Teaching Agility and Game Speed

Game speed is an abstract concept. Sometimes athletes who are slow on the track appear as though they have a totally different gear on the field. For a long time, coaches struggled with this concept. They would often say, “That kid just has that type of speed you can’t teach,” or “That’s natural born speed.” But what is it about these athletes that makes them appear so fast on the field, when on a timer they are not nearly as impressive? This type of speed is called agility, and it is something that has been attempted to be taught through the use of speed ladders and complicated rhythmic drills. In Athletes Warehouse, we have the answer to unlocking agility, and it is no longer something that can’t be taught.

Agility is the ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction in any combination. However, we have found the number one determinant of agility to be reactive ability. This can explain how someone is able to continually gain a step on a defender who has faster acceleration times on the track. Once we determined that reaction determines agility, agility in game speed no longer becomes a skill that can’t be taught. In fact it can be taught very easily to athletes who are exposed to a specific training progression at a young age.

Agility drills that require the athlete to memorize and in-grain patterns into their memory fail to transfer to the requirements of sport. For example, if I’m a lacrosse defender and an offensive player is attempting to go 1-on-1 with me to the goal, there is no time for my mind to operate in a rhythmic order like a speed ladder drill. My subconscious mind is going act on the first hint of body language the offensive player gives away. Sports are chaotic, and therefore there are moments when we must train in chaos.

When we look at sports in terms of reaction to chaos, we realize how simple it can be to mirror this in training. No athlete should be in an agility drill by themselves because no athlete is on the field by themselves. Every action performed on a field is in response to another person. Utilizing a partner in our agility drills allows our athletes to accumulate repetitions reading another person’s body language. Even the best athletes will naturally express body language that will expose the direction they intend to move. When we progress athletes through a series of reactive agility drills they begin to become more efficient at reading their opponents.

Best Exercise to Improve Sprint Times

As coaches, we are constantly formulating and implementing new drills and exercises in an effort to increase the speed potential of our athletes. New and creative exercises expose our athletes to a broad range of movement patterns. This is important for overall athletic development. However, no matter the age, experience level, or sport, we are continually implementing sled pulling into our programs as we have found it to be one of the most powerful exercises in increasing sprint speed. It has become a requirement of our programs for those who are looking to increase speed.

Upon implementing our sled program, we have seen athletes show improvements in 20 yard and 40 yard dash times by up to 1/4 of a second in as little as 5 sessions. This is a drastic increase in speed. We have taken countless athletes through this protocol and have found these results to be consistent no matter how long the athlete has been training. As our program adjusts for age and body weight of the athlete, it can be completed by an athlete of any age or training status.

The sled works in a very unique way to strengthen musculature necessary for sprint. It is the most effective tool we utilize to improve backside drive as well as hip and posterior chain strength. It is a unique apparatus as the resistance never leaves the ground, and therefore becomes one of the safest exercises that a young athlete can do. When they are fatigued or their technique breaks down, the sled simply stops moving and there is no worry about an external load on the athlete.

If you are an athlete looking to developing speed in a completely unique way, reach out to our front desk by contacting team@athleteswarehouse.com. Our team of coaches is excited to share our secrets of speed with you.

Pain Management Guide For Athletes: By Coach Matt June

Coach Matt was a multisport athlete at Colonie High School in Albany, NY. He played Football, Basketball, Track, and Baseball. In college Matt studied Kinesiology and played second base for SUNY Cortland. He was a four year starter and two time captain.  He has some really good insight into pain management as an athlete. In this article goes into detail on how he believes there is a difference between discomfort and injury. Coach Matt states how discomfort is a part of sport and if he only participated when he felt 100%, he would have missed out on many opportunities to play.

The science of pain is not entirely understood. Regardless of how much research is done in the area, we’ve had trouble quantifying pain as something that is consistent across the human population. While pain manifests itself in the physical body, no two people experience it in the same way. This leads professionals to believe that much of pain management is associated with the mind. This is a theory that could potentially explain why some people experience identical dysfunction in completely different ways; and why some people may be able to play through certain discomfort that others can not.

Looking back, I have a very unique perspective on playing through some of my injuries. If I knew what I knew then… what I know now… I may not have played through certain things. However, being raised the way I was, pain was never automatically perceived as a threat. Growing up I was taught that pain was a part of sport. It was certainly not glorified, but it was simply part of the game. Only 2% of all college students have the opportunity to call themselves an NCAA athlete. Along with much of the hard work and time necessary to developing skills, often times one must pay the price of being in pain to consider themselves an athlete. As an athlete, as far as I was concerned pain is just part of the game.

Understanding the difference between discomfort and injury is a very important tool I used throughout my career. As a coach, I am a witness to a lot of athletes who are very quick to perceive their pain as an injury. We play sports in an era where athletes have tremendous ease of access to imaging technology, and therefore have a heightened focus on their internal structures which can create heightened symptomatology. No matter the athlete, we all have some degree of internal fear of injury. We identify with our sports and even just the fear of losing it due to injury can be debilitating in itself. In my experience, sometimes the more you know, the worse your symptoms. In college I remember having a relatively painful groin pull. While it was definitely a nagging injury, my approach was taking it day to day, rather than rushing to seek an immediate conclusion. If I only took the field when I was feeling 100%, I would never had the opportunity to play.

