Home Posts tagged "Long Toss"

CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: October 2021 Q&A

For this week's podcast, I'm flying solo as I tackle three questions from listeners:

  1. Why do some pitchers come back to throw harder after Tommy John surgery?
  2. What are some of the bigger mistakes you see athletes make with long toss?
  3. What's your opinion of pitchers doing direct strengthening work for the forearm, wrist, and hand?

A special thanks to this show’s sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you’ll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: The Reconditioning Roundtable

For this week's podcast, I'm joined by Rob Friedman (the Pitching Ninja) and renowned pitching consultant Alan Jaeger for a discussion on the importance of true reconditioning programs for pitchers after interval throwing rehabilitation programs. If you work with injured pitchers - or are one yourself - then you won't want to miss this discussion.

A special thanks to this show’s sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you’ll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Building a Better Throwing Program with Alan Jaeger

We're excited to welcome highly regarded pitching consultant Alan Jaeger to this week's podcast to discuss long toss and both performance and rehabilitation throwing programs. A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 20-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Show Outline

  • How Alan became known as “the long toss guy”
  • How experience as a young junior college arm led him to developing his throwing strategies
  • How Alan defines long toss and what the specific priorities of a quality long toss session are
  • How long toss facilitates self-organization of the body and intuitive feel for how to throw the ball efficiently
  • How stretching it out and working back to your partner with conviction gives pitchers the variance they need to remain athletic and free on the mound rather than repeatable and robotic
  • What big mistakes Alan sees in athletes’ daily catch play as well as the programming of their throwing sessions
  • How Alan liked to structure throwing for pitchers on 5- and 7-day rotations
  • Where Alan sees room for improvements in rehabilitation throwing programs
  • How the conversation about long toss has evolved over the last 20 years, specifically in professional baseball
  • How some MLB organizations still resist long toss, but why young front office phenoms are playing an influential role in transforming baseball into a more progressive era
  • How understanding a player’s background gives great insight into how they’ll function at a high level
  • How players can learn to respectfully say no to complete overhauls in their abilities and be prepared to stand their ground to preserve the longevity of their career
  • You can follow Alan on Twitter at @JaegerSports  and on Instagram at @JaegerSports.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 20 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/9/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. I forgot how awesome the playoff baseball time of year was - in spite of the sleep deprivation! Here are a few good reads from around the 'net to kick off your week:

Unplugged - I'm currently working my way through this book from Dr. Andy Galpin, Brian Mackenzie, and Phil White. It's a fascinating, expansive look at technology in our lives, particularly with respect to how we monitor and train for fitness.

Market Toward One Audience and You'll Enjoy the Perks of Many - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, made some awesome points in this recent blog. Effectively, on the road to becoming an accomplished specialist, you have to first be a good generalist.

Thoughts on MLB Player Development - This was a Facebook post I put up later in the day yesterday that could have been a separate blog post.

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Top Instagram Post of the Week

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Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 4

It's time for another installment of "Common Arm Care" mistakes, and in this go-round, I'm going to be talking about volume management.  This mistake can be summed up in one sentence:

If you keep adding things without taking something else away, you'll eventually wind up with overuse problems.

Effective, there is a "give and take" that is involved with the training of any throwing athlete.  The more throwing these athletes do, the less supplemental training they can incorporate. This can occur in a number of different contexts.

First, on the throwing side, you'll often see pitchers who are always seeking out the latest, greatist throwing programs.  However, they don't "program hop;" they just keep adding.  Before you know it, they're making 300 throws in every session - and throwing seven days a week - because they have to get in their long toss, weighted balls, underweight balls, mound work, and towel drills.  If you told them that practicing their nunchuck skills would help, they'd add that in, too.

Second, you have to be cognizant of the rest of your strength and power training volume.  When your pitch count goes up, you need to pare back on your upper body lifting volume; banging out a bunch of chin-ups isn't going to feel so hot after a 60-pitch outing.  Additionally, your medicine ball work volume needs to go down as the throwing volume goes up.

