STRENGTH FOR THE AREA BETWEEN THE EARS

Before we start, I want to encourage every single one of you to keep reading. Even when it seems like this is just “another one of those articles” or it seems like it just doesn’t pertain to you. This topic is one that we must continue to talk about even when it is hard or doesn’t feel like it applies to us.

In the past six months, the mental health initiative throughout the athletic community, and pretty much the human community, has exploded. There is a mix of compassion and empathy as well as misunderstandings and negative attitudes. With this being said, the athletic community finds themselves in a polar divide as strong as the current state of political affairs. Many find themselves in the ideal of being the strong individual who only needs to rely on themselves or the “expressing how they feel is weakness.” This mindset has developed by generational transference through the athletic community. Passed down from mentor to mentee and the persona we place amongst athletes that they are indeed that – an athlete. They are the best of the best, the strongest of the strong, the greatest creation of human evolution. Survival of the fittest with the elite athlete being comprised of every human’s ideal form. Yet, at the end of the day, we forget one simple fact – they are human, just like me and you. We, as a human society misconstrued emotional strength for physical strength. Emotional strength is not the ability to handle everything on our own but instead the ability to understand what we can and cannot do by ourselves and the courage to ask for help when we cannot.

Me, Personally

I want to pause here for a little anecdotal information. In my 22 years of life, I have found myself living most of it from the area in which I felt I did not need another individuals help, in anything. I felt that being strong meant keeping everything locked up and handling it myself, or in some cases, lock it up and throw away the key. When I got to college, this internal process of mine was exacerbated, even though the personal stressors were piling up between the school, softball and social aspects of my life. It was suggested by a coach and two close friends that I seek out our Behavioral Health Coordinator, Dr. Lee Dorpfeld, for a chat. I remember thinking, “HA, that will never happen. I don’t need a psychologist.” For the next two and a half years, he and I played, what he calls, a game of cat and mouse. I would come in one day and then disappear from his office for four to six months. I would see him around our athletic facility and we would always chat or have a conversation but I avoided his portion of the facility with the same determination as a softball player attempting to avoid a slump. (You can see where this is heading.) Now, I am probably one of the slowest shortstops to ever have played Division I softball. It was joked that if you wanted to make me run fast, just put Dr. Lee at the opposite place you wanted me to run. You see, I fell into the misconception that we all have – the “ist” phenomena. Psychologist, dermatologist, orthodontist, therapist, etc. We often feel that professions ending in “ist” are all related to fixing someone.

It wasn’t until I sustained the first of my two major injuries that I started going to talk to Dr. Lee on a more “consistent” basis (I place the quotations because it wasn’t really that consistent but it was more often than four to six months). I began to realize how much less stressed I was because I had someone to talk through my stressors, uncomforts, and fears relating to my injury process. Slowly and surely that started to transition into topics regarding graduate school and relationships with others. My natural tendencies to “lock up” into self-protection mode slowly began to dissipate. I was starting to have real relationships and great friendships with people who mean a lot to me. My ability on the field finally came to full fruition as well. I was able to remain focused and locked in. Simply put, I felt lighter in everything I tried to do. No, sadly I did not get physically faster by releasing these personal loads but I was mentally faster. Understand this, I didn’t have to be “fixed” or wasn’t diagnosed with a condition as everyone fears. But, I found a safe place to be vulnerable and release myself from unnecessary stress.

Start By Changing Your Definition

You see, the ability to open up and discuss what is on your mind, whether good or bad, is “strength.” It is the understanding that we all need that person to talk to. Often, we lock athletes into this bubble that places them on a pedestal above the standards of the normal human. In actuality, their competitive profession places them in an area of high stress and personal demands. We need to re-educate the athletic community, starting with the youth athlete all the way to the professional, that asking for help or admitting your stressed isn’t weakness, it IS strength.

I’d like to emphasize another point – this doesn’t have to happen with a psychologist. It can be a friend, a coach or teammate, a mentor – anyone who you feel comfortable expressing yourself too. If you are fearful of the “ist” phenomena then I encourage you to find someone in your circle. It can be powerful to hear that someone feels the same as you, that you are not alone, as we most often are not. I look to another personal example that occurred with one of my closest friends.

