Beginning next week I will begin blogging for the Patch network.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of Patch, here is their own description of what they do:

Simply put, Patch is a new way to find out about, and participate in, what’s going on near you.

We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.

We want to make your life better by giving you quick access to the information that’s most relevant to you. Patch makes it easy to:

  • Keep up with news and events
  • Look at photos and videos from around town
  • Learn about local businesses
  • Participate in discussions
  • Submit your own announcements, photos, and reviews

 

My blog entries will focus on helping parents to manage their children’s youth athletic careers with the goal of

– Answering the most common questions parents have regarding youth sports.

– Addressing national issues facing the youth sports world.

– Providing parents with suggestions on how to maximize the player’s ability without losing the fun.

– Much, much more!

I am extremely excited about this opportunity and can’t wait to tackle this new task!  If you have any suggestions for me, please feel free to email me at jbreen@rbiacademy.com!

 

 

It’s been a thought in my head over the last few years and I now feel as though I have an official standpoint on the issue.  BASEBALL FIELD SIZES ARE TOO BIG FOR THE PLAYERS PLAYING ON THEM!  I have been coaching at or directing Summer Camps and Fall Leagues for almost a decade and have seen all shapes, sizes, and abilities of players from beginners to seniors in high school.  I have thousands of conversations with parents of players who are struggling at the game for various reasons but one consistent thing I see is that the vast majority of players under 9 years old struggle with making the throws demanded of them by the size of the field they play on.

A Little League baseball diamond’s dimensions are 46’ (mound distance to home plate) x 60’ (base paths).  My proposal would be to have all players who are league ages 7-8 play on a field with dimensions of 43’ x 56’.  It may seem like a small adjustment, but throws from the left side of the infield end up being significantly shorter.  Outfielders would also play shallower with the new dimensions which also makes their throws shorter.  When young players have to make throws at a distance further than their bodies allow, their mechanics are hindered and become more susceptible to soreness and injury.

Compare this situation to weight lifting.  Let’s pick a compound exercise like the squat and let’s imagine loading up the bar with a weight that the body cannot handle with proper form.  For this particular exercise, when the weight is too much, the athlete will bend at the waist leaning the trunk of their body over their knees.  While they may complete the exercise for a given amount of repetition, they are simultaneously putting a harmful stress on their back, knees, etc.  Over time, this stress turns from aggravation (arm soreness) to injury. 

Let’s be serious, how many 7-8 year olds consistently can make accurate throws on a line from shortstop/third base to first base?  By keeping the field at the 46’ x 60’ dimensions, we are asking them to consistently perform acts that their bodies are not mature enough to  handle and this is extremely detrimental to the players athletic development, confidence, and overall physical well-being.  

We also see this same issue when the players end up moving on to the “big diamond” or the 60’ x 90’ field.  While we are talking about older, more physically mature players than 7-8 year-olds, it is all relative as their bodies are not physically mature enough to handle the throws they are asked to make.  What’s even a bigger issue with the older group moving to the bigger field is that they are also taking on puberty and some players are growing at an extremely rapid pace.  Stress placed on the growth plates especially in the shoulder and elbow can lead to some real significant physical damage, some causing minor or major surgery.

 While I believe it is just wishful thinking, I wish the town leagues should at least give consideration to adjusting the field size at their town fields.  These don’t have to be permanent changes as the mounds and bases can be moved up to a designated spot for each practice and game.

Saturday, June 4th was my 2nd pitching outing of the season.  As we are still very early in the season and we need to spread out innings among the entire pitching staff, I pitched the first 4 innings of the game.  I actually prefer this method at this point in the season as it allows me to build up my arm strength without overdoing it.  Here is my training calendar for that day and the week following:

Saturday, 6/4 – Game Day (6:30pm Start)

8am – Head to the gym for a 15min stationary bike ride and some soft tissue work.

5:30pm – Pre-game Routine includes a Full-Body Warm-Up (I do a modified version of Joe Meglio’s warm-up – see video), 20-30 Throws focused on pitching mechanics, 30-40 throws focused on stretching the arm out via long toss, and 20-25 pitches to a catcher as my pre-game bullpen.

6:45pm – Post-game Routine includes a lot of static stretching for the rotator cuff, hip adductors and abductor, hip flexors, and lower back.  I typically do about 5-6 stretches for 30 seconds/stretch on each side.  NOTE: I do not stretch the left rotator cuff.

