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The Success is in the Struggle

Back in my graduate school days, I did some personal training at a gym not far from campus. My days were filled with work in the human performance lab and varsity weight rooms, but I felt like it was really important that I continued to train general fitness clients to become more proficient in that demographic – and help pay the bills.

Like most guys in my early 20s, I thought I had life all figured out. A few months in, my boss informed me that I was due for a performance review. She also mentioned that they were deviating from the “norm” a bit, and that my sit-down meeting would not be with her, but rather, with one of the more experienced trainers, Kris. I didn’t really think anything of it, and the meeting was scheduled for the following week.

Looking back, that meeting was profoundly impactful for me, even if I didn’t fully grasp just how important it was at the time.

Kris first complimented me on what I did well: work ethic, passion, attention to detail, coaching, and book smarts. Looking back, it was a perfect Dale Carnegie approach before I’d ever even read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Eventually, though, the conversation delved into the topic of empathy; she asked me what I thought most of my clients really wanted to get out of their personal training with me.

Here I was, a 22-year-old aspiring powerlifter who thought the world was out to train for a 600lb deadlift and get to 200 pounds at 6% body fat. My most loyal client, though, was a 68-year-old accountant who just didn’t want his neck and shoulder to hurt when he worked out and picked up his grandkids. Another was an elderly woman who was far more concerned about her risk of osteoporosis than her vertical jump.

That day, without telling me I sucked at relating to my clients, Kris taught me a ton about empathy and separating myself from personal biases. She just tactfully challenged me with a simple question. It wasn’t much different than the “guided discovery” approach we use with young athletes when we walk them into a little technique failure so that they can appreciate the wrong pattern.

“Where did you feel that?”

“Can you stop rowing when your elbow hits my hand?”

“See how your nose got to the floor before your chest on that push-up? Can you switch that up?”

Kris saw exactly what I needed to become a better coach, and she delivered the message perfectly. In hindsight, that lesson in empathy and separating myself from personal biases probably made a huge difference in enabling me to be successful in training baseball players even though I wasn’t a baseball player past eighth grade. I had to do a lot more listening and ask a lot more questions. Kris understood this all too well – and modeled it, too: she’d had clients for over a decade!

That was 2003. Now, 14 years later, Kris and I are still good friends. She sent us gifts when our twins were born. I help out with training her son, an up-and-coming pitcher. Of any of my co-workers at that time, she challenged me the most – and she’s the only one with whom I really keep in touch. How is that for impactful? 

I actually reached out to her before posting this blog, and her response included the following:

"I remember this conversation well. I dreaded giving this performance review! I remember thinking that I knew how smart you were (probably smarter than I) and I knew that this trainer job was ultimately not your end point. I wanted to make sure you knew how valuable your knowledge was when applied correctly. How do you tell someone their delivery is not as sensitive as it needs to be??

"I'm so glad that I succeeded in my message and that this lesson has stayed with you. I am honored that you, who I respect immensely, learned something from me. You never really know how much you can impact a person's behavior and thought process."

Now, imagine she’d never spoken up. Or, even worse, if she had – but I wasn’t ready to accept that constructive criticism. I wouldn’t be the coach (or person) I am today. This is why we should be massively grateful to those who not only have constructive criticism to offer, but choose to provide it with the correct approach.

When it really comes down to it, people struggle or fail to improve for one of three reasons.

a) They don’t know what they’re doing incorrectly.

b) They don’t have actionable strategies to address these issues; don’t understand how to employ these strategies; or haven't had enough consistency or success with these strategies.

c) They aren’t willing to change.

In terms of A, it’s important to challenge people tactfully and make them aware of their blind spots. Particularly in the youth sports realm, this is getting to be a very dicey situation. Many kids think they have it all figured out, and more concerning, many parents think coaches “have it in” for their kids, so they block constructive criticism. If we protect kids from understanding their weaknesses, they don’t grow. If we challenge kids, let them know failure isn’t a big deal, and then provide strategies to improve, they thrive. It’s been demonstrated in motor learning research, the educational realm, and social settings. As has often been said, “the success is in the struggle.”