Honestly, it happens quite frequently between the two of us so I cannot remember the context of the first one specifically but it went as most of them do. I was feeling quite overwhelmed with something softball wise and I blurted out during dinner, “can I ask you something?” She responded with “oh boy,” as she’s come to associate that question with something of grand context. I stated my point, as normally is not a question but a statement, to which she responded, “Cass, I feel the exact same way and I haven’t told anyone either.” It was a moment of mutual appreciation and understanding, as we both finally felt legitimized in our thinking. Now, I am not saying that this is always going to happen. Sometimes, you are going to open up and someone won’t feel the same way or understand it. That does not mean you hunker down and lock up – as with anything like athletics, there is going to be “failure.” But I want to reframe this thought as well; opening up and having someone not understand or feel the same isn’t a failure – it is just the process of human connection. Not one person is going to have the same sequence of events in their life as you but they will have general experiences similar to you; it is in this that the bond is created. We might not have the same exact feelings, but they will be close and possible to relate to – that is where you must find the comfort.

Why Athletes Warehouse

Athletes Warehouse is a prime example of changing this part of the athletic culture. We strive to challenge our athletes from a physical and mental perspective. We often incorporate mental skills training into most of our classes and large groups as we deem it as important as the physical skill set we can provide. We thrive on relatability – as all of our staff consists of former collegiate athletes which is effective as I find there is a slight difference in the natural tendencies of an athlete. We strive to create a safe environment for our athletes to challenge themselves and test their limits. We encourage open communication and discussion amongst staff and through the coach-athlete relationship.

I encourage any athlete, coach, or head of an organization reading this to let this message sink in. We are all human, so why don’t we allow athletes to act like it? Change doesn’t occur overnight. It takes one person impacting another and then another and this cycling continuing over and over to perpetuate change.

Let’s start now,

Cassidy

WHY THE PRONE TRAP RAISE IS SO DIFFICULT FOR ATHLETES?

The prone trap raise is a fantastic exercise for not just any athlete but for most of the population as well. However, as alluded to in the title, the prone trap raise is a difficult exercise to master. The article below will touch on a few reasons why this exercise, that appears simple, is actually one of our more complex movements we complete with our athletes.

What is the prone trap raise?

In this video, you’ll see Coach Brandon completing a prone trap raise on an incline bench. The exercise can be done on a table as well where the athlete is laying flat. Coaching cues for the exercise:

    1. Begin by having the athlete lay flat on the incline bench and crush their anterior core into the bench (there should be no excessive extension at the lumbar spine.)

    1. Cue to keep the chin tucked and pressed into the bench. This will prevent excessive forward head push. If the athlete were on a table, they should have their head turned toward the direction of the arm being used in order to decrease activation of the upper trapezius musculature (more about which muscles we target below).

    1. Have the athlete ‘scap load’ meaning, they will pull their shoulder blade into a retracted and posteriorly tilted position. Most of the time, this will be done so with the aid of a coaches guidance in order to ensure the athlete is setting up properly.

  1. The athlete should then raise his or her arm up at approximately a 135-degree angle in order to activate the lower trapezius regions. See picture below for the pennation angle of the striations in the trapezius muscle.

*Due to the many areas of focus for this exercise, we will typically begin each athlete by just utilizing the weight of their arm.

Why is this all important?

Attention to detail with this exercise is paramount to making sure we as coaches are not just prescribing exercises because they make sense on paper. As an industry, we need to take pride in knowing the why behind everything we do. This will allow us as practitioners to provide the best for our athlete as well as be able to educate the athlete on the importance of taking pride in the finer details of the movement. The prone trap raise is an important exercise because the exercise works to put the scapula in the proper position by activating the lower trapezius muscle fibers. Many times, the body is used to relying on the upper trapezius in order to complete movements. The lower regions of the trapezius are important for balancing this dominance by the upper trapezius as well as allowing the shoulder to get into an upwardly rotated position. In addition, utilization of the lower trapezius will aid in stabilizing once in the overhead position. Most sports such as (but not limited to) baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, and weightlifting involve a heavy reliance on the ability to raise the arm overhead. Understand that our body, especially as an overhead athlete, will not shut down once we fatigue. Even when improper muscle sequencing begins to take over, we will still find a way to throw, shoot, spike, and lift. As athletes, we will compensate and reach for a different part of our body that is less than optimal for completing the movement in order to get the job done. This repetitive compensation will overtime set us up for injury.

Why is this exercise is so difficult?