Sunday, 6/6:  Recovery Day 1

I will typically head to the gym for 20 mins on Stationary Bike, 15-20 mins of Soft-Tissue work on the foam roller and another 10 mins of static stretching similar to my post-game stretching routine.  Since it was a beautiful day outside, I wanted to get out of the gym so my girlfriend and I went for a hike.  We kept a pretty good pace so it was definitely a solid workout for the legs.  Later that day I did some foam rolling and static stretching.

Monday, 6/7: Recovery Day 2

6am:  Resistance Training

5 mins on stationary bike and full-body warm-up

Core Circuit: I usually choose two core exercises and superset them for 3 rounds with 30s break between rounds.  Today I did 25lb plate rotations with my back on the swiss ball (8 each side) as well as swiss ball forearm roll outs (15).

Superset # 1: 4 Rounds with 60 sec’s between rounds

1A) DB Floor Press w/ Neutral Grip (6-8 reps)     1B) DB RDL (6 reps)

Superset # 2: 4 Rounds with 60 sec’s between rounds

2A) 1-Arm DB Row (6-8 reps each)     2B) DB Box Squat (12 reps)

I like to finish each resistance training workout with 15-20 mins of foam rolling and static stretching.

Tuesday, 6/8: Recovery Day 3

Lots of sprints!  I started with 5 rounds of 3 up/down on a football stadium bleacher and finished with what I call my 100-yard matrix in which I’ll do 10 total sprints starting with 100-yards and ending with a 10-yard sprint dropping 10-yards each sprint.  I will rest 1 second/yard after each sprint so here’s what the work out looks like. 

100-Yard Sprint Matrix

100 yds (1:40 rest), 90 yds (1:30 rest), 80 yds (1:20 rest), 70 yds (1:10 rest), 60 yds (1:00 rest), 50 yds (50s rest), 40 yds (40s rest), 30 yds (30s rest), 20 yds (20s rest), 10 yds (10s rest)

30 minute upper body massage (Thanks to my GF for the Gift Certificate!)

Wednesday, 6/9: Recovery Day 4

20 mins on Stationary Bike, Foam Rolling & Static Stretching

Thursday, 6/10: Recovery Day 5

Similar resistance training workout as Monday but I make sure I do some single-leg exercises.  I also got another 30 min. upper body massage.

Friday, 6/10: Recovery Day 6

Since I don’t give lessons on Fridays and am not throwing I will do some light rotator cuff work with lots of external rotation shoulder stretching as well as plenty of hip/lower back/upper back/thoracic mobility work.

Saturday, 6/11: Recovery Day 7

10 mins on stationary bike, lots of foam rolling and static stretching

Sunday, 6/12: GAME DAY!!!

Recently, renown Strength Coach Mike Boyle re-wrote a previous article from Performance Enhancement Specialist Dewey Nielson called “Be Brilliant at the Basics.”  The piece is only 5 short paragraphs but dishes some very valuable information.  It discusses how he receives so many questions about what type of training he uses with elite athletes comparing things like kettlebells vs dumbbells, lifting from the floor or from a hang position, etc.  His argument is that “it doesn’t matter” saying that if the athlete you’re training cannot perform the fundamental basic exercises that make up the foundation of a strength & conditioning program, then the rest doesn’t matter.  My favorite quote from the article is “The thing that separates a novice from an expert is the ability for the expert to perform the basics extremely well.” 

That quote and the article as a whole has such a degree of truth to it in the baseball skills training world as well.  As a group we train thousands of kids each year in various ratios including one-on-one, small group (3-6:1), and team (8-12:1) so we have an opportunity to design programs that cater to either that one player or the general skill level of the group and/or team.  If there is one complaint from youth players/parents we ever get on a consistent basis, it’s that the drills are too easy or that they already know how to do a certain skill or drill.  In our opinion, many of the times parents and players overestimate the ability of the player but regardless whether they are right or wrong, the biggest thing to understand is that “it doesn’t matter!”

No matter what the age of the player, the basic fundamental drills done in baseball need to be done extremely well before we begin introducing too much variation and even at that point, you still include the basic fundamental drills to compliment the new variations.  We understand that kids’ attention spans sometimes don’t allow for the same exact drills all the time, but the truth is that is what they NEED at that age.  They need to not only learn HOW to do something, they need to learn how to be BRILLIANT at it.