To give you some frame of reference for this, here's a little excerpt from Marlins closer Steve Cishek's off-season medicine ball programs.  Keep in mind that the total throws equals left-handed throws, plus right-handed throws, plus overhead throws.

October: break from rotation, no aggressive medicine ball or overhead work
November: 156 total throws
December (started throwing mid-December): 138 total throws
January (ramped up throwing): 66 total throws

Once spring training rolls around and he's throwing even more, he'll have even less.  A minor leaguer whose season wraps up a month earlier would actually be able to get an additional month of aggressive medicine ball work in.

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Third, pitchers often forget that throwing itself is a huge challenge to the rotator cuff.  So, if your throwing volume goes up as the season approaches, you should be doing less arm care work than you would have done in the off-season.  You can get away with this reduction in arm care work because you've already put in a great off-season to build things up.  Of course, if you throw year-round, then you're already behind the 8-ball when the season starts.

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Training Athletes with Funky Elbows: What a Valgus Carrying Angle Means

I talk a lot about how there's a difference between simply "training baseball players" and actually training baseball players with a genuine appreciation of the unique demands they encounter - as well as their bodies' responses to those demands.  Today's post will be a great example of how you can't just throw every throwing arm into a generic program.

One of the adaptations you'll commonly see in throwers is an acquired valgus carrying angle at the elbow.  For the laymen in the crowd, take note of how the throwing arm (in this case, the right arm, which is to the left side of the picture) has a "sharper" angle: 

 

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This is an adaptation to the incredible valgus stress during the lay-back portion of throwing.

layback

While the research on the subject isn't really out there, it's widely believed that a sharper valgus carrying angle predisposes throwers to elbow injuries, particularly ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears.  My good friend Mike Reinold actually has a lot of very good unpublished data on the topic, too. In my eyes, this verifies that we need need to treat throwers like this with extra care in light of this increased susceptibility to injury. 

From my perspective, I think it means more time off from throwing each off-season in order to regain passive stability, as the UCL is already stretched out more than in the normal pitcher.  Additionally, it may take longer for these athletes to regain good soft tissue quality, as the musculature at the medial elbow is likely working harder to make up for this loss of passive stability and the increased range-of-motion demands.  Another key point is that this valgus carrying angle may increase the likelihood of ulnar nerve hypermobility (snapping back and forth over the medial epicondyle during flexion/extension) or ulnar neuritis (irritation of the nerve from excessive stretch). If this nerve only has a limited number of flexion/extension cycles before it really gets irritated, then we need to use each throw wisely to put off the possibility of needing an ulnar nerve transposition surgery to set it where it needs to be.

Additionally, I think it means less aggressive throwing programs, particularly with respect to extreme long toss.  I think long toss has a ton of merit for a lot of throwers, but one concern with it is that it does increase valgus stress slightly as compared to throwing on a line at shorter distances.  With that in mind, these folks might respond better to other throwing initiatives, or simply less long toss than they otherwise might do.

From a training standpoint, we need to work to gain more active external rotation to ensure that more of the range-of-motion is occuring is at the shoulder than the elbow.  This should not be confused with simply stretching the shoulder into external rotation, which does much more harm than good in 99% of cases.  Rather, we need to educate athletes on how to get to lay-back without compensation. I like supine external rotation - an exercise I learned from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg - as a starting point.

Once we've been successful working with gravity, we'll progress this drills to prone to work against gravity, and then add in various holds at end-ranges of motion to strengthen athletes in external rotation closer to end-range.  Here's an example you can try at home:

In terms of contraindications, I can't say that it changes much as compared to what we avoid - back squats, Olympic lifts, etc. - with the rest of our throwers.  However, I think the fallout could be even more dramatic; just imagine these elbows catching a snatch overhead in the off-season after 200+ innings of wear and tear.

crazyvalgus

This picture also teaches us that one can simply be born with a more significant valgus carrying angle, but throwing during the adolescent and teenage years would make it more extreme.

Beyond training implications, for the reasons I noted above, it's also extremely important to take care of tissue quality at the common flexor tendon and pronator teres. I like a combination of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization and hands-on work like Active Release.