Posture

Not just as athletes, but as a society, our posture is pretty terrible. Take for example how we find ourselves in front of our electronic devices:

Typically, we have a very shortened and tight front side of our body. If we look at the upper body alone, the shortened pectoralis region can lead to an anteriorly tilted scapula. [insert picture of anteriorly tilted scapula]

This poor scapular position can lead to a multitude of dysfunctions with athletic movement. One of the more pressing issues is the inability to get into a proper upwardly rotated position. In order to help correct for this, we can add prone trap raises into the athletes exercise routine. Remember though, the very first thing we had to do in order to properly complete the prone trap raise was scap load our athlete into a posteriorly tilted position. But what if the athlete lives in an anterior position? What if the front side of his or her body is so shortened that they cannot get into the correct position in the first place? They’ll complete the prone trap raise but they’ll crank on their upper trapezius in order to get the job done. This is just further exacerbating their dysfunction! Instead of helping the athlete, we as coaches have put them in a position to hurt themselves. This is when a properly trained eye and guidance from a coach can aid in helping this athlete accomplish the purpose of the exercise.

Let’s take it one step further. So the athlete has a shorted front side of their chest. Why? What if there is a lower body dysfunction that is causing the upper body to compensate? In some cases, we observe individuals with extremely tight hip flexors. This tight hip flexor position pulls their low back into an extreme lordotic curvature. Over time, the body will compensate for this lordosis by developing a kyphotic curvature of the upper back (see image below). So, let’s say we as coaches try to get an athlete to posteriorly tilt their scapula by lengthening the front side of their chest but we are still missing the bigger picture which is that their lower half is a mess to start with. Working on releasing the tight hip flexors that are pulling the hips forward and causing thoracic flexion in the first place may be step one to correct these movement and posture deficiencies.

Posture is a bit of a rabbit hole and I hope I didn’t disrespect the topic too much by briefly going over general issues. It is important for someone who has chosen to study the human body as their career to keep in mind that there can always be more than one explanation for a movement dysfunction. Our role as coaches and specialists is to honor the complexities of the body and continue to educate our athletes on proper movement. By doing so, we will be able to better correct for issues in the human body and not only will you as a coach pay closer attention to movement but your athlete will too resulting in accelerated improvements.

THE DICHOTOMY OF BAT VELOCITY

The game of baseball and softball has been studied extensively, especially in recent years with the boom of tracking devices entering the sports world. Most commonly investigated for hitters has been the measure of bat velocity (also termed swing speed). Anything from how this metric impacts the likelihood of a hit to what athletes can be doing in the weight room to improve bat velocity has been researched. As a former collegiate softball player to a graduate assistant studying the metrics of the softball swing and now as a performance coach, I have had a unique view of hitting from various perspectives. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore bat velocity and the contrast of what this metric can mean for a hitter.

What exactly is Bat Velocity?

The word ‘velocity’ scares people because it reminds us of physics class. Without diving into a scientific explanation, simply put velocity is a change in distance divided by a change in time. It is most commonly used when referring to our vehicles (miles per hour, miles being the distance, hour being the time). These values resonate with us as we can easily conceptualize a car going 60 mph vs. 20 mph. However in research, bat velocity is typically reported in meters per second (m/s). Additionally, even if we convert m/s to mph we are not as familiar with the ‘norms’ of bat velocity. Is a 50 mph bat speed impressive? What about for a softball player vs. baseball player? What factor does age play in these norms? The good news is, with the influx of data collection devices that are becoming more readily available to coaches and players alike, normative data based on all these factors will become even more clear and well defined in the years to come.

According to Blast Motion, here is a brief overview of averages for bat velocity:

LEVEL BAT VELOCITY (MPH)
PRO 63-75
COLLEGE 58-70
TRAVEL BALL 16U – 18U 54-66
HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY 49-63
HIGH SCHOOL JV 42-56
TRAVEL BALL 12U-14U 38-53
RECREATIONAL 32-46

(1)

As mentioned earlier, there has been a plethora of data to report on why an increase in bat velocity will improve at batter’s chances of being successful in the game.

Benefit Why is this important?
Increase in decision-making time A hitter with a longer period of time to make a decision at the plate will likely have an improved pitch selection.   The longer a hitter can wait before swinging, the more likely he or she is to be accurate at contact.
Increase in batted ball velocity High exit velocity has been correlated with power hitters.   An improved batted ball velocity can make up for a less than optimal ball trajectory.

