Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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Coaching Philosophy, Training Goals, Training Principles and Training Guidelines

If it has not already occurred, there will come a time in the future when you, as a strength and conditioning coach, will be asked to explain your coaching philosophy and your training goals, principles and guidelines. Rather than wait until the night before your interview for a job with a new team or promotion / new role within your existing organization, every coach should start developing his/her responses to these questions. Writing down your beliefs, coaching methods and training principles, goals, objectives and guidelines will help you explain them to your interviewers. Taking the time to develop and review your philosophy, principles, etc. will help you better understand and express your core values, reasons for coaching and methods of coaching.  It will also help you determine what type of coach you want to be, what you want to achieve for your players and organization, what you want to achieve for yourself, how you are going to accomplish your goals and develop a timeline for achieving your professional and personal goals. Remember what Ben Franklin said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. If you are too busy to plan your future, you might not have one in this field or you might not have the one that you want.

The PBSCCS contacted several current and former veteran strength and conditioning coaches with 10 or more years of experience at the Major League Level and asked them to share their philosophies on strength and conditioning for baseball. The following is a compilation of their most frequent responses that young coaches in the field can draw upon when developing their own philosophy.

The profession of strength and conditioning coach has evolved from having one coach responsible for developing, directing and implementing the strength and conditioning program to having several members of a performance team working together to develop, implement and supervise a comprehensive performance program.  The team approach enables each member of the performance team to have a role in enhancing player development.

Coaching philosophy. Coaches should strive to build a solid trust and provide every player the opportunity to develop and achieve the best version of himself, to develop full skill acquisition based on position and provide every player the opportunity to achieve his full potential both on and off-the field. They should ensure that players are exposed to state-of-the art information, exercises and drills in a safe, positive, challenging and enjoyable learning environment. Coaches should ensure that communication is a two-way street and that players take an active role in determining a program that is specific to their development. They should demonstrate effective leadership by maintaining desired standards of behavior for the team that will instill confidence, protect the welfare and enhance the development of each player. Each coaches’ philosophy should reflect the mission and goals of the front office, manager, coaches and player development personnel.

It is the coach’s responsibility to put each athlete in a position to succeed and ensure that the hard work they put into training has a positive impact on health and performance.  Teaching athletes the “why” of programing, assessments, and team culture will lead to a better understanding of how each is beneficial to personal success.  Accountability and consistency are essential factors in an athlete’s development.  Including them in the programing process will help create a sense of ownership and personal accountability for the athletesWhen a player understands that you care about him as a person, it will help gain their trust, and ensure them that you have their best interest at heart.  “Athletes don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Training goals. The primary goal of strength and conditioning is to improve performance on the field, not in the weight room. Coaches should present players, staff and management with scientific-based information upon which to make informed choices concerning ways to improve player durability, resiliency, movement efficiency, sports performance and position-specific conditioning and reduce the risk of injury.

Training principles. The most important player ability is availability. A team can’t win if its most important players are injured and a player can’t improve if he can’t practice, train or play. Athletes should be trained to be better baseball players, not football players, power lifters, body builders or Navy Seals. Work and rest are both important and neither is beneficial without the other. Work stimulates growth and growth occurs during recovery. Striking a balance is key. Proper work: rest intervals should be used to ensure that players make progress, recovery adequately and can play every day if needed. Players should be subjected to progressive, not excessive overloads. They should not be treated like glass because glass breaks. The primary objective is to help make players better by making them bigger, faster and stronger, not just to avoid injury. There is always some degree of risk and reward in training. The goal is to minimize the risk and maximize the reward. Training programs should be designed to meet the personal and position-specific needs of each player. A one-size fits all program will not work. Coaches should accept nothing less than complete attention and perfect technique from each player. Poor technique leads to inefficient movement and increases the risk of injury. Personalized programs should be developed to help players improve, not just make them tired. Nutrition and training should be based on the principle of food first, and supplements should be used only when needed to fill gaps in fueling or enhance recovery.

Training programs should be designed to ensure safety first by addressing the following:

  • Warm-up – an effective warm-up and cool down are essential for proper preparation and regeneration.