I hope this post brings to light an additional assessment and follow-up training principles you can use to give your throwers the quality training and (p)rehabilitation they need. If you're looking for more insights on training throwers, I'd highly recommend you check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships; the next course takes place on December 8-10.

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Baseball Development: What’s with All the Power Arms?

Back in the summer of 2013, a good friend of mine attended the a well-known national showcase with one of his athletes.  It was an invitation-only event for the best rising senior baseball players in the country.  At the end of the event, he texted me to comment on just how crazy it was that it seemed like dozens of kids were hitting 95mph on the radar gun at this event.  And, sure enough, in the post-event write-up, they commented on how over 100 kids topped the 90mph mark. 

That is a huge deal.

You see, if you backtracked just 10 years, 90mph was a huge feather in your cap - and it essentially meant that you'd be getting drafted out of high school.  Now, on a regular basis, we have dozens of kids nationwide consistently throwing 95mph+ even when there were only 35 major league pitchers in 2011 whose average fastball velocity was higher than 95mph!  As I've mentioned before, average fastball velocity is higher in Low-A than it is in the big leagues. 

The question, then, becomes, "Where are all these power arms coming from - particularly at the younger levels?"  That's a question I'll answer today.

1. More specialization.

It goes without saying that early sports specialization across all sports is, unfortunately, at an all-time high. 

However, baseball is particularly interesting because there is an extremely high likelihood of arm injury along the way.  In fact, according to a 2008 study from Oullette et al., 57% of pitchers suffer some form of shoulder injury over the course of a season.  And, that doesn't even take into account elbow, neck, core, and lower extremity injuries/conditions.  It goes without saying that just about every player will have an issue or two (or 30) pop up over his four years of high school - and it's one reason why we don't see any more "clean" MRIs during post-draft physicals for high round picks. They're all damaged; it's just that some are worse than others, and we need to figure out which of the chips in the paint and rust on the hubcabs are clinically significant.

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When kids specialize in one sport at an early age and try to play it year-round, it's like betting your life savings on the roulette wheel - except your chances of winning are even smaller.  And, even if it works out and the kid manages to be the next star, you dodged a bullet - and he very well may just be waiting for problems down the road, as a lot of the early specialization kids actually have very "old arms" even if they aren't symptomatic. 

Not surprisingly, the rise in specialization (as evidenced by the growth in popularity of fall ball teams, showcases, and opportunities to play for multiple teams during the "normal" baseball season) has paralleled the rise in velocity and injuries.  Can long-term baseball development be successful without specialization?  In my opinion, absolutely - but you have to tie up all the loose ends, and that's what my next few points will all be about.

2. Video analysis

If you want your velocity to increase immediately, there is no quicker avenue to doing so than reviewing pitching mechanics on video.  Our pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, uses the RightView Pro set-up extensively at Cressey Sports Performance for this very reason.  Many pitchers are visual learners, so this approach to coaching helps them to learn what needs to be corrected much more efficiently - and it's also of benefit to the pitching coach, as many movements in the pitching delivery occur so quickly that they really can't be spotted by the naked eye.

Surprisingly, there are still a ton of college and minor league teams who don't have video available to their players.  Access to video can be a huge game-changer, and it's one reason that a lot of high school kids are throwing harder and harder.

3. Competition

Ask any coach what one of the best ways to motivate male athletes is, and he'll tell you competition.  Most teenage guys thrive on trying to beat their buddies, opponents, or records that are in place.  Nowadays, there are more opportunities to compete (and less preparation), and any player in the country can hop online and see how his velocity compared to other guys' at the last showcase.  Although commonly overlooked, these competitive opportunities are big motivating factors to players.

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4. Strength Training

I often tell athletes that "If you don't run fast, you won't pull your hamstrings." In other words, strength training can be a player's biggest asset, but also his greatest downfall if he doesn't approach it correctly.  You see, if strength training isn't approached correctly, it can do a world of harm - both acutely and chronically.  Obviously, the likelihood of getting hurt increases if you move with poor technique under external loading.  However, taking it a step further, strength training "solidifies" movement patterns.  This can be great in a rehabilitation context if you free up some new mobility and then want to create stability within that range of motion (or just maintain what you've got).  However, if you lift like a moron, you'll mostly just teach yourself to be better at moving like crap - and that's when chronic injuries kick in.

