt, and this blog is certainly not intended to be a criticism of anyone in the Orioles organization. However, what I can say is that this story isn't unfamiliar in the world of Major League Baseball. There is a lot of overcoaching that goes on as many coaches try to fit pitchers and hitters into specific mechanic models. In other words, rather than looking for ways to make Jake Arrieta into the best Jake Arrieta possible, some coaches look to make athletes into Greg Maddux or Nolan Ryan - and they usually wind up with Henry Rowengartner (minus the arm speed).

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This "phenomenon" isn't confined to baseball, however. In his outstanding book, The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose, writes: "The real difficulty is not finding new ways to distinguish talent; it is getting rid of the one dimensional blinders that prevented us from seeing it all along." Moreover, he adds, "We live in a world that demands we be the same as everyone else - only better - and reduces the American dream to a narrow yearning to be relatively better than the people around us rather than the best version of ourselves."

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As Rose notes, we can extend this concept to the idea of standardized testing for students and conventional hiring procedures for new employees, both of which often overlook the brilliant individuals among us who may be wildly capable of remarkable contributions if put in the right situations. In short, pushing the "average" rarely allows anyone to demonstrate - let alone leverage - their unique potential.

This is where coaching becomes more of an art than just a science. On the pitching side of things, we know there are certain positions all successful pitchers get to in their deliveries - and there are certainly bad positions they should probably avoid to stay healthy. With that said, we have to "reconcile" this knowledge with the realization that some of these "bad positions" may help pitchers generate greater velocity, influence pitch movement, or add deception. If we try to change them - especially at the highest level - we may take away exactly what makes a pitcher successful. 

You can draw parallels in a lifting environment. Some of the best deadlifters of all time pull conventional, and others use a sumo stance. Their individual anthropometry, training histories, and success to date govern the decision of how to pick heavy things up off the ground.

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It's important to note, however, that it's very easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback in situations like these, as hindsight is always 20/20. Long-time CSP athlete Corey Kluber won the American League Cy Young award in 2014 in large part because he switched to a 2-seam fastball with the help of Indians pitching coaches Ruben Niebla and Mickey Calloway. And, another long-time CSP athlete, Jeremy Hazelbaker, is one of the feel-good stories of Major League Baseball after a subtle adjustment to his swing from a Midwest hitting coach, Mike Shirley, yielded huge results and put him on the Cardinals opening day roster after seven years in the minor leagues.

Arrieta's Cubs teammate Jason Hammel spent some time with us at Cressey Sports Performance this off-season and made some mechanical adjustments, and he is off to a good start with a 4-0 record and 1.85 ERA. The point is that we hear a lot more about failures than we do about success stories, and it's really easy to rant when things don't work out. Subtle adjustments that keep guys healthy and confident don't always show up on the radar - and as a result, some really important and tactful coaches from all walks of life don't always get the recognition they deserve.

So when is it right to tinker on the coaching side? And, are there commonalities among what we'd see in pitchers, lifters, and other facets of the performance world? Here are seven questions I think you need to ask to determine whether the time is right to make a change:

1. Has the athlete been injured using the approach?

If an athlete can't stay healthy, a change might be imperative.

2. Has the athlete stagnated or been ineffective with the approach?

The more an athlete struggles doing it his way, the more open he'll be to modifying an approach. Career minor leaguers will buy in a lot easier than big leaguers - and the minor leaguers definitely have much less to lose if things don't work out. Conversely, Jason Hammel already had over eight years of MLB service time before I even met him; we weren't about to drastically change things.

3. Is the athlete novice enough that a change is easy to acquire and implement?

It's a lot easier to correct a 135-pound deadlift than it is to correct a 500-pound deadlift. You're best of fixing faulty patterns before a lifter has years to accumulate volume of loading the dysfunction. This is one reason why I'd rather work with a young athlete before he has a chance to start lifting on his own; there aren't any bad patterns to "undo."

4. What's the minimum effective dose that can be applied to "test the waters" of change?

Can a "tinker" be applied instead of an "overhaul?" Switching from a 4-seam fastball to a 2-seam fastball is a lot less aggressive than switching from a 4-seam fastball to a knuckleball. And, it's probably easier to go from an ultra-wise sumo deadlift to a narrower sumo stance than it is to go all the way to a conventional set-up.

5. How can you involve the athlete in the decision-making process with respect to modifications?

The concept of cognitive dissonance tells us that people really don't like conflict and generally like to avoid it. This works hand-in-hand with the concept of confirmation bias; we like to hear information that agrees with our beliefs and actions. In their fantastic book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath write, “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the Heaths note, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”

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How, then, can we involve our athletes and clients in the decision-making process so that they effectively feel that the necessary changes are their ideas? And, can we regularly solicit feedback along the way to emphasize that it's "their show?"

