Individualization and the College Baseball Athlete

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Training little kids – 9-12-year-olds – isn’t that challenging. Most are hypermobile and weak, so the foundational programs can larger look the same. Keep things fun and maintain their attention, and good things happen. This population can do amazingly with one program on the dry erase board.

In the 13-15-year-old group, things can get a little tougher because some kids have hit a huge growth, spurt, and others look more like the “gumby” 11-year-old. Most kids do fine with twice a week strength and conditioning work.

At ages 16-18, the training frequency ramps up. By junior and senior years, we see kids who are at the facility 4-6 times per week in some capacity. If they’ve been consistent over the years, there should be a great strength foundation, so they can start to do some cool stuff with force-velocity profiling, prioritizing different aspects of speed and rotational development, etc. I wrote an entire article about this previously: Strength in the Teenage Years: An Overlooked Long-Term Athletic Development Competitive Advantage.

The previous three paragraphs shouldn’t seem revolutionary to anyone, but what’s often overlooked are the challenges that come on the college front in the years that follow. The 17-18 year-olds that report to a college campus are not a homogenous group. Some have no strength and conditioning experience, and others have a ton. A college strength coach who’s on his/her own with 30+ athletes of all training and chronological ages has a tall task if individualization is the goal, especially if they have to all train in narrow scheduling windows (e.g., right after practice).

As a result, you’ll often see players who thrive in the first year or two on campus. They put on 15 pounds, get a ton stronger, and start throwing harder. Then, in years 3-4, they actually regress. What initially worked great (often heavy, bilateral loading) shifts to diminishing and even negative returns, leaving athletes banged up and with a loss of range of motion. It’s not a knock on college strength and conditioning coaches; it’s actually more of an acknowledgement that they’re put in a really hard situation with too many athletes with many different needs all in the same limited time windows.

My own research has shown that in pro ball across all levels, MLB organizations range from roughly 11 athletes per strength and conditioning coach to ~27 athletes per coach. In other words, the least staffed MLB organization still has a better ratio than the most well staffed college setup, and the somewhat “staggered” daily pro schedule is more accommodating to individualization with varied training times.

In the private sector (at least at Cressey Sports Performance), our athlete-to-coach ratios are even smaller, so we are able to chase a significant degree of individualization based on the results of evaluations across multiple departments.

There’s a ton of flexibility on scheduling and adjusting training times on the fly. And, perhaps most importantly, it can take place across departments, with communication among strength and conditioning coaches, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, analysts, physical therapists, and massage therapists. When communication is streamlined, individualization success skyrockets.

I think this is one reason why you have seen more and more pitchers step away from playing summer baseball to chase development. During the school year, they get an education, high level competition, and dedicated skill development work while sacrificing a bit on the strength and conditioning side of things, as well as overall continuity (you don’t necessarily know when you’re going to pitch). With a summer of training, you get a high level of strength and conditioning individualization, continuity (predictable plans), and dedicated skill work (e.g., pitch design) while sacrificing on the competition and education sides of things (although I’d argue that it’s a different kind of education).

Unfortunately, outside of very select opportunities, summer ball doesn’t really give you a high level of anything: strength and conditioning, skill development, nutrition, travel dynamics, continuity, education, or even competition. Rather, you get a bit of each, and there may be some that fall well short of expectations.

If you want to develop more than the rest, you need to prioritize certain adaptations. Maybe that’s gaining 20 pounds, developing an outlier pitch, adding 4mph, or building overall work capacity. If you chase five rabbits at once, they all get away.

This is one reason why we rolled out our 10-week college summer pitching development programs at our Florida and Massachusetts facilities. We saw a need to help college arms structure their summers in individualized ways that were more conducive to development – and the results have been outstanding, with participants averaging 4+ mph fastball velocity gains in both locations. You can learn more about how we attack development in these programs at the following links:

Florida: The CSP Pro Experience

Massachusetts: CSP Collegiate Elite Baseball Development