Don't Make Pre-Season Your Only Season

As the prep off-season winds down and players prepare for tryouts, the heat is on in batting cages and throwing lanes across North Texas.

Baseball tryouts are just around the corner, and only a small percentage of players come prepared.

A bonanza for instructors and facilities, but ultimately a losing situation for players, especially those trying to reacquire baseball skills and fitness levels shelved over several months. In the rush to “get ready” many are ignoring warning signs, pushing through pains and setting themselves up for injury and failure in the spring season. Some will be sidelined before the first pitch.

Knowing how vital playing time is for young men trying to win a roster spot, improve their game and get the attention of scouts and recruiters, why do so many follow a path that puts them in harm’s way? Why do parents, coaches and instructors allow (or encourage) it?

Certainly tradition, and money play a part (ask any instructor which month is his biggest) but underlying all this is baseball’s slow grasp of the training and science necessary to enable peak performance. Rewards are heaped on those with the right “tools” or skills. A player is lauded for his gifts, and traditionally forgiven for his poor habits and health. Look at not-too-old footage of MLB players off the field and you’ll see plenty of excesses. The combination of pressure to perform, overuse (especially for pitchers) and poor conditioning leads to the shortcuts (steroids, human growth hormone, stimulants, snuff/dip) which robs potential, erodes performance, and ultimately cuts-short promising careers or worse, destroys reputations.

Which makes looking at baseball today all the more disturbing. On the surface, it seems the game is becoming more and more athletic. Players “condition” year-round, and appear bigger and stronger. “Man-child” bodies prowl outfields and saunter to the batter’s box on high school fields everywhere. Pitchers throw harder (and wilder) for more and more innings hoping to light up radar guns.

Yet, behind the curtain, very little has changed. An industry has grown up to fuel parents’ desires to help their children compete in the form of endless lessons (has an instructor ever pronounced a player “ready” and stopped-down lessons?), select-league(s) participation and a small fortune in game and training gear. It is a pressure-laden foundation built in sand, and, sadly, all the hours and dollars are not creating better-conditioned, or mentally-prepared athletes. One look around the mid-season high-school roster reveals the cracks in the system: players are hurt, discouraged/burnt-out or desperate (and ripe for the shortcuts) to play and be seen.

So, is it all gloom and doom? Isn’t it a game, and a chance to have fun doing what you love?

No, it doesn’t have to be doomsday, yes it should be fun, and here’s how (from the player’s perspective) to prepare:

  1. Start with a goal set. You may not have a clear idea of what it looks like to even reach the goal, but spend some time discussing it with your parents, buddies and coaches. Write it down in a few simple words you can remember and repeat. Then spend another 10 minutes just jotting down what it looks, feels, sounds and smells (yes, smells) like to be in full achievement. note: For more on goal setting, see our upcoming post on “Futurecasting.”
  2. Learn what works and why. This is a two-part assignment. #1, You’re not in touch with your feelings no matter how much time you spend on Facebook. Learn to recognize how it feels to command a pitch or crush a line-drive (preparation, motion, mechanics, finish) and memorize that feeling. You’ll need it a lot form here on out. #2 Get some real info/data on why the successful action occurred. Don’t rely on anything short of a trained science-based answer. This may take time online or with a few different “experts,” but don’t stop short of getting the facts. Good news? You won’t have to be a scientist to understand the why. Bad News? Without it,  you’re relying on luck, and that is not how greatness is made.
  3. Understand the MEL. MEL (minimum effective load) is a concept that relies on years of exercise science, and basically means that sometimes less is more when it comes to how you train, what you eat and how you perform. Do you need to rule (or live in) the weight room to be stronger? Are all those extra motions at the plate (or on the mound) getting the bat to the ball more effectively? Are three protein shakes every day the fuel your body needs? The answers almost every time are “No,” and it’s good to know why. Again, you’re going to need some training with/from people who understand the science of performance, but you can save hours of time and energy once you know what and how much works to make you your best. The best athletes understand this, and then use their free time for other things like video games, girls, movies, Facebook and signing (see #1) letters of intent or pro contracts.
  4. Take ownership. They used to call this “growing up,” but that sounds too mature for most prep players. Ownership means it’s yours, and this applies to just about every minute of your day. Who wakes you up in the morning? Who makes sure you’re eating the right stuff? Who keeps you on time, remembers your homework and does your chores? If you answered “Mom” to any of the above, it’s time for a change. Same thing goes for your performance and training. If you’re not doing your dynamic warm-up (despite what the team does) you’re not taking ownership. If you’re not your own best coach (hitting, pitching , fielding) you’re not taking ownership. The list goes on and on, but it starts with performing steps 1-3 above and expands from there. When you take charge from a position of strength, you have the type of calm and confidence that makes up a winner and a leader … the kind of player coaches want and need.

So, what should you tackle prior to the upcoming season?

First, if you’re late to the game, i.e. you really haven’t trained in the last six weeks, do not try to get back everything instantly. This means no overtraining or over-promising yourself or others you’ll be good to go full strength in a couple of weeks. It takes the human body a minimum of 4-6 weeks to realize significant strength/development gains, and a good part of early training is preparing to avoid injury. So start smart and work up from there. Be honest with yourself and your coaches so you don’t get put in a bad situation, or worse, get hurt.

And, since you’re reading this info here on Complete-Athlete.com, click on the “events” link to see when you can get in for a Symposium or training event like our Pitcher’s Prep. You’ll get the science, the training and the keys to the “potential store” in just a few hours of classroom and on-the-field training. And if you have questions (and you should) call Donnie Watson immediately at 214.704.8017.

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