6. How can we change the situation rather than the person?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, another great read from the Heath brothers, the authors note that you will almost never effect quick change a person, but you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts. If a pitcher's velocity isn't very good in the first inning (particularly during colder times of year), there's a good chance he needs to extend his warm-up. However, many pitchers are very rigid about messing with pre-game routines. Maybe you just encourage him to do more of it inside where it's warmer, or have him wear a long-sleeve shirt until he starts sweating. Here, you're impacting his surroundings far more than his beliefs.

7. Can the change be more efficiently implemented utilizing an athlete or client's learning style?

All individuals have slightly different learning styles (one more reason "average"coaching isn't optimal). Some athletes simply need to be told what to do. Others can just observe an exercise to learn it. Finally, there are those who need to actually be put in the right position to feel and exercise and learn it that way. And, you can even break these three categories down even further with more specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic awareness coaching cues. The more we understand individual learning styles, the more we can streamline our coaching with clear and concise direction. If a adjustment is perceived easy to understand and implement, an athlete will be far more likely to "buy in."

Closing Thoughts

On the whole, I think there is a lot of over-coaching going on in today's sports. Above all else, I think us coaches need to talk less and listen more so that athletes can be athletic. And, when a change is warranted, we need to make sure it's a tinker and not an overhaul - and it's important to give an athlete or client and ownership stake in the process.

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Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime – Part 2

Today, I've got the second half of an article from former Cressey Sports Performance, Brooks Braga. In this article, Brooks talks about how he prepared himself for the internship with us, but you'll find that his suggestions can help you toward success in any endeavor, fitness or not. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1. -EC

In Part 1, I kicked things off with some reflections on how I used Dale Carnegie and Keith Ferrazzi's advice to build relationships and improve the quality of my interaction with clients. Here, in part 2, I'll discuss how two other authors, Chip and Dan Heath, impacted everything from my study habits to how I coached. Let's get back to the tips...

1. Make use of time in the car and daily activities!

In late December of 2013, as I was preparing to leave Milwaukee for Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, I punched in the starting and destination points on Google Maps, almost afraid to look at what came up.

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17+ hours! How was I going to pass the time? I still had one of my three yearly-allotted good ideas in the bank, so I figured I’d use it since we were so close to 2014.

As I type this, Eric’s YouTube channel has 454 YouTube videos. He has been incredibly generous on YouTube, giving out great content for free on a weekly basis that his followers can take advantage of. Now, for the good idea: take advantage of this one, as my good ideas are like Halley’s comet – they come around once every 75 years or so.

I had the idea to use a YouTube-to-mp3 converter to convert many of Eric’s YouTube videos into mp3 audio files. I was then able to fill 3 CDs worth of incredibly valuable material to listen to on my 17-hour drive to Massachusetts. There was a lot of rewinding, but I got through them multiple times. I’m convinced that listening to Eric and Greg Robins go over exercise tips and coaching cues is what allowed me to be thrown into the fire on my first day and survive during the busiest time of year at CSP.

Don’t have a 17-hour drive to your new job or internship? Consider using this method to maximize your time to and from work in the car. I had a 30-minute drive each day to CSP. That’s an hour of valuable time right there. You can also utilize time spent cooking, cleaning, and a lot more. Play YouTube interviews of the staff members if they exist, listen to videos or podcasts that will help you transition into your role, or anything else you can think of while you do daily mindless activities that eat up time.

2. Prioritize your studies.

As I was studying for a final exam in December, I had an epiphany of sorts.

What was more likely to contribute to me getting where I wanted to be in my career – spending hours studying for a class with a textbook from 1999 or using that time to study material related to my internship at one of the most well-known and connected gyms in the world?

It got me thinking about my educational priorities. As far as my career was concerned, whether or not I got an A or A- in this class was so miniscule compared to the kind of impression I made during my internship.

I'm not saying you should “dog it” in class or “settle” for mediocre grades, but rather, I’m encouraging you to ask yourself the following questions:

a. What are my goals?
b. What can I do today to work towards achieving these goals?
c. Is there something I could be doing right now that is more valuable to my long-term success than what I’m currently doing?

It will be different for you than the next person, so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.

3. Tweak your environment.

If you’re anything like me, you get sidetracked easily on the computer. Consider tweaking your environment. This is a technique discussed in Switch, a fantastic book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

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For example, I regularly use the program “Self Control,” which lets me add whatever websites give me the most problems to a “block list” for a period of time that I choose. You’re unable to access these pages for the time being, and it’s actually a really great feeling. This would be “tweaking the environment.”

In my personal experience, the itchiness to check the latest news or sports scores nearly vanishes as soon as I run “Self Control.” It’s only available for Mac users, but plenty of similar programs exist.

4. Highlight exercises/ideas on which you need to spend more time.

I was pretty stunned when Pete Dupuis, the business director at CSP, sent me the “CSP Exercise Video Database,” a mega Excel-file-of-death with 600+ exercises, all of which I was expected to be able to coach on day 1. I thought I was doomed.