Conversely, some people need help with B. This is the kid who is always late for practice, or always misses breakfast because he oversleeps. He needs time management strategies, and people around him to whom he can be accountable.

Scenario C is far and away the most challenging dynamic. These are situations where you may actually cheer against someone in hopes that they’ll struggle mightily and come to their senses on what needs to change. In an athletic context, it’s usually the kid who is the best player in the history of his town even though he eats fast food at every meal, skips training sessions, and stays up all night. It’s just a matter of time until he runs into genetically gifted competition that is far more prepared and motivated than he is.

Aroldis Chapman throws 105mph – harder than anyone in baseball history – and he has a 4.12 ERA this year. Mike Trout struck out three times in a game earlier this year. Ultimately, no matter who you are, sports and life will humble you in some capacity. Athletes are better off learning these struggles at a young age so that they’ll have strategies for dealing with them for the decades that follow.

What are the take-home messages?

1. Always be open to constructive criticism. In fact, seek it out. You can’t see your blind spots like others can.

2. Don’t protect your kid from constructive criticism, or immediately discredit criticisms of you. Process them before reacting. And remember the person delivering the criticism may actually be really nervous about doing so.

3. If you deliver constructive criticism, be cognizant of matching your approach to the personality of the one who’s receiving it.

4. Always reiterate that failure is part of life and not a big deal. And, if it seems like a big deal – particularly with young athletes – find ways to minimize consequences.

5. If you know why you’re struggling, find and employ strategies to address your weaknesses.

6. Thank you, Kris!
 

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Should You Play Fall Baseball?

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, John O'Neil.

We know that playing baseball year-round is a bad idea, but how do you determine if it’s a good idea for youth athletes to skip fall baseball and focus on developing themselves for the spring? Societal pressures – parents, coaches, scouts, recruiters - have dictated that if you’re a player and not doing as much total work as your competition is, you won’t keep up with the curve, but we know that’s not the case. Intelligent work will always trump total volume of work. The tough part lies in the action of identifying which athletes are better off sitting out a supplementary competitive season for the sake of success in the main season. Here are three questions to ask if you’re considering fall baseball and long-term baseball success is your goal:

1) How many innings did you throw during the spring and summer?
2) Are you playing another sport?
3) Are you adequately prepared for success within the fall season?

1) If you’re a pitcher and have thrown greater than 100 innings during the spring and summer seasons, fall baseball is highly contraindicated. A February 2011 study from Fleisig et al. provided the data for us that a youth pitcher, ages 9-14, is 3.5 times more likely to need an elbow or shoulder surgery down the road if they throw more than 100 innings in a calendar year. We can theorize and maybe think that a high school pitcher can afford slightly more innings, or, we could ask the question, what does a high school pitcher really gain out of throwing more than that? If they haven’t attracted recruiting attention in their first 100, you’re either not good enough to pitch at the next level OR have a very poor strategy for exposure. As CSP-FL co-founder Brian Kaplan has often said:

I’m in favor of shutting down pitchers at 100 innings, and I will provide more detail about when 100IP might not be the ideal number in point 3.

2) If you’re currently playing another sport, how does playing baseball as a secondary sport impact your long-term development? What is the goal of fall baseball? If the goal is skill acquisition and repeated exposure in a game environment, how does your commitment to the other sport detract or enhance from playing baseball?

Let’s take the high school soccer or football schedule. Most teams will have some type of organized activity six days per week, leaving one day a week where baseball can be the priority. From a skill standpoint, I would consider it more detrimental to both swing and throwing mechanics to be doing those in a fatigued state. Moreover, not providing the athlete with a true off day for the duration of the fall will lead to a much greater likelihood of an injury in the primary fall sport they’re playing. For position players, how much baseball skill work do you expect to get in only playing on weekends? A typical game might only involve a dozen swings and a handful of plays in the field, and that includes pre-game warm-ups.