  • Mobility – personalized mobility programs should be designed and implemented.

  • Energy System Development – personalized, position-specific energy system demands should be identified through needs analysis and implemented.

  • Resistance training – players must be exposed to scientifically-based resistance training methods consistent with the demands of the game.

  • Recovery – comprehensive recovery programs based on workload data and personal feedback from players should be developed.

Training guidelines. Effective training programs should be designed to develop the complete athlete – strength, speed, acceleration, power, agility, balance, coordination, stability, flexibility, range of motion, work capacity, body composition, etc. Guidelines for training program development include:

  • Develop the entire body, not just the arms, legs or core.

  • The body is a three-link chain and all links must work in synchronization for optimal injury-free performance.

  • Train the core to provide a stable base from which the arms and legs can move, transfer forces from the lower body to the upper body, support the quick, powerful rotary movements required in hitting and throwing and reduce the risk of injury.

  • Train players to hit, run and throw by emulating movements in game situations when possible.

  • Don’t hit, run and throw for conditioning.

  • Train complex, multi-joint movements in three planes from the ground up.

  • Avoid training isolated muscles unless needed to correct a deficiency or rehab an injury.

  • Train both sides of the body and opposing muscle groups for balance and symmetry when possible.

  • Train for performance, not capacity.

  • Allow for individual differences and observe the law of specificity, i.e., you get what you train for.

  • Train the movements, muscle fiber types, energy systems and hormonal responses used in the game.

  • Develop programs that address the mobility required for individuals to efficiently perform their sport specific skills, and work to maintain or improve that mobility throughout their career.

  • Vary training programs throughout the year utilizing a baseball-specific form of periodization that allows players to make gains throughout the year and their careers.

  • Have a plan, follow the plan, evaluate the plan and tweak the plan.

  • Baseball is a game of brief, repeated, explosive movements, train players to meet the demands of the game, i.e., accelerate, start and stop, change directions, run fast, throw hard and hit with power; and do it day-after-day, month-after-month and year-after-year.

Testing. Testing enables coaches to identify strengths and weaknesses, determine progress, evaluate program effectiveness and set individual and team goals. Tests should be reliable, relatively inexpensive, not too time or personnel consuming and easy to interpret. They should be valid assessments of the physical and/or skill requirements of the player, his position and the game. Testing should include a combination of subjective and objective measures and address areas that are important to the organization and/or the program goals. Fluff should be eliminated and the focus should be on actionable data that improves performance on the field and/or reduces the risk of injury.

“What you measure, you can improve”. Testing and evaluation are key to athletic development.  Players are ascending to the big leagues faster than ever, and the responsibilities of the strength and conditioning / performance coach have increased dramatically.  No longer is the primary responsibility to help keep players on the field. Today’s coaches are tasked with helping improve what matters the most – on field performance.  A few of the key areas being addressed by today’s coaches and staff include identifying ways to: 1) safely improve velocity; 2) keep the barrel in the zone longer; and 3) correct movement compensations to allow players to move more freely in the field. Finding solutions to performance problems may be as simple as fixing a force production problem with a barbell, improving mobility with a Pail/Rail exercise, or improving player confidence by developing a program that examines all areas of how the body should be moving.  Understanding the role and goals of player development are crucial when developing effective testing programs and procedures.

 Conclusion. Developing a solid training philosophy with appropriate performance goals and training guidelines is a necessity in player development. Coaching is as much art as science. Building relationships is a must. Players are human with real problems, and seasons are long with many ups and downs. Coaches need to be able to “read the room” and adjust daily workouts as needed.

Keep It Simple Stupid, Talk Less and Listen More’. If your athletes don’t know the fundamentals of the game, talking more will confuse them, frustrate your staff and lose the athletes’ attention, respect and desire to play for you”. –  Bum Phillips, former NFL coach.

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PBSCCS members who contributed to this article were: Gene Coleman (PBSCCS), Brendon Huttmann (formerly with the Pirates), Paul Fournier (Phillies), Joe Kessler (Cleveland), Brandon McDaniel (Dodgers), Nate Shaw (Diamondbacks), Ryan Stoneberg (Royals) and Jose Vazquez (Rangers).

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