Unfortunately, casual observers to exercise physiology don't get that there is a huge difference between appropriate and inappropriate strength training for baseball players. And, this is why there are quite a few "old school" folks in the baseball world who attribute some of the high injury rates these days to lifting.  What they should be attributing the injury to (in part) is inappropriate strength training exercise selection, volume, and technique.  After all, there are just as many guys get hurt late in the season because they cut out lifting and lose strength!

Simply stated, strength training is helping guys throw harder; there's no doubt about it.  It's how that strength training is programmed and what's done to complement it that determines if the increased velocity will lead to an injury. Nothing happens in isolation.

5. More aggressive throwing programs

A decade ago, throwing programs were far from what they are today.  Nowadays, up-and-coming throwers are using weighted baseballs and long toss more than ever before.  No two pitchers are alike in how they respond to these modalities, but having them as tools at our disposal has certainly helped us to increase pitching velocity with countless throwers.

6. Less distance running

One of our minor league pitchers stopped in to check in with me over his all-star break a few weeks ago, and he came bearing great news.  He'd hit 98mph on the radar gun four times in a single inning a few nights earlier - after never having been above 94mph before this season.

Sure, we did a lot of things differently with his programming this off-season, from strength training, to throwing programs, to mobility and soft tissue work.  However, the single biggest change he made (in my eyes, at least) was that he started sprinting between outings instead of distance running.  I have seen this time and time again, and I'm happy to report that more and more coaches at all levels are starting to pick up on it, too. 

Everybody ran long distances back in previous decades.  Yet, we throw harder nowadays.  And, everybody seems to run long distances in baseball in east Asia.  Pitchers throw harder in the U.S.  Sure, there are a lot more factors that contribute to pitching success than velocity alone, but these observations are impossible to ignore.

7. More objective ways to quantify velocity

Have you ever wondered if pitching velocity has increased simply because technology has improved, and we therefore have more accessible means of measuring it?  The price of radar guns isn't as high.  Every stadium has a radar gun.  They make pocket radar guns, and there are even iPad apps to measure velocity. 

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Basic accessibility to this technology has likely contributed to kids pushing the envelope of what they would otherwise think they were able to do.

8. More peaks, fewer valleys

Remember when Justin Verlander hit 101mph on the radar gun in the 9th inning of his no-hitter in 2011?  You could call that a "peak" velocity moment.  In short, it's a lot easier when the stakes are higher, people are watching you, and the adrenaline is pumping.  Major League pitchers don't have as many of these because their professional seasons are a long grind: possibly 200 games in 230 days, if you include spring training and playoffs.

Younger pitchers, however, are more "excitable."  With shorter seasons, there are more "big games."  With showcases and tournaments each weekend, the stakes are higher. Heck, they get excited if a girlfriend comes to watch them pitch. In the lifting world, we call it the difference between a training max and a competition max.  A competition max may be as much as 10% higher because a lifter is deloaded from training stress and put into a higher pressure competitive situation. In young pitchers, everything seems to be a competition max.  It's great for demonstrating big velocity numbers, but may interfere with long-term health and development.

Wrap-up

Clearly, there are a ton of factors that have contributed to guys throwing harder at younger ages in today's baseball world.  They don't all apply to each thrower, as different athletes will generate velocity in different ways.  While this increase in average velocity has definitely made pitchers more dominant, it has, unfortunately, been accompanied by a greater frequency of injuries.  Understanding the factors that contribute to these velocity increases is the first step in determining how to keep kids performing at a high level while minimizing their risk of injury. 

For more information, I'd encourage you to check out 7 Reasons Pitchers Shouldn't Do Year-Round Throwing Programs Part 1 and Part 2.  Additionally, you can explore these topics in much greater detail with us at our Elite Baseball Mentorships.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/29/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing:

Thrive on Throwing - This is an outstanding DVD set from Alan Jaeger that thoroughly teaches the science and practice of long tossing.  Alan has generously offered to provide my readers with a 25% off discount (which applies to his other products as well).  I highly recommend this throwing resource, as long toss sometimes gets a bad rap in large part due to the fact that many players and coaches implement it incorrectly.

Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program - While we're on the topic of long toss, I thought I'd bring this old article back from the archives, especially since a lot of our professional baseball clients started throwing this week.

5 Holiday Diet Tips that Don't Suck - This is a quick read from Nate Miyaki over at T-Nation, but it packs some good information and strategies for you to employ this holiday season.

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8 Ways to Make Practice More Productive for College Baseball Pitchers

Today's guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Landon Wahl.

By its very nature, the life of a pitcher avails itself to many hours of pondering the game. Fresh out of my senior year of pitching at the collegiate level and having time to reflect upon my experience, overall I can say it was the best time of my life. However, there were many times during practice where I felt like I should have stayed home because nothing was accomplished. I would often stand in the outfield gaps behind the position players wondering: “how is this making me a better pitcher?”

After 2-3 hours of batting practice, our coach would have us bring it in and that was the end of practice. Summary: a 3-hour practice that consisted of a 10-minute warm-up, 5-10 minutes of throwing, and 2 hours and 40 minutes of standing around listening to my teammate tell me how sure he was that all of his teachers were trying to fail him (go to class, buddy). Some practices involved the pitchers more than others, but for the most part, practice time could have been used much more efficiently. Below are some ways practice time can be used to make pitchers more involved at practice as well as some things to avoid!

1. Set aside time in practice to have a proper warm up.

Too often, players come to practice and will disregard the warm-up or perhaps not warm up at all! Players grab a ball and start throwing with no physical or mental preparation. Every program is different in regard to warm ups. As a coach, make sure that regardless of what style warm-up you prefer, that you stick to it! At Cressey Performance, all athletes go through a foam rolling series as well as a dynamic warm-up before even touching a baseball, medicine ball, or weight. If you are a coach looking for inspiration, watch the video below and have your guys do it for a warm up. It almost goes without saying that it will help your guys feel and move better as well as prevent future injuries.

2. Make sure throwing - especially the long toss component - isn’t rushed.

Some programs are pretty good about this, but others aren’t. It is understandable that as a coach you have a lot to cram into a 2-3 hour practice and you want your guys to get as many swings in as possible, too. Think of long toss as a pitcher’s BP. It is important to let your pitchers get their arm speed up to help improve performance and stay healthy throughout the season. Try not to rush through the throwing to get to batting practice; it will help everyone be more prepared for your big weekend conference series.

3. Stop making pitchers stand around during batting practice.

First of all, I understand that sometimes pitchers are needed to help shag fly balls and make sure that the hitters get their work in, but this doesn’t have to be ALL the time! Sure, it’s nice to talk with fellow teammates and occasionally track down a fly ball, but overall there is little to no value to preparing your pitchers. Instead of having the pitchers stand around during the early parts of the week at batting practice, send them to the weight room for resistance training, athletic training room for manual therapy or stretching, or elsewhere on the field to do movement training or plyos.

4. Set aside time in practice to work on pick-offs, 1st/3rd defensive plays, PFP, live situations, and bunt defenses.

Too often, basic pitching defense gets brushed aside on the daily practice schedule. All of these essential parts of the game could take a full week just to cover, not master. For incoming freshman, these situations may not have been covered very thoroughly or even at all in high school! Have the coaching staff split up and cover these situations often; they may arise at any time during your important conference series! For your players to have confidence in the plays and skills that they will develop in practice is crucial, and will directly relate to confidence on the mound during in-game situations. This is also a good time to break away from the monotony of an extended batting practice session and get the pitchers involved.

5. Don’t enforce “punishment” running.

As a coach, it is understandable that players can upset you in many ways: poor play, off-field offenses, or on-field offenses. Nothing as a player is worse than hearing, “on the line,” not just because the punishment is usually miserable to complete, but also because nothing productive is being accomplished!