A perfect example of this is hitting off of a tee.  The tee is part of every baseball players first playing experience in their town tee-ball league or even in the back yard.  As soon as kids “graduate” from tee-ball to coach pitch leagues, they feel as though they never want to see a tee again because “it’s for beginners.”  This couldn’t be more untrue.  The tee still stands as one of the best training tools in any sport because it allows the player to work on the basic fundamentals of their swing without having to worry about timing…and best of all it can be done by yourself!  If the player does not display proper technique when hitting off of a tee, then what in the world makes you think that it will be better when you have someone pitching trying to get you out? 

No matter what age or skill level you are, remember that the basic fundamentals of the game don’t change.  It is those who are “brilliant at the basics” that tend to become the best players on the field at every level of ALL SPORTS.

My co-worker Chris Welch recently wrote a great post on how too many youth baseball players swing for contact rather than swinging to “hit the ball as hard as you can.”  I thought it was definitely something that needed to be shared with our readers as many of you out there are also coaches in the town leagues too.  After reading Chris’ post it made me think of how many youth pitchers, to a degree, do the same exact thing when on the mound. 

Many pitchers spend all winter working on improving their pitching mechanics and trying to make them muscle memory.  The reason we do this is so that when the player goes out on the field for the spring and summer, his mechanics are sharp and he can think more about things like “what pitch to throw”, “what the hitter did last time he was up”, and “what to do if the ball is hit to me” to name a few.  A big thing I see with pitchers, mainly 14 years old and younger is that they pitch in games at practice speed because they either don’t trust their mechanics, haven’t practiced enough at game speed, or are wild with their control (which is typically a mechanical issue anyways).  Regardless of the reason, the pitcher will try and “guide” the ball TO the catcher’s mitt rather than “driving” the ball THROUGH the catcher’s mitt.  This type of pitching mentality can lead to lots of dirt balls (from shortarming), high pitches (from arm dragging), and low pitch speed (from slow arm speed). 

Moral of the story:

1.  Improve mechanics/muscle memory

2.  Practice both at sub-maximum speeds and maximum speed

3. When you’re in the game TRUST YOUR MECHANICS!

With that said, coaches also have to deal with pitchers who when they do try to explode through their motion can’t throw a strike.  Coaches usually tell the player to “slow down” which then leads to the guiding of the pitch which may temporarily work, but coaches have to realize that the reason the kid can’t throw a ball near the strike zone at full or game-speed is more likely a mechanical issue and not “because he’s overthrowing.”

Have a question you’d like me to answer related to this post?  Email me at jbreen@rbiacademy.com!

My last installment talked about my off-season preparations leading up to the beginning of my season.  If you haven’t read My Personal Goals for Off-Season & Pre-Season Preparation, I suggest reading it before continuing with this post.  I typically take the 2 weeks prior to my first start to begin my “in-season” routine but I include a bit more throwing than I would during season.  Here’s a glimpse…

Weight Training

I will hit the weights 3x per week doing full body circuits supersetting a compound upper body exercise with a compound lower body exercise.  I try to do everything with either dumbells or kettlebells to incorporate some stability training.  Here is an example of these workouts:

1.  5 mins on a cardio machine to get the blood flowing.  I work out early in the morning so my body has been horizontal for the last 7-8 hours.

2. Foam Roll & Dynamic Warm-Up (15-20 mins)

3. Core circuit: I choose 2-3 core exercises and do 2-3 rounds of 10-15 reps each depending on the exercise.

4. Superset # 1 – DB Floor Press & DB RDL (3 rounds of 8-12 reps with 30 sec’s rest between rounds)

5. Superset # 2 – 1-Arm DB Row & KB Squats (3 rounds of 8-12 reps with 30 sec’s rest between rounds)

6. Sled Drives – For conditioning I will put a 45lb plate on the sled and do 10-yard sprints pushing it.  I’ll typically go 10 yards down, turn around and 10 back in a row with 30 second break in between for about 5 rounds.

7. Cool-down stretch & more foam rolling – It’s important to cool-down after intense workouts through a series of static stretches to not only maintain, but improve flexibility.  As a pitcher, I tend to be very tight in certain spots and very loose in others so I try to double up on stretching those tighter areas to avoid muscle imbalances.  Severe muscle imbalances are one of the most common things that lead to injury.  Check out my previous article on stretching: Incorporating Flexibility Training into your Routine.