(2, 4)

An increase is positive until a point….

So, now for the tricky part. If you ever played the game, hopefully you are thinking to yourself, ‘Wait a second…I have definitely been a situation where I was swinging too hard and wasn’t successful.’ And you would not be wrong. There is such a thing as swinging the bat too hard. As fielders, especially pitchers, we can understand this concept of sub-maximal effort easily. Imagine if you tried to throw the ball as hard as you possibly could every single time. Sure, you would throw it hard but it probably wouldn’t be too accurate. The ball would sail or you’d miss the strike zone more often than you’d like in order to be effective in the game. Same goes for hitting. If we swing the bat too hard, we will decrease our ability to accurately get our barrel to the ball. Coop DeRenne in his book, “The Scientific Approach to Hitting” claimed the two most important factors to successful hitting were accurate contact and having the bat arrive on time (3). With that being said, this tells us that bat velocity does not tell the entire story.

Improved Swing Time?

Previously, research has claimed that improved bat velocity would lead to an increase in decision-making time. This makes sense, the faster you swing, the later you get to start your swing thus the longer you get to wait to interpret a pitch. Not so fast… Let’s take a look at the way we calculate swing velocity.   

Take a look at picture 1: 

This athlete is able to get from the start of her swing to the end of her swing in .22 seconds. This would be her time. She may be able to improve her velocity by starting with her hands further back (increase distance) – see picture #2: 

She may have improved her distance but if she did so at the cost of her swing time then this could lead to a potential increase in overall swing velocity yet it can be detrimental to the hitters ability to hit faster pitching. Szymanski and colleagues claimed, “If pitchers are going to be throwing harder and harder, then we need to start swinging harder, period” (10). I agree, to a point. As long as our total swing time does not get compromised by the incoming pitch. To conclude this part, a future article explaining swing acceleration (change in velocity over change in time) is in the works as this metric becomes one of the most important factors contributing to on-field success at the higher levels.

Improved Batted Ball Velocity?

Due to our ability to hit an incoming pitch relying so heavily on the accuracy of our barrel to the ball, it would be naive of us to assume that the only factor contributing to batted ball velocity is bat velocity. The accuracy of our barrel is heavily dependent on the kinematic sequencing of the movement as a whole (5). Alterations to our swing sequencing in an attempt to obtain increased bat velocity will more times than not lead to a negative impact on the swing. For example, we may increase our stride length in order to improve velocity yet by increasing too much we end up altering our vertical displacement of our head height and missing underneath the ball. Or, perhaps we over coil in the loading phase and end up missing directional extension thus spinning off the ball too soon. Or the added coiling ends up leading to a swing that is too long thus getting jammed. Although increased in bat velocity with proper accuracy undoubtedly leads to a greater batted ball velocity, it is important for coaches and athletes to understand the balance and work to feel where optimal bat velocity is for each athlete.

Ways to Improve Bat Velocity

Alright, we are sold on bat velocity when managed the proper way will without a doubt aid in hitting performance. Now, what are the best ways to do so? Although there are several factors argued in the literature (grip strength, weighted bats, certain hitting techniques, etc (9, 8, 6, 5) it is indisputable that when you incorporate an increase muscular development, you are giving that athlete a system capable of producing a higher bat velocity. Having athletes work with trained professionals that can determine the needs of the athlete from a sports skill perspective as well as a human movement system is imperative to reaching each hitter’s potential in the batter’s box. Moving forward, I challenge our entire softball and baseball community to work toward finding smarter ways to evaluate the optimal bat velocity for each hitter. By doing so, we can work to have the athlete.

*It is important to note that this graph is not always a perfect bell curve. There are many athletes that operate best at a swing velocity 75% of their maximal swing whereas other athletes may operate best at 95% of their swing velocity. With that being said, I leave you with this: It is better to improve maximum swing velocity so that an athlete can operate at a higher bat velocity that is lower percentage of their maximum or is it best to get athletes better and more comfortable at swinging at higher percentages and instead ignore improving maximum bat velocity?

Comment below to let us know your thoughts!

References:

(1) Bentley, M., & Bose, B. (2015). U.S. Patent No. 8,941,723. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

(2) DeRenne, C., Hetzler, R. K., Buxton, B. P., & Ho, K. W. (1996). Effects of training frequency on strength maintenance in pubescent baseball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research10(1), 8-14.

