From 2002 until 2010 my off-season revolved around an indoor track, and a loud, windowless sweat cave that we called a weight room. Next to game day, this was my favorite part of being an athlete, and probably what lead me, and possibly most strength and conditioning coaches into our profession. The idea of finding that competitive edge while bonding with your friends and teammates is something I still miss. Now, with the Reds, the closest I get to that are the 4 am lifts during spring training in which almost every coach participates before the workday begins. As for the off-season, it’s quite different.
During my early years in pro baseball, I went into the off-season with two main priorities: keep in touch with my players and spend as much time as possible with my wife. On one hand, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that mindset; however, as my boss often says “you’re all fulltime now.” It is a reminder that I have been hired to do exactly what I love to do! So, why would I take a break from it during the off-season?
The off-season doesn’t mean we are off from work like some sort of extended weekend. This is a time for both players and coaches to improve their skill sets. What that means to you is probably somewhat different than what it means to me. We all have things we can learn, work on, or become more efficient at. Now the question is, where do you start?
Take Stock Most coaches will receive a review from the boss at the end of the season outlining where you excelled and what areas you need to improve. Praise, constructive criticism and advice are helpful to hear, but there are always other skills that you would like to work on. Asking your supervisor to rank these in order of importance is a wise choice.
One thing I have found helpful was to present my coordinator with a list of 6 things that I felt I needed to continue to develop. We spoke about each item, my career goals, and eventually added two more to the list. Discussing your intentions for the off-season with your boss can provide several benefits, such as perspective, accountability, a more structured plan, etc.
The next part of taking stock is to analyze how the past year went with your affiliate. My high school strength coach once said that at the end of each year he begins the difficult process of critically analyzing the previous season’s injuries and adjusting his program in order to help curb those injuries the next year. Being your own worst critic requires humility, honesty, and the ability to learn from your mistakes and change your actions.
In his book, Relentless, Tim Grover writes “It’s weak to refuse to consider other options and fail at everything because you couldn’t adapt to anything1”. So, analyze your past year: Where did it go right? Where did it go wrong? What were the causes, or were they a coincidence? Can you do anything about it? Then focus on what you CAN do next year. Don’t worry about what you can’t do.
Making the Most of those Conferences, Certifications and the Winter Meetings. Your off-season can be improved by attending the Baseball Winter Meetings, the NSCA’s Coaches Conference, or obtaining a certification. Each is a very productive way of spending part of your off-season. One of the most obvious and important things to do at these events is to meet and speak with as many experienced coaches and strength and conditioning professionals as possible. There are also other things that you can do. Numerous companies appear at most professional meetings. Most are not only eager to sell you their product, they are also extremely knowledgeable about their products. Instead of walking around and looking for the free giveaways, take the time to ask about their product. How it can help you coach better? Can it give you a competitive advantage? What independent research has been performed on it? Is there printed information that you can read? While you’re soaking up all of this free information, take notes on the things you’re intrigued by. This is where you will get ideas on what you want to spend your off-season researching so you can implement new, effective things next year.
Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader. I have always enjoyed the saying “old books are good books too.” However, an article titled Nullius in Verba describes the need to use evidence-based practices in strength and conditioning. The authors said that “It is estimated that by the time a new edition of a textbook is published, it is at least one year out of date”.2 Why? It has been estimated that nearly two million articles are published to peer-reviewed journals each year. Of those two million, roughly 27,000 are exercise science related, or 74 each day. During my first season, I learned that we keep articles on file to support why we choose to operate the way we do. I thought this would be a great thing for me to start doing in the future. My strategy has been to take several specific topics that I wanted to learn more about, create folders for each, read the articles in the off-season and fill folders with the most read-worthy articles. Doing this helps me keep up with the latest research and be prepared to defend my programming with evidence based in research, not personal opinion.
Often, we can disregard, or get frustrated by articles because they don’t match our criteria for how we think the study should have been conducted. Last year, during an early morning presentation, Bryan Mann said something that has changed how I think about research articles: “For those that complain that there is no applicable research due to the population, saying that there’s nothing out there with elite level athletes, guess what guys? Take the blame, it’s your fault. Who has the elite level athletes?… How many researchers train teams? None. If you want to find out if something works, if stuff is applicable to college athletes, guess what? Step up to the plate.”
Step up to the Plate. In that same presentation, Mann continued to implore the audience to “Step up to the Plate” and push the field of strength and conditioning forward. As you read during the off-season, you will consider testing a theory and to putting that knowledge to use next season. This is where you get to “take the prowler by the handles” and push our field forward. Find something that makes you as inquisitive as a two-year-old who just learned the question “why?” Then, test and re-test, continue to gather information, and if you have all that data and you don’t know what to do with it, ask for help. There are numerous resources around in the form of other strength coaches, trainers, or researchers and statisticians at a nearby university.
For instance, in Easy Strength, Dan John said that the daily resting heart rate can be used to check how well an athlete is recovering from the stresses put on him/her in the day(s) prior3. It seemed worthwhile, especially in the minor leagues where we need to find less expensive ways to test. After reading a substantial amount of research, I couldn’t find much to support his claims, so, I reached out to Dan John. With his help and the consent of a few player’s, I was able to test this theory on our starting pitchers. I soon noticed the same trends that Dan John had spoken of. While there was an occasional outlier or two, I found that this was something I could do to monitor fatigue relatively inexpensively.
My advice for the off-season is to soak up as much knowledge as you can, find something you’re curious to know more about, put together an implementation plan, get a few players to volunteer, and start testing and gathering information on those theories. Once you gain useful data, you will have something to share as you talk with other coaches during the year, at Winter Meetings, NSCA’s, or with your supervisor to determine if it’s worthwhile pursuing from an organizational standpoint. Ultimately, it’s up to us to take our profession and the pressing strength and conditioning questions of our day, put them on the prowler, and start pushing it forward to the next generation of coaches.
- Grover, Tim, and Shari Lesser Wenk. Relentless: from Good to Great to Unstoppable. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
- Amonette, William E., et al. “Nullius in Verba.” Sports Medicine, vol. 40, no. 6, 2010, pp. 449–457., doi:10.2165/11531970-000000000-00000.
- John, Dan and Pavel Tsatsonline. Easy Strength. Dragon Door, 2011.
Justin Bucko, MS, SCCS, CSCS, USAW, FMS-2, is a Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Cincinniti Reds.