Consuming alcohol at the collegiate level is what unfortunately gets lots of guys into trouble. Having to participate in “punishment runs” was an absolute nightmare, usually because I was always running for someone else's screw-up. And, it didn’t matter how many times we were punished; guys would still go out to the bars later that night, not having learned a thing. It brings team moral down and creates problems between teammates. Believe me, there were some guys with whom I was not happy.

Some of the most successful teams win games because they're close-knit groups, not because they have the most talent! A prime example was my high school baseball team during my senior year of 2008. One could debate whether we were the most talented team in comparison to teams in the past, but we made it all the way to the state championship game. This was due to the fact that we did absolutely everything together as a team, and never had situations that compromised our positive team dynamic.

Punishment runs not only wreck your players physically, but also destroy them mentally. Sometimes discipline is in order, but try and find another way to do it! There is only one thing you need. Bench the player until behavior improves. Negative reinforcement such as running only deals with issues temporarily. Benching a player might cause some player-coach tension, but that’s part of being a coach. Make the best decision for the whole team and ensure that every player represents your college or university in a proper manner.

6. Don’t make pitchers catch bullpens.

This is just my personal opinion. I understand that some programs do this and others don’t. Hopefully, I can provide insight for just one coach, at any level. Coming from a previous program who endorsed this, I saw firsthand how it can really end up injuring a pitcher. I’ll relate a personal account...

One afternoon during freshman year at practice, I walked up to the field and my coach informed me that I would be catching every single pitcher, and then I would get to throw my bullpen. Unfortunately, I had never caught an inning in my entire life. Still, I suited up. The first few fastballs went well. The first curveball, however, didn't.  It bounce in front of me by about two feet and you can probably guess what happened next.

The whole team thought it was funny (and in hindsight, it was), but at the time, it was not. In the months after that experience, I was afraid of the ball, shying away whenever it got close to the mitt. This not only was physically taxing on me, but the pitchers couldn’t get in a rhythm and their bullpens suffered as a result. There is something to be said for having a catcher who sticks your pitches, moves back and forth across the plate, gives feedback on your pitches, and encourages you because they are confident; this was not happening with me. After I caught all of the bullpens, I began to throw mine. You can also be sure that another fellow freshman caught me; the practice was a total waste, for everyone.

7. Talk to each player one-on-one.

Every coach could do this more often. I know that after a game in which I performed well (or not so well), it was nice to have my coach tell me things I could improve upon while highlighted things I executed correctly. This is also important for players who are not regular starters, or kids who have never played an inning. It is essential to provide hope for these players; at any time they can be a cornerstone in the lineup! Too often, good baseball players don’t receive the proper mental reinforcement. It sounds cliché and simple, but even telling a player “good job” can carry them a long way. It is also important to have meetings with players outside of practice and listen to their thoughts and concerns, both academically and athletically.

8. Have fun.

Having fun is what the game is all about. Winning is fun. Having fun at practice is fun, too! Create competitions between the players. Let pitchers take batting practice. Create incentive for your players to be excited and ready to go when practice time rolls around! Most of all, be supportive of every player. Playing college ball and going to class is quite a workload. There is nothing better in the world that blowing off some steam and forgetting about school responsibilities by playing some baseball.


 Questions or comments?  Please post them below.  Also, Landon Wahl can be reached at landonwahl@yahoo.com.

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25 Questions to Ask During the College Baseball Recruiting Process

When I got into the strength and conditioning field, I always assumed my job would just be about getting athletes bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, and healthier.  And, I was right that those would be constituents of my job, but I failed to realize that there was actually a lot more to consider if I wanted to be successful in the private sector and working with up-and-coming baseball players.

Those unexpected responsibilities included learning about the Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement, interacting with advisors/agents, helping kids plan out their competitive year, creating a solid physician and physical therapist network, and even jumping in to catch some bullpens.

