Going for the Gold – On and Off of the Mound

Going for the Gold – On and Off of the Mound

“I faced a lot of pressure from other people telling me I wasn’t good enough. I had a lot of people tell me that female athletes weren’t pretty. Stuff that hurts the girl in you, not the athlete in you,” says Monica Abbott, Team USA star pitcher and Fairchild Sports Performance client. “Eventually, I learned how to not let people get the chance to tell me I wasn’t capable.”

Truer words haven’t been spoken.

The silver-medalist holds the NCAA record in career strikeouts, victories, shutouts and single season strikeouts during her time with the University of Tennessee.

Growing up, the six-foot-three-inch pitcher said basketball and softball were her main sports but when she entered her later years of high school, she knew she found her niche in pitching.

“When I started pitching it’s like it fit who I was,” she said. “I loved every part of it! Before, I played outfield, short stop and second base but finally pitching gave me a home on the field.” Abbott knew she found her spot when she was asked to play on a travel team with her older sister but the hard work didn’t stop there.

Monica Abbott, silver-medalist holds the NCAA record in career strikeouts, victories, shutouts and single season strikeouts during her time with the University of Tennessee.
Monica Abbott,silver-medalist holds the NCAA record in career strikeouts, victories, shutouts and single season strikeouts.

“That’s when I knew I was doing pretty well, but in the end, it was potential. I had to find a way to get better,” she said. 

And she did just that.

However, it didn’t come with a few obstacles along the way. As a female athlete, Abbott has had to ignore naysayers and pressures that come with becoming a rising female athlete.

“I think societal pressure is bigger in that realm than anything,” she stated. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there. It has been hard knowing that it will take a special man to be okay with my pursuit of athletics.”

Although she has faced some negative feedback, she has not been short of positive role models.

“I had some pretty great coaches to ambassadors to look up to, “she said. More importantly, she added, she had influential males in her life, as well.

“Yes, I’m a female pro-athlete, but there were some very influential males that pushed me harder and never lowered their standards for me just because I was a female. That was huge for me — they saw more for me and helped drive me into that position to be successful far more than what I could have done by myself.”

Abbott believes that the world of female athletics is continually changing for the better, and she is thrilled to be a part of such an incredible plight.

“The biggest thing for me is to be an example — to show that they can continue to play after college,” she said. “Aside from that, I do a ton of speaking and motivating in debunking some of the myths surrounding the game and helping girls see a bigger opportunity for them outside of high school sports.”

Keeping female athletics in a positive light is one of Abbott’s main goals, but a small thing called the Summer Olympics may be a top priority, as well. Women’s softball is slated to make its comeback for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“My main goal is to compete for gold in Tokyo 2020, but it’s a tough road. I need to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong. There are a lot of athletes out there competing and some really good countries gunning for the USA,” Abbott said.

However, based off of her past accomplishments and determination, there doesn’t seem to be many obstacles that will stand in her way.

Check out more of her highlights at monicaabbott.com.

Bridging The Gap Between Off-Season and In-Season Training

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:

4
Flights
950
Miles Driven
12
Days
16
Teams Visited
1
Hot Air Balloon Ride
to 7,000 Feet. First and last! Barf!
Thanks, Melancon!
1
Tobacco Dip
First in a very long time, and the last!
Thanks a lot, Rendon!
2
Visits with Eric Cressey
To whom the “baseball strength” industry is indebted.
 
Mark Melancon, Ben Fairchild Airballoon in Arizona; Eric Cressey and Ben Fairchild at Cressey Performance; Washington Nationals Sports Medicine.
Mark Melancon, Ben Fairchild Air Balloon in Scottsdale, Arizona; Eric Cressey and Ben Fairchild in Jupiter, Florida; Washington Nationals Sports Medicine, West Palm Beach, Florida; Randal Grichuk, Chad Huffman, Ben Fairchild, Anthony Rendon in Florida.

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.

Off Season Training with Ross Stripling, LA Dodgers, at Fairchild Sports Performance
Off Season Training with Ross Stripling, LA Dodgers, at Fairchild Sports Performance.

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.


Jameson Taillon, Pirates pitcher, works on hip mobility with Carson Calkins in FSP offseason program.

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.

 

Thanks @sfgiants medical staff for being so welcoming. Excited about the new journey for my friend @mark_melancon_ !

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Handedness in Sports. Part 1: Major League Baseball

Handedness (n) : the property of using one hand more than the other. 2. The dominance of one hand over the other, especially in fine motor skill development.

In attending last week’s MLB All-Star game, I got to thinking about the dispersement of right-handed to left-handed hitters, then throwers, then how those combinations presented on a larger scale.

3 Easy Steps to In-Season Strength Maintenance

“What should I do now that the baseball season is starting?”  It’s a common question this time of year from high school baseball players and their parents.  The question represents the confusion we often see in young, developing baseball players when it comes to a maintenance plan off the field in-season.