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Performance Training to Enhance Skill Development

Often time through my travels I hear Coaches complaining that their ballplayers just aren’t making the corrections necessary to become better players. Basically, coaches perceive their athletes as ignoring their feedback from either the teams head coach, hitting coach, and/ or pitching coach.

Over the course of this off-season I have had the opportunity to watch some of the nation’s best collegiate and professional coaches in action, working with hitters, pitchers, and fielders, and there was a reoccurring theme. Ballplayers were unable to execute the coach’s command. In the mind of the coach, this command was simple, ex: Hit off a stiff front leg, or drive the hips through the ball.

These coaching cues are great, there is no doubt about it that they work, but why aren’t the athletes responding immediately to these cues?

The reason is simple; It isn’t a skill issue, it is a muscular / neural coordination issue. If an athlete is unstable and lacks strength on their front leg, you can command them all day to stay stiff, it just isn’t going to happen. If it does happen on occasion, what is causing it. Most likely compensations are taking place which will eventually lead to breakdown or injury, but from a coaching perspective, other flaws in their swing or delivery.

The body is a tremendous compensator and will do anything possible to execute what the mind and nervous system ask of it, even if the path of least resistance is a negative path that will potentially harm the body over time.

I believe that coaches, (head coach, hitting coach, pitching coach) need to work in synergy with their strength and conditioning staff to aid in their quest to create an athlete that is able to execute the demands that are asked of them. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the athlete just needs to be educated and shown what to do, but if an issue goes on for several weeks, then as a coach, and even a player, you must begin the thought process of, “ Why can’t I do what is asked of me?” Is it a physical limitation, ex; strength, stability, power, balance, coordination, body control, or is it the way the information is being presented.

In the world of strength and conditioning, the best strength/ performance coaches are those that are able to take the feedback of the team coaches, work with the player to improve upon individual weaknesses, and then send the player back to the coach with the tools in the shed to execute what is asked of them.

The world of strength and conditioning is making a transformation to a world of performance training. Performance Training will work to improve on-field action, not just make and athlete strong and well conditioned. The strongest, most well conditioned athlete often times is not the best on the field leaving many to scratch their heads. The reason is because strength doesn’t improve movement, coordination, balance, etc., it is the combination of strength, conditioning, balance training, speed development via mechanical analysis, tissue work, and motor learning training that will yield the results coaches are looking for from their athletes.

Training for baseball is changing at a rapid rate as performance coaches do more research on the disassociation of the hips and shoulders that takes place during a swing and throw, therefore advancements in exercise selection and safety are also beginning to make there way into weight rooms nationwide. The football mentality to training is beginning to take a back seat, and more progressive training methods are providing athletes with a more challenging training environment not just from weights, but from a balance and stability standpoint.

The best advice I could give any baseball coach is to take a walk through your collegiate or high school weight room, analyze what is going on, be inquisitive, and use common sense. Do any of the exercise you are viewing look anything like what goes on while playing the game? Are athletes constantly sitting down on machines, or on their backs while training? Are athletes placed in an environment that requires them to work or balance on a single leg? If the answer to these questions are no, then you should go a step further and find out what exactly is going on with your team. This doesn’t mean athletes should look like they are playing baseball in the gym, but positions that the athletes are placed in should force the lower body to be loaded, glute explosion and hip rotation should be taking place, and a well structured stabilization program of the scapular and hip complex should be available.

I am not one to be controversial, but it is imperative that as a coach, you make it your business to know the “WHY” behind what your athletes are doing. Don’t just assume that your strength coach will take care of them. Educate yourself; create a feedback loop between your strength coach, coaching staff, athletic training staff, and the athlete. This will ensure an optimal environment that will yield the greatest results.

About Dana Cavalea

Dana Cavalea is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the New York Yankees. He is a national speaker on Baseball Performance Training, as well as the owner of Major League Strength, www.mlstrength.com, a sports performance training company designed to educate coaches, ballplayers, and parents on the advancements in the field of Strength and Conditioning for baseball. Join our newsletter and post your questions at www.mlstrength.com

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