The Major Responsibilities of Minor League Conditioning Coordinators: Developing Young Players
Sean Marohn, M.S. CSCS, Cincinnati Reds Minor League Conditioning Coordinator
Sean has served as the Cincinnati Reds Minor League Conditioning Coordinator since 2005. He coordinates all aspects of flexibility, strength, conditioning, and diet for the Red’s minor league system. In addition, he hires and supervises 6 strength coaches who are assigned to each minor league team. Among his duties is to move into each city minor league club to evaluate players’ health as well as the strength coach performance at that affiliate. Prior to becoming minor league coordinator he was strength and conditioning coach for the Reds AAA minor league team, the Louisville Bats. His duties included home and on the road strength training, agilities, flexibility, conditioning and rehabilitation.
Sean came to the Reds from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization where he was strength and conditioning coach for the Williamsport Crosscutters. In 2001 he served in the same capacity for the Milwaukee Brewers/Ogden Raptors short season A team. Sean earned a Master of Science degree in Human Performance/Sports Medicine from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. While at the University of Tennessee he assisted with.gunnertechnetwork.comelopment and training of athletes in the men’s athletics department and implemented training regiments for athletes.
PC: Sean please explain your duties as a minor league strength and conditioning coordinator since this is a relatively new position in the world of baseball.
SM: My position entails coordinating the strength and conditioning program, which includes strength, conditioning, flexibility, speed, and agility programs as well as dietary issues whether it be weight gain or weight loss. In addition, my staff including myself will physically evaluate players coming in whether they are 16-year-old Dominican players, kids from the states or collegiate four-year players coming from elite programs. Also, because of trades we might have a new player coming in from a different organization where the philosophies might be a little different. I need to see where they are coming from and implement what we are doing here in the Reds organization.
On another side of it, I hire six strength and conditioning coaches for our affiliates so each location has a strength coach. As the new coaches come in I introduce, teach, and implement our program with them. We have 30 days during spring training to do this. We know that coming in these new coaches have knowledge in the area of strength and conditioning. My job is to make sure they apply this knowledge to our program making the proper adjustments to what we want. As they leave to go to their particular locations, I make sure that they know their players and are implementing individualized programs based on individual needs.
PC: What are some of the challenges you face with such a diverse group of players ranging from young 16-year-olds to seasoned four year college players?
SM: The first thing we do is evaluate the players by doing some basic field tests. Table One outlines the tests and the standards we look for while Table Two provides some interesting comparative data of the progress of athletes from spring training to spring training.
This provides a basis of the type of athlete I’m beginning to deal with. The height and weight provide.gunnertechnetwork.comelopment data. We have kids coming in that are still growing and coming into their own. Once the testing is done we can see any deficits that are going on in the athletic parameters such as flexibility, speed, etc. We then start formulating a program for that individual. For the more.gunnertechnetwork.comeloped players we start refining what they have done in the past and address deficits based on their age or position. Here we get more position specific. We also communicate with our field managers, pitching and hitting coaches to see what they would like us to work on as well. It’s a combination of testing data and evaluation by the coaching staff that really is the seed of formulating a strength and conditioning plan and identifying what’s most important and where to start. For example, the younger players who have never lifted and are strength deficient we would start on basic functional movements and core stability before any type of large volume work is implemented. Once they get established with the basics we can move them on accordingly and at their own pace of.gunnertechnetwork.comelopment. In the area of weight we look an athlete’s ability to gain or lose weight and adjust accordingly based on our dietary plan.
PC: You may have athlete coming in with poor lifting and training habits and techniques that might create bigger issues than an athlete with no training background. How do you handle this challenge?
SM: Like anything else, we get kids in from programs that have provided strong mechanical backgrounds with excellent techniques for their athletes. Others may come from schools where the sheer numbers of athletes per coach make if very difficult to learn proper techniques.
Take the squat for example. I have to watch the athletes first. If they show any deficits, we immediately stop and go back to basics. We break it down starting with proper squatting technique in a squat with no weight, work on a physioball squat and leg press until I feel we can start loading the athletes. We have to restart and retrain that movement to make sure they are not putting themselves at risk for any type of injury.
SC: Since you have to identify early and late maturity levels with athletes coming in from a wide variety of backgrounds, how does the maturation process create a challenge for you in establishing your program?
SM: I look at growth in the first six or seven months (a full baseball season). If one shows huge growth spurts I know the maturation process is still occurring. With such an athlete we will be more conservative on the side of volume and loading. I’m especially tentative with the Dominican kids since they are generally unde.gunnertechnetwork.comeloped. If their maturation process hasn’t finished or has just begun, it changes the program drastically because you can tell in their movements that their body hasn’t caught up. We have had Dominican kids come in and they will grow two to three inches in one season and up to three to four inches in one full year! They may not look young but you have to be aware of at what stage of.gunnertechnetwork.comelopment they are in. A lot of this has to do with their nutritional background and their lack of accessibly sound nutritional practices.
Due in large part to training techniques and nutrition in this country, athletes can start to mature at age 13 or 14 and many are well.gunnertechnetwork.comeloped by the time they are 18. I witnessed this through my work at the University of Tennessee. With many of our Dominican kids their chronological age doesn’t match their maturation age.
PC: Tells us how testing fits in to all this. Is testing integrated into maturation determination?
