Elite Baseball Mentorship Takeaways

By David Drinks

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Hudson, MA with Bob Gorinski to take part in the Elite Baseball Mentorship at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP). The experience had me walking away with a much greater appreciation for the unique demands baseball places on an athlete, as well as the need for individualizing the training approach for each athlete. Coming from a background of playing baseball through the collegiate level, as well as currently working in the fitness industry, I have had ample opportunity to experience firsthand the lack of understanding that surrounds training for baseball. Fortunately, CSP offered a safe haven, as we had the chance to learn from and observe some of the brightest minds in the industry. In this brief review, I hope to highlight some of the foundational qualities of optimal training for baseball.
baseball - yes!

The foundation for many issues in the fitness industry is that most trainers and coaches do not assess their clients before they start training them. This is like a doctor prescribing medicine without asking questions or conducting tests. As crazy as that concept sounds in the medical world, this approach is commonplace in the fitness and sports performance world. This problem is amplified when it comes to training a population of athletes for high performance, especially those who need to get in unique and dangerous positions during their sport such as a pitcher in baseball. A phrase they often use at CSP is, “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.” I, for one, am not okay with guessing when it comes to optimal performance training and injury prevention.

The Elite Baseball Mentorship was not about pointing fingers. Rather, it was an objective and logical look at what is currently happening in the baseball training world and how it can be improved. What stood out the most to me was the current practice of many baseball and strength and conditioning coaches grossly generalizing training and preparation in the baseball population.

To use a specific example, I will share my own experience of team training as a high school and college pitcher. In high school, each pitcher ran 6 poles every day. That was it. In college, we advanced to running many more poles, as well as adding in silly looking arm care exercises with 5lbs weights and resistance tubing. Every pitcher, from the 6’7’’ lefty who was extremely flexible and unstable at many joints, to the 5’10’’ righty who was extremely stiff, did exactly the same thing! It would be an understatement to say that the current system is broken. With this understanding in place, we need to move forward to looking at what can be done to better prepare each individual for the demands in their sport.

The traditional “one size fits all” approach is popular because it’s efficient, cost-effective, and easy to implement in situations where coaches are out of their element. In reality, every athlete’s body is unique and their training program should reflect this. Should we stretch the heck out of an athlete who is already extremely lax because they “feel tight” or everyone else is doing it? Should we give heavy farmer’s carries to an athlete who already has a heavily depressed scapular position? Absolutely not; this makes it even more challenging for them to elevate their arm to the proper throwing position. Should we give any exercise indiscriminately to all of our athletes because some study said it showed great activation of the rotator cuff? I don’t think so. What needs to be done is a thorough assessment by someone qualified before a training program is devised.

After this assessment is done, and the athlete is educated on what their individual body needs for optimal performance and injury prevention, then the discussion of how the plan is implemented must take place. Even with perfect programming, there is a large amount of variability in how it is performed. The staff at CSP constantly reinforced that it is the job of the coach/trainer to teach correct movement, whether it is on the field, in the weight room, or anywhere in between. Correct movement is the foundation on which every athletic movement takes place. If this is not rigorously taught and re-taught, then the athlete is going to repeatedly stress the wrong parts of the body which will eventually lead to injury. 

layers of "baseball - no"
In fact, repetition of poor movement and posture is indicative of exactly what injury will ultimately occur. If athletes are allowed from a young age to get really good at moving poorly, then there should be no surprise when injury ultimately pops up. To quote physical therapist Eric Schoenberg, “Subtle deviations in the precision of movement are the cause of injury, and this starts at a very early age.” Schoenberg went on to encourage a proactive approach that prevents injury by being aware of the signs before the symptoms occur. Just because something doesn’t presently hurt doesn’t mean it's working well! The bottom line is that, if we can identify and correct movement faults at a young age, we can prevent many injuries later on.

One final concept that was evident at CSP was that training can be effective without crushing the athlete each workout. The traditional “conditioning” focus of training for baseball creates fatigue which promotes inefficient movement and poor movement patterns. Simply because an athlete doesn’t feel “crushed” after every workout does not mean that the training was ineffective. Instead, Schoenberg was very adamant about the idea of what he termed “deliberate practice” over “practice.” He said that typical practice "Often reproduces faulty movement patterns; generally focuses on a person’s strengths; is generic; is mindless; and occurs in a group format.”

On the other hand his concept of deliberate practice “Corrects faulty movement patterns; is focused on addressing weaknesses; is specific; is mentally exhausting; is individualized; and results in drastic improvement over time.” What does deliberate practice look like in a real life training environment? CSP demonstrated this well by the lack of puke buckets available (or needed) after workouts, and the number of athletes who were dialed in and extremely focused on what, why, and how they were performing their workouts.

In summary, the knowledge level and example set by all the staff at Cressey Sports Performance was outstanding. They clearly understood the need to train each of their athletes in a way that fits the individual. They assess posture and movement for each and every one of their clients, and write an individualized program based off this assessment and the athlete’s unique injury, exercise, and athletic background. On the other hand, the generic training model that many use pales in comparison. Throwing a bunch of unique athletes into a group exercise class and giving them the same workout toes the border between acceptable and dangerous, but it most certainly is not optimal. Fortunately, there is a better way, and the results that CSP gets with their athletes is proof that they’re onto something that works.

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