Last week I returned from my annual trips across Florida and Arizona, where MLB spring training was in full swing. I spent two whirlwind weeks in the company of team trainers, coaches, and therapists, and was generally neck-deep in baseball.
The whole thing looked a little like this:
Hot Air Balloon Ride
to 7,000 Feet. First and last! Barf!
First in a very long time, and the last!
Thanks a lot, Rendon!
Visits with Eric Cressey
To whom the “baseball strength” industry is indebted.
What a trip!
But what inspires me to spend so much effort visiting sixteen or more teams every year? Half the answer is easy; I love baseball. But the rest of it has to do with how much we love our clients. We really want to help them transition safely to their in-season regimen.
This transition is important because, for our major league players, a gap can form between the work they put in during our offseason programs and the things they focus on while training with their teams. They spend maybe 40% of the year with us and 60% of the year with their respective teams, and, in between, things can get lost in translation. Weaknesses or range of motion deficits may not get communicated, and helpful techniques might not be shared.
If a player’s trainers don’t talk to one another about these things, then players can lose out on quality training time as competing philosophies or incomplete pictures interfere with their progress. This means that in order to guide our players to their peak performance, I need to listen to what MLB staff say when we get the player back at the end of baseball season. It also means that, when spring training comes around again, I need to share what I’ve learned. Experience has taught me that most players will not speak up about the details of their team program. They will trust that I am fully informed and assume that I have done my homework, and that comes down to talking with their coaches.
The Difficulty with Pro Baseball Setup for Strength Trainers
Unfortunately, this dialogue is hindered by one of the great challenges of baseball: the frequency of injury. Every year, 50% of starting pitchers hit the disabled list, along with 30+% of relief pitchers and 20+% of all position players. With multiple practitioners and coaches influencing exercise selection for these players over the course of a year, it’s easy to understand how finger pointing gets started when an injury occurs.
This makes most team strength coaches hesitant to take any outside advice, and honestly, I don’t blame them. They’re not always able to influence the exercise choices of their players throughout the whole year, but can quickly become a scapegoat in the face of injury or under-performance. In their shoes, I wouldn’t want to hear from my players’ off-season “guy” either, especially since few trainers have specific experience working with pro baseball players.
All that being said, the statistics show that the vast majority of baseball injuries occur in non-contact activities like pitching. This, to my mind, makes them all the more preventable, which means that they be solved through consistent, year-round training that addresses the unique needs of each player.
So how do you get that going?
Carrying a Framework into the Season
The short answer is this: respectful communication and total transparency with those who work directly with our players in-season.
To be clear, no MLB staff member has any responsibility to meet with an outsider, but they’re not prohibited from doing so by rule either. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) does not state that outsiders are not allowed inside team facilities. While most team strength coaches and medical staff have little interest in what an offseason trainer may have to say, I attempt, through my clients, to build a relationship over time.
If this goes well, then a productive dialogue emerges, especially around the beginning and end of the season. During these transitional periods, team strength coaches and offseason trainers have the opportunity to share information with each other and, before anybody gets hurt, develop a more intelligent program based on a better understanding of what a particular player has been through.
The most productive conversations between offseason trainers and in-season strength coaches are the ones that are proactive. These are the conversations that take place in the first week of the offseason, with their team personnel sharing info with us, and the first week of spring training, when we’re sharing info with the team. By working together, before anyone gets injured, we create a more intelligent program because we have a more complete understanding of what the player has been through.
What Offseason Trainers Need to Embrace
In the end, I am at a disadvantage when trying to manage a player’s programming needs during the season simply because I’m not physically there. If, however, if I can encourage their team strength staff to continue the philosophy that we spend so much time developing during a long off season, I can help to establish a basis upon which their in-season program can be managed. Then their team strength coach, through regular assessment, can make minor adjustments to programming, all within the framework that we established together.
That’s why I encourage offseason trainers to embrace a philosophy of trust and communication. Whether you’re working with high school athletes or veteran professionals, you’re never going to have total control over your player’s programs. Instead, you should look out for your players by working with their in-season trainers to try and develop a continuous, year-round program that leads to better performance, and ultimately, better baseball.