(3) DeRenne, C. The Scientific Approach to Hitting. San Diego: University Readers Custom Publishing, 2007

(4) Escamilla, R. F., Fleisig, G. S., DeRenne, C., Taylor, M. K., Moorman III, C. T., Imamura, R., & Andrews, J. R. (2009b). A comparison of age level on baseball hitting kinematics. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 25, 210-218.

(5) Flyger, N., Button, C., & Rishiraj, N. (2006). The science of softball. Sports Medicine, 36, 797- 816.

(6) Fry, A. C., Honnold, D., Hudy, A., Roberts, C., Gallagher, P. M., Vardiman, P. J., & Dellasega, C. (2011). Relationships Between Muscular Strength and Batting Performances in Collegiate Baseball Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, S19- S20

(7) Hoffman, J. R., Vazquez, J., Pichardo, N., & Tenenbaum, G. (2009). Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 2173-2178.

(8) Miller, R. M. (2017). The Relationship of Maximal Leg Power and Swing Velocity in Collegiate Athletes (Doctoral dissertation).

(9) Szymanski, D. J., DeRenne, C., & Spaniol, F. J. (2009). Contributing factors for increased bat swing velocity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(4), 1338-1352.

(10) Szymanski, D. J., Bassett, K. E., Beiser, E. J., Till, M. E., Medlin, G. L., Beam, J. R., & Derenne, C. (2012). Effect of various warm-up devices on bat velocity of intercollegiate softball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26, 199-205

WHY OUR ATHLETES TRAIN BAREFOOT

If you follow us on social media or have watched any of our Youtube videos lately, you will notice that many of our athletes have been training barefoot. I wanted to take a moment and explain why.

For some time now, podiatrists have termed shoes, “foot coffins” with the intention of highlighting the potentially damaging impact a sneaker can have on the musculature, connective tissue, and ultimately functionality of the foot/ankle complex. These damaging effects are resulting from a reduction in mechanical stress applied to the foot, as the sneaker works to alter the force absorption needs of the foot. Inherently, this should seem beneficial as the mechanical load on our biological system would then be less. However, our body is a master at being efficient, which is most illuminated through the conservation of energy. Therefore, when the musculature, tendons, and bones of the foot are not being stressed or utilized regularly, they will begin to decrease in functional capacity and ultimately become weaker. While this may seem like a trivial result to use of sneakers, we must heed the mounting research that suggests functional capacity issues at the foot/ankle complex can lead to several upchain issues such as altered kinematics at the knee and hip complexes leading to potential injury. To deconstruct this concept in a more comprehensible format, think of the sneaker as wearing a cast.  When it is time to remove the cast you will undoubtedly notice some muscular atrophy, movement deficiencies, and downright weakness. Now think about the damage if that cast is worn 365 days a year and for approximately 8-12 hours a day.

WHAT ABOUT THE INJURIES THAT CAN OCCUR BY BEING BAREFOOT?

The ramifications of going barefoot for walking, running, or training have been duly noted in several research studies; patients have complained about several issues such as plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and several other bony and soft tissue injuries.  However, with almost all these instances of injury, the primary issue was not the forces being applied but the progression in the duration and intensity of these forces. Take Wolff’s Law of Adaptivity, which states that compressive forces applied to bony structures in a healthy system (person or animal) will respond to the load being applied to it. Thus, if the load increase the bone will remodel stronger over time, conversely, if the load decreases the bone will get weaker over time (remember the body is an efficiency master). While this explanation works well to explain the potential benefits of bone stress, the key term in the explanation is the word ‘respond.’  

The word choice of ‘respond’ is absent of definitives, as all it states is that the bone will produce a response, not whether that response will always be positive or negative. Therein lies the primary issue – the rate of progression and intensity to which this load is applied. Thus, the potential benefits of training barefoot (much like all things with the body) can only truly be realized if the progression to overload is acclimated accurately.  Several studies have indicated that benefits from training, walking or running barefoot may take several months to a have a meaningful impact.

SO, WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS TO TRAINING BAREFOOT?