In full-blown panic mode, I decided to make a “notes” column and filled the cells of exercises I knew but thought I should come back to in yellow and did the same for the exercises I had no clue about, this time in orange. Highlighting these exercises really helped me figure out what I needed to work on and ensured I spent my time efficiently. It’s normal to get “stumped” here and there, but having a system to overcome these roadblocks makes it all part of the learning process.

Highlight ideas, themes, and exercises that you know you need to get better at when you come across them. It will help you allocate your time accordingly in the future.

5. Shrink the change.

You might think getting through 600 exercise demonstration videos, reading required material, etc., is a tall task when preparing for your internship, new job, or project. Another great technique from Switch is “shrink the change,” or breaking up large tasks into smaller ones so they don’t seem so daunting.

Does watching 25 short, 15-second videos a day still seem so impossible? If you accomplished this, you’d have it done in less than three weeks.

This also works great for reading. I set goals for reading 10 pages of two different books each night. It’s pretty cool being done with two books every three weeks! The best part is that you usually don’t want to stop after getting through 25 videos or 10 pages, either. The hardest part is just getting started.

Here are a few strategies to ensure a smooth transition into your internship or new job…

6. Talk in simple terms and utilize schemas.

Newsflash: most of your clients won’t understand what “lumbar extension,” “humeral anterior glide,” or “posterior pelvic tilt” mean.

I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but really try to make it point of emphasis to show the client what you’re looking for instead of using big fancy words that will leave their head spinning.

Another fantastic method is tapping into the client’s existing “schemas,” a concept talked about in another one of Chip and Dan Heath’s great books, Made To Stick.

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To illustrate an example, most clients have no issue posteriorly tilting the pelvis when you ask them to flatten out their lower back against the wall on a Back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise.

If you need to cue them into posterior pelvic tilt on an exercise without the benefit of wall feedback, say something along the lines of, “Remember how you flattened your lower back on the wall for the back-to-wall shoulder Flexion drill? Let’s get in that position again.”

This would be taking advantage of the client’s pre-existing “schema” of how to posteriorly tilt the pelvis to bring the lumbar spine into an ideal position.

7. Ask questions.

It can be intimidating being around people who know so much more than you on a daily basis, but try to take advantage of all the knowledge and experience walking around while you can.

One of the first things Tony Gentilcore said at intern orientation was “Don’t be afraid to ask questions!” This is really how you grow as a trainer. If something doesn’t make sense, ask. If you’re working with a client and you can’t remember what a certain exercise is, ask! No one expects you to be perfect! The people around you will probably be glad to help, too – regardless of the environment in which you work.

8. Write down a few trigger words of what you learn throughout the day.

Here’s a little tip I picked up from Alwyn Cosgrove, but with an added twist. Alwyn is a big believer in keeping a daily journal as you get your start in the industry. He advocates writing a paragraph each day detailing what worked with clients and what didn’t work. After a few months, you’ll know what your clients respond to and start developing your training philosophy.

The sheer magnitude of what I learned on a daily basis at Cressey Sports Performance required a little more, though. If I waited until each night to write down my experiences from the day, I surely would have forgotten a lot of what I learned.

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I decided to keep a notebook off to the side at CSP and would bring it with me on break, writing down trigger words of what I had learned that day to jog my memory for later that night. If we were going through a quieter period of the day and I wasn’t needed at that second, I would repeat the process.

9. Don’t be late, ever.

There’s no better way to make a poor impression than by being routinely late.

There’s an easy way to prevent this – if you’re able, plan on getting your own training in before the gym opens for clients. This way, even if you’re running a little behind, it will only affect your workout, not your job duties or clients.

In Summary:

• Multitask whenever possible – YouTube to mp3!
• Prioritize your studies – what is most important?
• Tweak you environment for productivity.
• Highlight things you come across that you need to improve upon.
• Shrink the change – make big tasks seem less daunting to get started.
• Talk in simple terms when instructing clients and utilize “schemas.”
• Ask questions.
• Write down thoughts throughout the day for retaining information.
• Don’t ever be late.

That wraps up this two-part article, and I hope you enjoyed it! I highly suggest you check out the Heath brothers’ Amazon page (note from EC: Decisive is also an outstanding book. Buy the three-book package; you won't regret it.). As with Part 1, feel free to comment with your thoughts or strategies you’ve used that I didn’t cover.

About the Author

Brooks Braga (@BrooksBraga) is the Head Trainer of Athlete Performance Oconomowoc, a sports performance facility in the Greater Milwaukee area, where he works with everyone from professional and youth athletes to general population clients. Between playing college baseball and a brief stint in professional baseball, he completed an internship at Cressey Sports Performance. He operates BrooksBraga.com, where you can subscribe to his free newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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