My advice to athletes is to always have the right healthcare resources available, however don’t be so quick to perceive your discomfort as an injury. Pain is a part of sports. It is incredibly important to check in with your body often, observing how you feel on a day to day basis. Understand that sports are taxing on the human body and each day you may feel different, but don’t be quick to judge it as an injury. At the beginning of the season you may feel 100%. It is very important to not believe this will be the case for the remainder of the season and therefore, check into your body regularly.

SATELLITE TRAINING

Satellite training is a service we offer to give athletes the chance to experience the Athletes Warehouse culture and training philosophy without having to physically come to our facility. In a perfect world, we would want everyone across the country to have the opportunity to be present in AW. Satellite training is an incredible option for athletes around the world to experience what Athletes Warehouse is all about.

A commonality between training in the facility vs. training satellite style is how customized the program is. This is beneficial to satellite athletes as the program can be tailored towards whatever equipment they have access to. We’ve had satellite athletes who have access to some of the top collegiate facilities in the country, as well as those who have had no equipment but a track and a set of resistance bands. There are so many creative ways our team of coaches can help an athlete achieve their performance goals.

Satellite training happens on the athlete’s time, and therefore we find great benefit in the number of training sessions an athlete can accumulate in a given week. With many commitments in an athlete’s schedule, we understand that it is not always easy to physically be in Athletes Warehouse more than 2-3x per week. Eventually, training even just 2-3 times per week is not going to be sufficient to push an athlete to elite status. We encourage many of our in-house athletes to take advantage of this service, as it can give an athlete supplemental training on days they are not physically in our facility. This can allow an athlete to realistically accumulate upwards of five to six training days per week.

For athlete’s who are currently training in Athletes Warehouse, beginning satellite training is simple. You can start by addressing interest with your primary coach. You and your coach can then discuss a program design to be completed outside of the facility. Your coach will adjust your program so that more complex and technical training will be completed with a coach’s eyes on you. Supplemental work can fill in the gaps in accordance with what type of equipment you have outside of the gym. This truly is the best way to maximize your training at Athletes Warehouse.

For athlete’s who do not currently train in Athletes Warehouse, there are several ways in which we can get started. First, we do an initial consultation and movement screening. Just like any of our athletes in the facility, we cannot begin to write a program for you if we do not take time to get to know you and how you move. For athletes who are within range, we encourage you to be in person for your initial consultation, where an athlete can talk with a coach about goals. The coach can put them through an in-person movement assessment. For those unable to be present in the facility, we can perform an initial consultation entirely via Skype or FaceTime. After the program is designed, athletes have total access to our video library, where each movement they are prescribed is demonstrated by one of our coaches. Utilization of video conference calls allow open communication between the athlete and the coach throughout their training process. Programs also encompass a large amount of testing and logging which allows the coach to track the progress of the athlete day to day. Satellite training is an amazing way to take a little piece of Athletes Warehouse everywhere you go. Not just do you receive a superior training program, but you have personal access to top coaches in the industry. If you are looking to take your training to the next level, reach out to team@athleteswarehouse.com to get started with you satellite training experience power by Athletes Warehouse.

THIRD PLACE

Many of us have come to know Athletes Warehouse as a sanctuary. Whatever your reason for coming, it’s safe to say that many of our athletes find assurance and safety coming through the doors. By allowing our athletes to feel such a level of comfort, we maximize what we get out of them. We break down the barriers pertaining to the stress of beginning off-season training for the first time, or potentially the last time. No matter what stage of an athlete’s career, this facility has become more than just a gym to so many. It has become a “third place.”

A third place refers to a third area in the student athlete’s life where they will find sanctuary. Creating such a sanctuary where athletes can come to improve themselves in so many different facets of life is an incredible way to maximize the potential of a young individual.

I have essentially grown up in Athletes Warehouse. As first an athlete and now as a coach. This facility has become a home to me. I can remember as an athlete, coming home from college, my first stop was my house to drop my bags off, my next stop was Athletes Warehouse for a training session. The coaches here became role models to me. I looked up to Nick, Matt, and Cassie. As a coach, it is my responsibility to create this environment for every athlete that walks into our building because I can reflect on how powerful an impact this facility had on my life.

When an athlete feels as though the training environment is their third place, it creates a motivation that is so purely intrinsic in the athlete. I am incredibly grateful that I had the ability to experience this as an athlete. It has given me a totally different perspective on how I treat my athletes to this day. Each athlete may have severely different reasons for training. Each athlete may have a different motivation for coming and some may even find trouble motivating themselves to walk in the building. Regardless, the team of coaches here at Athletes Warehouse have this incredible ability of making every athlete feel at home in the facility. I have experienced this, felt it change me as an athlete, and seen it change athletes each day as they come through the building.