If you’re not going to take a day off, maybe work on qualities in the gym that will ensure more long-term success. If you have the time given the constraints of the other sport, get to the cage/field multiple times per week if you feel the need to get more reps at the plate or in the field. Early specialization is not the answer for youth athletes. From a physical preparation standpoint, we know that specific physical preparation (SPP) is only as good as the general physical preparation (GPP) that underlies it. Even if baseball is the long-term primary goal, allow kids to develop GPP through other sports and specialize at the latest possible moment.

3) If fall ball is productive, what are the reasons? There are several: repeated  game exposure can ensure success on a baseball field from a perspective of tension and arousal, as we can’t simulate those in the cage.

However, if the competitive season is already close to six months long, when does the athlete have time to develop other athletic skills that will carry over to success within the competitive season? Fall ball may be a time where you gain exposure to scouts/recruiters, or great for the northeast athlete who only played 30 games in spring/summer. But, if you can’t set the athlete up for success in the short fall season, why bother? Specifically, how much skill work can the athlete get in to be set up for productive game play?

For pitchers, this means getting in multiple throwing sessions per week outside of competitive throwing days within the fall season. It also means that the pitcher needs to have been ramped up and be ready to throw in game situations in the weeks prior to the season, making it tricky when the gap between summer and fall baseball is anywhere from 2-6 weeks. For every week off of throwing, I’d like to see pitchers ramp up for at least an equal, if not a double amount of time prior to getting back out there (one week off = 1-2 weeks ramping, 2 = 2-4, etc.). It doesn’t matter if you’re only throwing a few innings every Sunday. Be prepared to be successful every time you toe the rubber. This is a case where even if the pitcher only threw 50-80 innings – far short of the 100 recommended in point 1 – it’s not a good idea to throw them into the fire if they can’t play catch, long toss, and throw bullpens during the week.

If you fall into the three categories I outlined above, I’d advise against playing fall baseball and instead working on physical qualities that will ensure success from a more long-term perspective. Get to the gym, get stronger, faster, more athletic, work on durability, take time off from throwing, and prepare yourself for a successful spring and summer season.

Who Definitely SHOULD Play Fall Baseball?

If you do not fall into the categories above, you may still be asking if playing fall baseball is right for you. There are two categories of high school players who need to be playing fall baseball if they expect to move on and play at the collegiate level. As outlined above, even these players need to prepare for the fall season as if it were their main competitive season. In other words, they need to be sure they are throwing, taking BP, and training regularly even if only playing on weekends.

1) High School Seniors who don’t yet have a collegiate commitment
2) Players who didn’t play much during the spring/summer seasons

1) If you have a chance to be recruited to play in college, but haven’t yet received the right opportunity for any multitude of reasons, fall baseball can be a last-ditch effort to get in front of coaches and scouts. Many Ivy League and D2/D3 schools recruit well into the fall. Make sure you are picking the right spots, though. Get out to showcases/tournaments/camps where these coaches will actually be in attendance, given that it is your last chance to play in front of them. This will require far more advanced than (definitely) the spring and (usually) the summer season will. You can’t just play in any local weekend fall ball league and expect coaches to come find you if they haven’t already. For senior pitchers, you can be a little more aggressive with your workload during this time because the summer after senior year of high school will most likely be a low workload or complete dead period. For underclassmen, stick more stringently to the guidelines given above.

2) If you are a player that missed significant time during your main competitive season, regardless of grade, fall baseball is a very good idea. This could be in the case of someone who was injured and had to sit out, or, someone who was buried on the bench and only got half the amount of action as some of his teammates. In this case, keeping up with what everyone else is doing in terms of yearly workload is a very important thing. This will make you better on a physical level, as repeated exposure to better pitching and facing better hitters will have carryover to the main competitive seasons. Additionally, your comfort level in a competitive game experience could make or break your ability to play at the varsity high school level in the spring, or your ability to be good enough to get recruited in the summer that follows. Identify the biggest areas of need that will drive your ability to be successful long-term and address them. If you haven’t played in real games very much, this could be the limiting factor.

