A Long-Term, Comprehensive Approach to Developing Young Baseball Players
The five athletic skills are Balance, Agility (movement), Strength, Explosiveness and Speed, which I call B.A.S.E.S. It is critical to find a good starting point when developing the young baseball player. The young player will eventually need to address athletic development beyond the skill of baseball/softball or just lifting weights. The first and foremost starting point is Balance and core stability. Beginning strength training involves slowing things down. The same is true in hitting. The coach will tell the player to slow things down to gain control before moving to game-action bat speed. This begins the learning process of body control in preparation for moving through space and making changes in direction (Agility). Just as the pitcher and catcher are referred to as the “battery” on the field, Balance and Agility are the battery for further improvements in the most sought after athletic skills: Strength, Explosiveness, and Speed. Before moving around the bases there is no reason a young athlete should load their body unless they can stabilize their joints and move them properly. Then, first base will be developing Strength and Power, second base will be improving Explosiveness, and third base will be maximizing Speed. Through proper progression a youth athlete can reach their goals quicker avoiding unnecessary injuries.
Balance and core stability training begins the moment we are born but making further improvements as an athlete can start as young as eight to ten years of age. Seek the right professional in the athlete’s area who knows how to develop a young player, though this may not be easy. Do they have experience in the sport being trained (in this case baseball/softball)? Does the professional have the education such as a degree or formal certification through creditable organizations geared toward athletic development and not just personal training? Find out what sports they have worked with in regards to conditioning and if they have worked with children. Ask for a résumé. What are their goals for the young athlete? Also consider asking where they are going to start with your child. Will they test and which tests will they use to evaluate the young athlete? The final question is what the plan is based on the test results. If they do not talk about starting with balance and stability, it is time to walk away.
If the young athlete is in the eight-to-ten year range, training must also be fun. Simply lifting weights isn’t fun for eight-year-olds. Look for ways the athletic professional will incorporate fun activities such as playing with footballs, basketballs and soccer balls—not just a baseball or softball. They may not learn an organized sport, just something that will make them a better athlete. They should do sports that incorporate shooting, dribbling, and running to improve agility. Karate is great too! This coordination practice will improve power and speed without ever lifting a weight.
Proper Position-A Natural Progression
Once this base has been established, the natural progression is to add difficulty. So adding weightlifting is common but should only be to the point of being able to maintain the proper positions. Proper positioning makes the athlete more efficient, stronger and they will improve on-field skills as they develop. You don’t have to always increase weight to get stronger though. Other ways to get stronger without adding weights: 1) make the exercise more difficult by taking a leg off the ground, 2) perform the exercise for a longer duration, 3) speed the movement up a little bit.
Starting Exercises-The Athlete’s Batters Box
Through the careful planning and development, the young athlete can lay a good foundation to pursue their passion- lean and clean. The Athlete’s Batters Box is the area that must be concentrated on and developed from the very beginning (see Figure 1). The three areas that form the box are the scaps, spine and hips—the baseball/softball athlete’s core. Most people think abs are the core, but it is much more comprehensive. The first exercise is the iron lunge (Figure 2). This works the hips in the batters box for a stable, balanced position with no movement and hands to the side. The athlete holds this position for 30 seconds. Figure 3 shows the iron lunge with the arms extended, which is the first progression. This will be challenging for an eight-to-ten-year-old. For the spine aspect of the batters box, the first position is to get into the push up position and hold for 30 seconds (Figure 4). For the scap, we do a Retraction (pinching scaps together) and hold for 30 seconds in the extended position (Figure 5).
Now it is time to add movement. The iron lunge becomes a normal lunge; this can be walking or stationary. The next progression to add more strength and improve a youngster’s explosiveness would be split squat jumps (Figure 6).
The following progression is for the spine—a walking push up or bear crawl off the ground or using a Bosu ball (Figure 7). You can add difficulty to the scap retraction by moving through a range of motion similar to a bent over fly. Once this becomes easy then add light dumbbells (Figure 8).
These starting exercises form the foundation on the B.A.S.E.S. system. We usually start out by practicing movement over 15-20 reps and then we add weight and decrease to 10 reps. Sets vary from 1-3 sets for each drill or exercise depending on the time of year and experience level of each athlete. Big Leaguers are always incorporating simple movements and doing body weight exercises to help their performance. Starting at an early age with proper progression is the key to the success of the young athlete to establish a lifestyle that is lean and clean.
Javair Gillett, Major League Strength Coach, Detroit Tigers
Article provided by Performance Conditioning Baseball/Softball www.performancecondition.com/baseballsoftball the Official Publication of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society