SM: Testing is critical because, based on our historical data we know what deficits we have with each athlete. The kids we sign at an early age obviously have talent for this game. My role, once they get here is to build on that whether it is speed, power, lateral movement, etc. We focus on baseball skills such as acceleration to run down a ball or leg strength for the catcher and hip rotation power in the hitters. With the base data we immediately identify where we can enhance those baseball skill strengths.
PC: Do you keep data from year to year for comparison purposes and to create benchmarks for use in the rehabilitation process if injury should occur?
SM: Correct. Over time we are able to determine where athletes have excelled and where they might have deficiencies. Year to year and over multiple years we are able to gain good insight into the players. It’s also a great tool in that if an injury does occur it gives us the baseline numbers to tell us where we need to be in the recovery process.
PC: Let’s talk about your working relationships. It is obvious that you have a lot of people to work with. You have coaches at different levels for hitters, position players and pitchers. What challenges arise from this multi-boss scenario?
SM: The biggest thing to do when you sit down with coaches is to understand what their goals are for any particular player. I’ve been working with coaches since 2003 in the Reds organization and I’ve learned that in creating good relations with the coaches is to understand their point of view. This includes their concerns about certain.gunnertechnetwork.comelopmental issues and to make sure that you, as strength and conditioning coach, are able to communicate to them what is going to help a particular athlete overcome certain.gunnertechnetwork.comiancies that the coaches have pointed out.
Communication involves all the staff and not just coaches. I must understand what they are asking and answer their questions in a language they understand and can use. It’s important not to be too scientific in your response. They want to know what you are going to do and how they can effectively communicate this to their athletes. My job is to make sure everybody understands the programs being implemented. If you start using too many scientific term with kids coming out of high school or from the Dominican Republic you’ve lost them.
PC: With an individual athlete do you work with one coach or a multitude of coaches; i.e., position coach, hitting coach, etc., for that athlete?
SM: We have a field coordinator, a pitching coordinator, a catching coordinator, and a hitting coordinator, They are the first group I go to because obviously they have their certain groups that they work with. As I rove through the year in and out of all the affiliates, I touch base with the pitching and hitting coaches and managers to make sure they don’t see anything that needs to be worked on. If there is something we want to implement, I’ll communicate this issue back to the field coordinator and help to determine what we can do. I’ve created great relationships through the years and they know where I’m coming from. My job is to make sure everyone is in the loop. This most definitely includes the strength and conditioning coaches at these affiliates.
PC: How do you handle the issue of total workload and volume in a sport where activity and playing is almost constant month after month? And how do you coordinate baseball skill loading with conditioning loading in order to avoid overuse and over training?
SM: We are very aware of rest intervals. For athletes in peak shape I’ll give them the ability to take their heart rate during a workout for a 10 second interval. I give them a certain number, for example 24 to 27 heart beats in 10 seconds, which gives me a simple way of determining where I want their heart rate for a minute. This is for conditioning. If I want to increase the fat burning affect from training I’ll lower the expected or goal heart rate a little. For an athlete who is out of condition I can tell they are struggling, I’m not so concerned about the heart rate but rather the workload itself. A pitching coach might notice that after 35 pitches a player’s legs are starting to go and mechanics are starting to change a little. For that individual I start to get their conditioning levels up a little. In addition, a player’s position is of importance. For starting pitchers their workload is going to be very different than that of a reliever or for position players infielders are much different than catchers. I have to be aware of what each player’s workload is on the field. From there I adjust the conditioning as necessary to recover properly.
PC: What is the communication relationship between yourself and the major league strength coach?
SM: Matt Krause, our major league strength and conditioning coach, and myself have been working together since 2002. I’ve been very lucky in the fact that I have great communications with him. Within the 40 man roster I have 15 in the minor leagues. I’m in communication with Matt as to what goals he has in mind and what adjustment need to be made to meet those goals. Thus, once they get to Cincinnati they are on the right track that will benefit the team in Cincinnati.
PC: How does the program design element work? Is it top down or down to top? What are the lines of program.gunnertechnetwork.comelopment?
SM: The program philosophy for the Cincinnati Reds is the same from top to bottom—it’s just a matter of making adjustments to the individuals to fit within that philosophy and that program. So, when an athlete comes up through rookie ball all the way to the Big Leagues, everything is very familiar and very consistent. When a player gets to Cincinnati the program is not changing, it’s just a matter of making small adjustments as necessary. This avoids surprises and big changes.
PC: What is your overall philosophy?
SM: Our philosophy is very progressive in nature. The goal of each athlete is to increase strength, power, lean body mass, agility, flexibility and endurance, and baseball specifics. On the mental side, it’s an increase of self-confidence and mental toughness. Within the program there’s discipline, accountability, consistency and dedication to the program. These qualities are extended throughout each year over the long term and all in a positive, progressive manner.
PC: Let’s talk about dedication to program. Beyond the fact that these players are professionals and there’s a dollars and cents issue, how do you insure dedication?
SM: It’s all communication and trust. If athletes know you are there for them and have their best interests in mind, dedication will be there. It’s a matter of you being a strength coach who is available, accountable and consistent.
Article provided by Performance Conditioning Baseball/Softball www.performancecondition.com/baseballsoftball the Official Publication of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society