Each athlete that enters our door is put through a thorough initial evaluation process that among many other kinematically based movement screens, includes an analysis of the foot at stance and in action (walking, running, landing, jumping, etc.).  It is extremely common for many of these athletes to present with issues relating to the foot and the way in which this will cascade to other issues up the chain towards the knee, such as valgus moments (the knee diving in), or the hip, such as asymmetrical shifts in jumping or landing.  These dysfunctions are a primary concern of our programming process and must be addressed as an integral part of increasing performance. It is with this that several new studies have begun looking at the potential benefits of training athletes barefoot.

One of the more recent studies found that over an 8-week period of barefoot training individuals were able to redevelop strength and connective tissue tension in the arch of the foot which allowed for great force production through the big toe.  If you have looked into any recent literature on sprint speed, agility, or power production, you will be aware of how significant the force production potential of the big toe is to these skill sets. Adding to this point another recent study (link) took several athletes through an 8-week barefoot training program and found that the athlete’s ankle stability, speed, and their agility all improved. What is interesting about this study is not so much the ankle stability as this inherently conceivable, or the speed development as it is probably easy to ascertain that improved foot mechanics, can lead to improved force production (as we just learned with the previous study) and thus faster speed times, but what is most interesting is the improvements in agility. Agility is a kinematic process that is highly dependent on the deceleration capacities of an athlete, which would imply that by training barefoot an athlete becomes better at not only creating force but absorbing force as well.  This concept is further illuminated by two studies (link) that looked at groups of athletes performing squat movements both with shoes and barefoot. What can be gleaned from both articles is that the eccentric portion of the squat resulted in greater musculature activation when barefoot and as a result of the barefoot training the athletes experienced an increase in stiffness at the knee joint and hamstring reflex activity. These two studies help provide some evidence as to perhaps why we may see improved agility based measures following barefoot training as the stiffness at the knee joint and improved hamstring reflex will greatly aid in safe and accurate deceleration movements.

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS:

  1. Barefoot training can improve foot dysfunction over time with the proper progression of exposure.
  1. Barefoot training can improve force production through the big toe which can have drastic implications in total system power output.
  1. Barefoot training can improve foot/ ankle stability, speed development, and agility based movements.

FINAL NOTES

Each of our athletes are progressed to training barefoot based on their responses to its exposure (like any other training modality) and are all (at least initially) provide foot strengthening, mobilizing, and stiffening exercises upon initial exposure.

WHAT COACH CASSIE IS LEARNING ABOUT THIS WEEK

As a performance coach, we focus so much on how our athletes move yet we don’t always get an opportunity to observe how the athlete responds to game-like stimuli. Due to this, I was provoked to dive into this deeper when an athlete of mine had every athletic tool necessary to be successful in their sport yet when we incorporated a game-like scenario where she was required to respond to a visual stimulus, it appeared there was a delay in her motor response. Too much time was taken to make a decision on how to move instead of relying on athleticism and instead of reacting. This made me feel like we as coaches may be missing a major piece to our athlete’s development. So much of my passion for this topic comes from my personal experience as an athlete. I have first hand experienced a ball looking as if it is moving in slow motion and being able to interpret the spin. Did that happen because of something I did in training? Was it more of a psychological response and was I instead just in a state of flow? Would I have ever experienced that visual acuity had I not faced great pitchers at a young age? Is there a way to measure someone’s capability for pitch interpretation? I ask all of these questions because the follow-up question to all of this becomes, how much does developing proper swing mechanics ACTUALLY matter with an athlete?

Therefore, this week I decided to dive deeper into how an athlete responds to their environment. Here is some major information I have come across: 

-The most important aspect of movement = the way it is initiated.

-As an object approaches an athlete OR as athlete approaches an object, the image on the retina gets progressively larger.

-The rate of dilation of the image on the retina may be the trigger for specific motor responses to athletics.

-The best athletes have a sequence of focuses (in response to a hitter facing a pitcher): 1. Soft focus – viewing the whole body of the pitcher, 2. Fine focus: Viewing something specific in the plane of the ball release (ie. outfield wall), 3. Specific Fine Focus: Looking at the area of the release (hip for softball or arm slot for football).

-The attention process in fastball sports is limited by three factors of the athlete: 1. Amount of information in the display, 2. The time available to take in the required information, 3. The ability of the player to then respond to this intake.

-Higher performance players are able to process critical information earlier in the opponent’s action. Thus giving themselves the feeling of, ‘having all the time in the world’ to respond.