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However, none of these tasks could possibly be more important than the interactions I have with a lot of high school baseball players as they work to select the right college/university for them.  While there are a lot of college advisory services out there, very few of them truly understand the athletic side of things; they're more heavily focused on the academic and social components, as there is no way they could ever possibly keep track of what each college baseball (or football, hockey, basketball, or whatever) program is doing. Coaching staffs change, universities move to different conferences, new facilities/fields are added, and new training methods are established.  With that in mind, here are 25 questions I ask of all our kids who approach me about the college recruiting process:

1. Will you have an opportunity to play right away?  If not, are you comfortable waiting?

It's very easy to fall in love with a campus and the thought of playing in front of thousands of fans, but "s**t gets real" when you've been riding the pine for your first two years of college.  Find out who is on the team who'll be playing ahead of you, as well as who else they are recruiting in your class at your position.

This, for me, is also a roundabout way of asking a kid if he is really good enough to play at a school.  If you didn't even pitch for your high school team, chances are that you aren't going to be able to pitch for a College World Series team.  In this instance, you'd be better off going to a team that will provide the innings you need to develop.

2. Do you have aspirations of playing baseball after college?

Will this program facilitate that objective? If it's going to do so, you need to see a history of players drafted.

3. Have you spoken to alumni who have played at these colleges (or for these coaches at different schools)?

Do they speak highly of their experiences, or do they rip on the coaches?  Do they go back to their college town to visit often?

4. How would the coaching staff describe their approach to coaching to you?

Some guys do well with the "in your face" coaching style, and others struggle with the regular confrontation.

5. What is the program's track record of success with developing players like you?

What do they do that will make you a better left-handed pitcher, second baseman, or catcher?  Do they have examples?

6. What (if any) scholarship or financial aid amount are you being offered?

College isn't cheap.  While full rides are rare in college baseball, the difference between a 25% scholarship and 50% scholarship can work out to $60,000 over the course of four years.  Don't forget transportation costs to and from campus several times per year, too.

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7. How tenured are the coaches, and do they see themselves leaving the school in the next few years?

At the Division 1 level, while you have some wiggle room (usually) in leaving a school if the head coach that recruited you leaves, you don't get that luxury with pitching and hitting coaches.

8. How tenured is the team athletic trainer, and what is his/her approach to treatment?  

Does he/she just fill Gatorade buckets and stay out of the way, or get involved with manual therapy and individualized rehab programs?

9. How tenured is the team strength and conditioning coach, and what is his/her approach to training both in-season and off-season?

Do guys get bigger and stronger over their four years, or do they just run poles and waste away?  Observe a lift: is he/she a respected figure in the players' lives? Also, is he/she considered a true part of the coaching staff to allow for maximum synergy, or does the head coach never interact with him/her?  Are players on unique programs based on their positions and injury history, or does everyone do the same?

Hint: if the answer to every question is "clean, squat, bench," run away.  Quickly.

10. How successful are the coaches in placing players with competitive, well-managed summer teams?

Sadly, summer baseball becomes less and less developmental every year.  Fortunately, there are still some good summer coaches out there; is your coach placing you with those coaches?

11. How are the facilities, and will there be any construction going on during your college experience?

If they're building a new field, you might be playing elsewhere for your home games.  New weight room?  You might be pushing cars in the parking lot in the middle of winter (although that may be a good thing for some of you).

12. What is a program's track record in terms of injury rates?

Are they blowing arms out left and right?  Or, are guys avoiding surgery while pitching more effectively than ever?

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13. What were starting pitchers' pitch counts over the past year?

Are they consistently sending guys out there for over 120 pitches? While it's not exhaustive, this is a cool pitch count page that looked at D1 programs across the country back in 2014, but it hasn't been updated in recent years.

14. How tough of an adjustment socially will it be for you?

If you're a New Englander headed to the Deep South, expect it to be an adjustment.  The adjustment is similarly challenging if you're a Southerner headed North. Are you prepared for that? A new social scene at the same time as a new coaching staff can overwhelm some guys.

15. Do they have the academic programs you want?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but only 2% of guys drafted actually make it to the big leagues.  That essentially works out to one guy per team pear year.  And, among the guys who make it to the big leagues, very few play there long enough to be financially set for life.  In other words, there is a 99.99% chance you'll be employed in some capacity after baseball, so you need to prepare for it.  Regardless of what our guys opt to study, I encourage them to take some finance courses, as everyone needs to understand money management.

