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Major Challenge When Training a Team of Professional Athletes

By Joe Kessler – Cleveland Indians

One challenge that I face when working with elite athletes is balancing their fundamental skill work with their training. Our focus is ultimately on them becoming better baseball players and what they do in the weight room must support their on-field efforts. Sometimes this means placing an emphasis on rest and recovery, over pushing through workouts.

During my 20 years in professional baseball, I have seen a lot of players who didn’t enjoy working out workout, but had successful careers. On the flip side, I have also worked with a number of players who enjoyed working out, but were never able to fully transfer all that work to the field and have long, successful careers.

The bottom line when working with each of these groups is that our goal as strength and conditioning coaches is to get them in shape to perform the volume of skill work needed to achieve their true potential on the field and become the best baseball players that they can be. Our goal is help build better baseball athletes, not weight room super-stars.  Strength is essential for high-level performance. It’s the cornerstone upon which speed and power are built, but it’s not the be all, end all. The bat, for most players, weighs about 34-36 ounces. The ball weighs 5 ounces. You don’t have to be able to lift 300 pounds to hit .300 or drive a ball 400 feet. You don’t have to squat 3 times your body weight to throw a ball 90 mph. Nobody ever feared a pitcher because he could deadlift 500 pounds. It’s not about how much weight you can push or pull, but how fast and how well you can move it. If it doesn’t transfer, it probably won’t make a difference. If doesn’t help you sprint faster, throw harder, hit with more consistency and/or power, score more runs, improve range, make plays and get guys out, it won’t make much difference on the scoreboard or in the box score.

The goals change somewhat through the year. In the off-season, we train to train. In the pre-season and spring training, we train to compete. During the season, we train to win. We train to help players show up every day and give their all, to recover quickly, to reduce the risk of injury and to withstand the stress of playing 162-game in 180 day, travel, late nights, day game after night games, extra innings, rain delays, cold nights, hot days, questionable food and beverage choices, bad games, losing streaks, slumps, etc., not just to workout or look good in a uniform. Training elite athletes is a balancing act. Coaches have to be aware of the circumstances, know their players and understand their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and injury history in order to help them train, play and recover so that they can give their best day after day.

Strength and conditioning coaches don’t work in a vacuum. They have to interact with the manager, position coaches, and medical staff in order to design programs that will help players achieve the skill set needed for their position, develop the mindset for playing, succeeding and failing at an elite level, apply the recovery techniques to play every day and perfect the movements needed to move efficiently and minimize the risk of injury.

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Joe Kessler, CSCS, RSCC*D, FMS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Cleveland Indians.

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