This concept applies to all athletes. You can be the most athletic person but if you try and play your sport with your eyes closed and your hearing impaired, you are going to be at a severe disadvantage. In order to be able to use our athleticism that we’ve developed over our lifetime, we must also be in the correct mindset but consciously and subconsciously to respond to our environment.

Coach Cassie

INVISIBLE MAN

It’s 5:00 a.m. the alarm is going off, the first opportunity of the day presents itself; do you hit snooze or do you get up and move to the next stage of your day?  

It’s this moment; it’s in these seconds, these seconds before rolling over to address this obnoxious noise permeating from whatever device you utilize to reminder to your body that the day is upon us, that we hear thousands of conscious thoughts battling for center stage.

Many of you will hear thoughts stemming from fatigue, complacency, or even doubt.  They shower you with demands (are you kidding it’s too early), deceptive cries of comfort (it’s totally normal to be exhausted) all pleading to stay in bed, to hit the snooze button.  They even may go as far as illuminating the doubt we all have inside in the hopes of evoking fear, confusion or worse, apathy.  

-OR-

Maybe your thoughts are proud and they speak to you with positivity (it’s going to be a great day), with motivation (we have a head start on the day).  Maybe they make you think of mentors, honorable people who you would like to emulate; or maybe they begin to make you feel good about sacrificing sleep (see the hour your up; this is why you will be successful) and maybe, just maybe the voices will work.

BUT FOR HOW LONG?

You see, often times we rely on external forces to motivate us.  These forces may be extremely visible and palpable, like motivational books and speeches, or maybe even this article.  Other times, they could be more subconscious and manifest themselves through emotional pathways such as envy, greed, or competitiveness as we begin to compare our success to that of others.  In turn, our motivation becomes drawn from our desires to prove to ourselves, to them, to anyone really, that we can live up to the mirage that is the life they have chosen to share with the world (Instagram).

While you may be moderately (or briefly) successful with these tactics, they will eventually succumb to the pitfalls of a relying on a weakened quality of motivation.  Change, growth, and consistency require a deep allegiance towards intrinsically powered motivation that can sustain in times of weakness and propel in times of success.

Many of you reading this are athletes, former athletes even, which means competition is not just something you do or did, but its something that is woven into the fibers with which define your purpose in life; YOU NEED IT.  Great, then let’s that! You see, the problem is not the competition itself, the need to be competitive, or even the motivation you get from this competition. The problem lies in who the competition is with.

Intrinsic, especially when related to motivation, means to internalize or pull from within.  Thus, to be a truly self-motivated individual, the competition must lie within yourself. Regardless of how competitive you are, external inducements will eventually result in a fractured form of motivation.  

Look at athletes who have won it all.  Why is it so hard to repeat that accomplishment?  Maybe because they have fewer naysayers, fewer doubters, and fewer people to prove themselves to. As a result, it becomes increasingly more difficult to continue working when your external forces have evaporated.  

The key is to internalize the competition and compete against THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Simply put, THE INVISIBLE MAN is your best version of yourself.  He’s the version of you that get’s up at 4:59 a.m., and stares at the alarm clock chuckling as he waits for it to hit 5:00 a.m. He jumped out of bed, went right to the shower and was out the door in record time. He moves through your task list (that was set from the night before) with precision and purpose.  He got that workout in, read the chapter you wanted to read, and got the work you needed done; done. THE INVISIBLE MAN is you in your most perfect form and your goal, heck your privilege, is that you get to test the limits of that perfection and beat his !@#$%&* ass.

Every time you start your day by getting up and stopping that alarm, it’s a win.  When you get in and out of the shower in a reasonable time, it’s a win. When you get out the door and head off to school, to work, to whatever task is first on your list, it’s a win.  The more wins you compile in a day the more productive and powerful your motivation, confidence, and ultimately you will become.

BUT WE CAN’T ALWAYS BEAT HIM, CAN WE?  

Yes, at times, you will lose to the invisible man. But vow to beat him the next time.  Frequent losses need to be addressed immediately and your processes adjusted promptly. It is important in these instances to ensure that your routines, goals, and motivations are accurately aligned with realistic possibilities.  

As a disclaimer, I am aware that I opted to not discuss how those experiencing complacency, apathy, or even lacking motivation, can utilize this tactic to help prioritize their focus and execute their plans.  I chose to do this because this tactic or ideal is something they need to work towards attempting, as they most likely need to begin some substantial goal setting, routine, prioritizing, and reflection guidance first.  Attempting to go zero to a hundred can create greater anxiety, fear, or apathy; however, all individuals can take pieces of this concept and begin applying it to even just their morning routine, as the underlying principle is self-accountability.