16. Do they have a solid academic support staff in place if you need it?

Do you have a learning disability that warrants special assistance? Do you need organized study halls to help with getting your work done?  Or, do you just want people to stay out of your way?

17. What is the alumni network like?  

Will it help you to get internships or employment after graduation? Or, will you have to head to the local prison to interview them?

18. Does the coaching staff get out and attend different conferences to improve at their craft?

Are they teaching the same things they taught in 1978, or are you being introduced to more forward-thinking concepts?  "New" isn't always better, though, so that's why you ask the questions: it gives them a chance to provide rationale for their methods.

19. Are the hitting/pitching coaches more hands-off, or do they want to start tinkering with mechanics to solve problems they already see with your swing/delivery?

College coaches always see more things that need to be addressed than high school coaches ever can.  They get more hours with you, and they see you against better competition that may expose your weaknesses.  These weaknesses obviously need to be addressed.  However, how much will you be abandoning the horse that got you there in the first place?  Is it going to be tinkering or overhauling, and which are you willing to commit to?

20. How is the food on campus?

The food always tastes good...for the first month.  Then, most people get sick of it.  Don't become one of those people.

21. Who is the team doctor, and what is his background and accessibility?

If you're there four years, chances are that you'll roll an ankle or get hit by a pitch at some point.  Is the team doctor readily accessible, or do you have to book an appointment and then wait three weeks to see him?  Also, does he have a solid understanding of the management of overhead throwing athletes? Many doctors don't.

22. How competitive is the conference in which you play?

If you can go out and hit .500 or have a 0.00 ERA as a freshman, you probably aren't being challenged.

23. Have you watched this team play a game and practice?

Does the team go through a thorough warm-up, or do they just roll in, do ten seconds of arm circles, and then get to it?

Do players look coaches in the eye when they're being coached?

Do players cheer in the dugout, or is it completely silent?

I had one college kid tell me that his head coach didn't show up for a single fall practice; the assistant coach ran the entire thing.  Unbelievable!

24. What kind of throwing programs and pitch selection does a team use?

If you're a long toss guy, go somewhere that does long toss.  If you've thrived with weighted baseballs, go somewhere that integrates them in the throwing programs.  If you like to chuck ninja stars, go somewhere that you can fight crime.

If you're a guy with a history of elbow pain, don't go to a school where all pitchers learn sliders and are forced to throw them 60% of the time.

25. What is the team's graduation rate?

Graduation rate can definitely be impacted by a number of factors, including how many guys are drafted, but don't return right away to complete their degrees. As an interesting (and scary) fact, only 4.3% of those who have played in the big leagues this year have a college degree.  Still, graduation rates are something about which you should ask because it's a question that gives a coach a chance to show you what emphasis he places on academics.

In typing this up, I rattled all these questions off in under five minutes, and the truth is that there are a lot more.  The set of questions one asks will always be unique to one's situation.  The only commonality is that kids should ask questions - and lots of them, as this is going to be 3-4 years of your life.

As an important addendum, it's important to realize that there isn't a single program in the country that is going to give you the exact perfect answer you want on all these questions.  Your goal is to find the best fit, not the perfect fit.  With that said, though, you are committing to the program as a whole, not just the parts of which you approve.  To that end, you'll need to prioritize certain things depending on your circumstances:

If money is tight in your family, the scholarship/financial aid question might be most important.

If you have a history of injuries, the athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach/team doctor questions might be the most pertinent.

If you want to play baseball in college, but not beyond, the questions about graduation rates and alumni networks will be significant.

If you have a very funky delivery that's worked well for you and are afraid a pitching coach will change it, you need to ask those pitching coaches if they are open to that arrangement.  This scenario was made famous when Tim Lincecum headed to the University of Washington with his unique delivery.

There really are no right or wrong answers - but there are definitely a lot of questions that should be asked along the way. One friendly suggestion I make to players is to make sure that these questions come from you and not just your parents. Parents will have questions of their own, but they should never dominate the conversation; young athletes need to take a proactive role in learning about what could be their lives for four years.  It not only shows maturity to the recruiting coaches, but also makes sure that you get the answers to the questions that are most important to you.

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