 

Throwing & Arm Conditioning

For the 2-3 weeks prior to the first game I will long toss from 180ft – 270ft about 2-3 times per week depending on the availability of a throwing partner.  I like to get to an area football field as it’s easier to see what distance you are throwing from.  At the end of each long toss session I will work on off-speed pitches (change-ups and curve/sliders) from 90ft, 75 ft, and 60 ft on my way in. 

Rest & Recovery

On days that I am “OFF” or not in the gym or on the field throwing, I try to get in as much soft tissue work as I can.  I typically spend about 15-20 minutes foam rolling both upper and lower body as well as using a lacrosse ball/baseball/tennis ball to reach the smaller joints and get a bit deeper.  I try to do this 6-7 x per week.

This program will take me right up to my first game, at which time I will begin my true “in-season” program which I will recap from week-to-week throughout the season.  I essentially try to set a program and will tweak it a bit from time to time depending on what day I’m pitching, my private lesson schedule, and how my body feels each day.

So I’ve decided to keep a log of my in-season workouts.  This is more or less for myself to keep track of but I thought if someone can learn a thing or two from it, why not make it public.  Before I go into those updates, I figured I would recap the off-season and pre-season preparations as well as describe what exactly it is that I’m preparing for. 

A couple of things to note about my situation:

1. I pitch for the Swampscott Sox of the North Shore Baseball League.  We play a 24-game regular season schedule, plus Stan Musial tournament in July and league playoffs in August.  I pitch anywhere from 60-90 innings/season depending on how deep we go in the Stan Musial tournament and/or league playoffs.  We rarely have team practices and I am on somewhat of a “Roger Clemens Contract” where I pitch once per weekend and am not there during the week simply due to the fact I live about a minimum of one hour away from every game. 

2.  I am NOT an everyday player.  I pitch once/week and sometimes if rain interferes with the schedule it may be 2 weeks between starts for me.  I live about 50 minutes south from our closest opponent and upwards of 2+hrs of our northern-most opponent.

3.  Due to the nature of my job, I throw year-round with certain times of year being a lot heavier than others.  This “throwing” is mainly at 25-75% speed as I mostly am either warming up a pitcher, demonstrating a drill, or throwing batting practice.  As my doctor put it, I “throw a baseball about 10,000 times more than I would suggest,” so with that said there is a lot of wear and tear on my arm throughout the year.

4. I am NOT A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE.  I love the game and I train hard because I LIKE TO!  I take my season very seriously but I also realize that a bad outing isn’t going to lose me my job.  What MAY lose me my job is if I physically can’t throw a baseball.  With that said… 

My Goals for Off-Season & Pre-Season preparation:

1. To be healthy!  All of my strength training, conditioning, and throwing is geared towards allowing myself to stay healthy over the full course of my summer season (late May-late August), while performing at a high level.

2. Achieve and maintain a desirable body composition.  Let’s face it, everyone in their right mind wants to look good physically and I’m no different.  I strive to decrease body fat and increase muscle.  I don’t look too much into numbers, more so on how I look and feel.  If you can do both of those things in the gym in the off-season, you WILL increase your performance.

3.  Undo muscular imbalances created from the season before.  Baseball is an extremely lopsided sport and your body repeats the same motions over and over and over again creating these physical imbalances.  These can be anything from muscular deficits to becoming too flexible in one joint and not flexible enough in another.

4.  Build arm strength and condition the arm.  I achieve this through long toss, long toss, and more long toss.  Each year after our last April clinic ends, that marks the time I begin my long toss program.  After a winter of throwing no longer than 60′-65′ in a cage, my arm NEEDS to be stretched out if I want it to be prepared to pitch in mid May.  I try to spend 3-4 weeks focusing more on long toss to build arm strength as well as to condition the arm rather than throwing bullpens.  For someone in my position giving pitching lessons on almost a daily basis, my pitching mechanics are where they need to be by May simply due to the amount of repetition I get through teaching.

These are meant to be read as “Joe Breen’s Goals” and not anyone else’s.  Everyone’s goals should be a bit different and the road to achieve them should be even more unique.  There is no one-way to do things when it comes to an off-season program and to be honest the program should adapt as you get older…AND WISER!