WHY THE CLEAN SHOULD BE APART OF EVERY CATCHERS PROGRAM

When it comes to the sport of softball, quick, explosive moments followed by a period of physical relaxation has come to define its physical exertion. Some positions, such as the pitcher and catcher, require it to happen more frequently than others. The frequent movements a catcher makes requiring explosive power provides performance coaches with the reasoning for incorporating the clean into their workout programs. Below is a video of just some of the similar movements between the clean and throw down for a catcher.

What Does the Clean Provide for an Athlete

“The hang power clean exercise has been found to produce high bar velocities, high ground reaction forces, and high power outputs.” (1)

  1. It teaches the importance of the kinematic sequence  
    1. In order for an athlete to effectively complete a clean, there is a series of movements that must happen in a specific order. The kinematic sequence allows the athlete to transfer power throughout their body necessary for completing a powerful movement. Triple extension is an imperative sequence in the sport of softball – it is the concurrent extension of the hip, knee, and ankle that produces power up the kinetic chain (2). For the clean, this power travels from the feet all the way to the upper limbs which are responsible for flipping the bar to the catch position.
  1. Force application into the ground  
    1. In order to generate the power for the kinematic sequence, the athlete completing these movements must first pound into the floor. The equation for force is mass multiplied by acceleration. In order to initiate the clean, we are started from a neutral position and accelerating as fast as we can. This speed multiplied by our own mass is equivalent to the force we put into the ground. This force then transfers up our physical chain which allows the upward pull sequence to involve less upper body work and allows the arms to only have to “get under” the bar.
  1. Explosive Power  
    1. Olympic lifts, such as the clean, require high amounts of muscle fiber recruitment in order to provide the explosiveness necessary to complete the sequence. This translates to speed and power development. The ability to quickly recruit motor fibers of several muscle groups is necessary for the reactive aspect of softball and other sports.
  1. Rapid Concentric to Eccentric and Eccentric to Concentric Muscle Action  
    1. The first movement of the clean forces triple extension – mentioned above – that is a concentric movement. From there, we are forced into an eccentric load on the squat portion of the clean and back to a concentric movement on the extension of the clean. This rapid amortization phase in the clean correlates to the power output of an athlete. The faster you can go through this cycle, the more powerful you are.
  1. Feeling like a Boss Afterwards  
    1. There is no better feeling than hitting a clean that seems daunting. After this movement, athletes tend to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as it is not an easy movement to perform. Drop the bar like you drop the mic.

How this Translates to Catching

Numerous aspects of the clean translate to the catching position. First off, the catcher is performing an enormous amount of eccentric and concentric movements – think of the number of times they go into and out of a squat. As for the catchers throw down, triple extension is paramount to throwing out of a squat. Being able to effectively go through this kinematic sequence is important to ball velocity on the throw down. Effective use of the legs in the squat position transfers power up the kinematic chain which, in turn, increases velocity. Tthis begins with the force application into the ground and travels up through the midline, to the shoulder, ending in the fingertips. Similar to the clean, there are very few feelings like throwing out a runner. You get to sit there and feel like a boss for just a split second. The confidence in the weight room can translate onto the field.

It is important to note that, as a strength performance coach, we cannot give an athlete a movement just because we know it works. If the athlete is not strong enough, or ready to understand the movement, it can be more harmful than beneficial. There are certain segments of the clean – the deadlift, jump shrug, and high pull – that can be used to start the athlete on the process of performing the clean. But when the athlete is ready for it, the clean can be an extremely beneficial movement for the athlete.

Cassidy

References

Rucci, J. A., & Tomporowski, P. D. (2010). Three Types of Kinematic Feedback and the Execution of the Hang Power Clean. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(3), 771-778. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181cbab96

Ayers, C. (2016, June 221). Basic Biomechanics: The Foundation–Triple Extension. Retrieved from: http://www.byanymeansbball.com/blog/basic-biomechanics-the-foundation-triple-extension

  1. (2017, July 6). How Olympic Lifts Translate to Athletic Performance. Retrieved from http://blog.bridgeathletic.com/how-olympic-lifts-translate-to-athletic-performance