As you can see, the decision on whether or not to play fall baseball is a very individual one. Be sure to consider all these factors as you make that decision.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule

Last week, I Tweeted out the following statistic:  

As can pretty much be expected, this Tweet was met with a thumbs up from frustrated coaches and parents who know a skinny pitcher who could really benefit from weight gain, but still refused to crush calories. That was the 98% of interaction with these numbers.

The other 2% - as can also be expected, after years of social media "exposures" - was people who wanted to disagree. An example:

"Not true. My 6'0 180 pound son throws 93 and threw 90 when he was 5'10 165."

Another:

"So you're encouraging guys to just get fat and they'll throw harder? Why isn't Bartolo the hardest thrower in MLB then?"

In the research world, these exceptions to the rule are called outliers and are nixed from the data set. In the magical world of social media, they are liked, retweeted, celebrated, enshrined, put up on a pedestal - and ultimately almost become the rule. Unfortunately, those who try to replicate the exceptions wind up woefully inferior.

Remember the generation of kids who thought that they could a) abstain from lifting weights and b) go to really up-tempo, cross-body deliveries in hopes of becoming the next Tim Lincecum? With a few exceptions, they become the skinny guys who couldn't throw strikes - or convince anyone to be their catch partners because they were so erratic. And, they really didn't put themselves in great positions to throw hard, in most cases.

Lincecum himself faded as he approached 30 years old, due in part to hip surgery. After a short comeback attempt in 2016, he hasn't pitch in almost 1.5 years and currently sits at 1,682 career innings. Currently, 27 active pitchers have more career innings pitched than that - and only two weigh less than 195 pounds.

This isn't a vilification of Lincecum, either; he recognized he was an outlier and made it work for a successful career that included multiple Cy Youngs and world championships. That's a lot different than the 16-year-old with no track record of success insisting that he can throw 2,000 innings in the big leagues at 140 pounds. That's not backed by demonstrable results or even the slightest bit of logic. Need further proof that you're better off following the masses (pun intended)? 

1. The size of the average MLB player has increased from ~186 to ~210 now (really good analysis here). Not surprisingly, average fastball velocity in MLB has increased dramatically during that same period.

2. Go check out this list of active leaders in innings pitched. Take note of how few are under 200 pounds.

3. Go check out this list of active leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Take note of how few are under 200 pounds. This guy is eighth on that list (and rapidly climbing). He's 6-3 and 210-215 pounds, but not the "absurdly bulky" many naysayers insist will happen if a 16-year-old kid adds a few hundred calories per day. Max is just big enough to use gravity effectively while remaining athletic.

4. We have loads of studies demonstrating that heavier pitchers throw hard. If you want to pick just a few, use this one and this one. Hopefully, the N=1 Twitter researchers can appreciate that their studies don't have quite as much validity as the peer-reviewed research that is published in the Journal of Biomechanics and Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.

5. This recent study reported that larger individuals signed professional contracts earlier and made it to the big leagues at a younger age. It also reaffirmed that bigger guys throw harder. Go figure.

6. Go to any powerlifting meet - or simply peruse some records online - and it won't take you long to realize that the heavier guys are the stronger guys. Strength is force. Power is work divided by time. Throwing a baseball is a sport-specific application of power.

Strength is also a foundation for stability: active control of joints. If you lack it, you'll rely more on passive restraints: ligaments, menisci, intervertebral discs, labrum, etc.

If you want to be successful in anything in life - sports, business, education, relationships, you name it - you are better off looking at what has worked for the majority of individuals who have previously been successful.

And, the research, anecdotal evidence, and logic is very much in support of gaining good weight being a wildly effective method for most pitchers to gain velocity, be more successful, and become more durable. You might be the exception to that rule, but chances are that you haven't actually tested the weight gain waters enough to know for sure. Eat up. 

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Optimizing and Progressing Arm Care

The prone horizontal abduction - also known as a "T" - is well known as a popular arm care exercise that has been around for decades. Unfortunately, it's commonly performed incorrectly. In today's video, I cover the most common mistakes - and then add a progression I like to use with folks once they've mastered the technique. Check it out:

Keep in mind that these cues also apply to "T" drills you perform with bands, TRX, or any other implements as well.  

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New Cressey Sports Performance Baseball Caps Now Available!

We just got a new shipment of Cressey Sports Performance baseball caps in and they're available for sale. These bad boys are one-size-fits-all snapbacks and go for $25 plus shipping and handling:

CLICK HERE to order using our 100% secure server!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/21/17

I finished up my NYC seminar yesterday and am sticking around to spend a day in the city with my wife today, but I prepared a recommended reading list for you to enjoy in the meantime. Check it out:

Attentional Focus and Cuing - Nick Winkelman wrote this great article for Club Connect's online magazine. If you're looking for a good introduction to internal vs. external focus cues, this is a good place to start.


Source: ClubConnect.com

20 Tips for Young Coaches - Mike Robertson crushed it with this new podcast with tips for aspiring coaches.

The Ideal Business Show with Eric Cressey - Speaking of podcasts, this interview I did for Pat Rigsby a year ago, and I still think it's one of the best ones with which I've been involved.

Top Tweet of the Week -

Top Instagram Post of the Week -

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Arm Injuries, Sports Science, and Player Development

Earlier this week, I hopped on The Motus Global show with Will Carroll, and we covered a ton of ground in the 40 minutes we chatted. From arm injuries, to sports science, to player development, there's a lot of good stuff in this podcast. You can check it out at the links below:

Overcast: https://overcast.fm/+JRLCkbN08

or

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-motus-show/id1245348721?mt=2

Enjoy!

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Why I Don’t Like Scap Push-ups

I used to regularly program scap push-ups in training programs in an attempt to improve shoulder health. Nowadays, though, I realize there are much better ways to get the job done. Check out today's video to learn the problems with scap push-ups as well as some better alternatives:

If you're looking for some good serratus anterior activation drills in place of scap push-ups, check out these videos:

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/25/17

I normally like to get these sent out on Monday, but I spent a rainy day at Fenway Park yesterday for the annual Cape Cod Baseball League workout. A day late (but no less sincere) here is our recommended reading for the week!

10 Daily Habits of Healthy Lifters - I contributed some experience on sleep tracking to this great roundtable at T-Nation.

Setting up for Speed: Base, Balance, and Angles - This is an excellent, to-the-point blog post from Mike Robertson. I wish I'd had it early in my career to help me pick up coaching speed and agility sooner.

Want More Clients? Maybe Consider the Following. - I really enjoyed this post from my old friend Tony Gentilcore. It's top-notch stuff for any up-and-coming trainer who is looking to build a larger clientele.

Top Tweet of the Week

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/18/17

I've been crushing audiobooks, print books, and DVDs of late, so it's generated some good material for these weekly installments.

Certified Program Design Specialist Course - Robert Dos Remedios just released this course, and I'm working my way through it right now. Program Design is this huge "hole" in industry education; it's so incredibly complex to teach that I'm impressed that Dos even tried to tackle the project! I've enjoyed what I've seen thus far, and this could be a great resource for up-and-coming coaches. It's $100 off this week as an introductory discount.

Smart Baseball - I really enjoyed Keith Law's new book, as it delved heavily into the world of advanced statistics in baseball. If you're a casual observer to the sabermetric world, this would be a good read for getting up to speed - and it'll help you watch baseball through a different lens.

The Quadruped Rock-Back Test: RIP - Doug Kechijian just published this article that asserts that this classic test probably doesn't hold as much merit for predicting squatting success as one might think.

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