In a society of sports that is so hierarchical where we program our athletes to respond to authority, it is so refreshing to be in an environment where a young athlete responds to a figure they truly trust and respect, rather than fear. Know that everyday the athlete walks in the building, a coach is greeting them with the utmost effort of developing a true and honest relationship with them. This is what creates a “third place”, a “safe haven”, a “second home”, for the athlete. This is merely one of the reasons that makes athletes warehouse special and why we will continue to produce phenomenal athletes.

Stay Strong,

Coach Jack

WHY WE FOCUS ON MOVEMENT PATTERNS BEFORE MAX EFFORT

Say you just bought a used car that you planned on fixing up as a weekend project. The car needs a ton of work. Regardless of your experience, intuitively, you may begin with getting the engine to run, change the brakes out, and change the tires. What you wouldn’t do is go directly to adding a turbo to the engine that doesn’t quite run yet. What we can come to realize from this article is that strength and conditioning can be thought of in a very similar way to working on a vehicle.

On “Just Fly Sports Performance Podcast”, I listened to Joel Smith interview French performance coach Jerome Simian on how he built a world record holding decathlete. There was one section of the interview where Jerome notes his viewpoint on how he is able to increase performance through movement rather than through strength and power maxes. While he would agree, there is a time and place for heavy strength lifts, I thought it was a fantastic point made that we can increase the performance of the athlete through creating better movement patterns. This can be thought of like the car mechanic. If we pursue max effort strength movements before addressing competent movement patterns, it’s as if we are increasing the horsepower of the engine while driving on bad brakes and tires. In both the human and the car, the expression of the engine’s horsepower must be facilitated by a structure that is optimal. If structure and movement is not addressed first, we are giving an athlete an engine that is way too powerful for what their frame can handle. This is how countless injuries occur in even the best athletes. Even for an athlete in a strength based training program, we must continually come back to movement focused work; just as we would bring our car in for an oil change and inspection from time to time.

Just yesterday on the training floor, Coach Matt was breaking down a lateral shuffle technique with one of our highest level athletes. I noticed him quietly observe the movement patterns of the athlete’s lower body and feet. I asked him what he was looking for. He noted how he did not like how this athlete was stacking their trail leg during a lateral shuffle as they went to change direction. He felt it placed the athlete in a compromised position. What they did was break down the movement into simple holds, allowing the athlete to feel the exact adjustment that they both agreed that her body should be in. Even though this was a very high level athlete, they struggled in making an adjustment to correctly aligning her body. I couldn’t help but think what a catch this was by Coach Matt. With the naked eye he was able to notice just the slightest leak in positioning of the athletes lower body during a high speed lateral shuffle.

Whether we admit it or not, many humans have this innate belief that more is better. Oftenly in the strength and conditioning field we fall into this trap of trying to squeeze more speed, more power, and more strength out of our athletes. After all, we call ourselves performance coaches. How can we know if we increase performance without a quantitative number to tell us that we are improving? The adjustment Matt made to his athlete’s lateral technique was more beneficial than any pro agility (a baseline agility test commonly used by strength and conditioning professionals) or sprint time. He facilitated a technique that increased the integrity of this athlete’s frame, allowing massive room for the addition of more horsepower. Like I said before, adding horsepower to a car that is out of alignment, is a recipe to end up back in the mechanics shop. When people come into our facility for the first time, this is not always what they want to hear. Most people come to us and say “I want to get faster”, “I want to build strength”, “I want to increase my agility”. Regardless of the athlete’s goal, it must be initiated with fantastic movement patterns. In turn we will develop a machine that runs reliably, efficiently, and will have a tremendous amount of room for after-market additions.  

TRAINING THE CHEERLEADER

When observing the detailed movement requirements of a cheerleader we can see the broad range of movement capacity required out of the athlete. In our context, movement capacity can be described as the ability to perform a wide range of patterns (jumping, twisting, flipping, landing, balance on a single leg, handstand, etc.) with efficiency and stability. With this, a successful cheerleader must possess the prerequisite strength to produce a massive amount of force as well as have the stability to absorb such a force to avoid injury.

In all sports, athletes from youth division up through elite levels deal with overload injury. “Overload injury” is commonly synonymous with “overuse injury”. These injuries are those such as stress fractures, tendonitis/tendinopathy, muscle pull/tear. “Overuse” implies that the athlete is at imminent risk of these conditions upon too much volume of their sport, which is most certainly not the case. “Overload” describes these conditions as a result of the athlete not possessing the physical requirements to handle what their sport is throwing at them. While athletes may get hurt while exposed to repetitive movement patterns, this only becomes an issue when their bodies can no longer handle the load placed upon it.

In terms of cheerleading, athletes have such a variety of physical demands. From holding as a base support, sprinting and tumbling, to jumping and landing, and everything in-between. The injuries stated before happen as a result of an unprepared athlete. As strength and conditioning professionals, our skill set is not in coaching the fine movement patterns required of cheer, but to build the capacity of the athlete’s muscular and connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, and bones) to handle the forces that they will receive throughout a cheer season.

Movement’s that we implement with a cheerleader may be scaled dependent on age. However, the planes of motion, as well as muscle groups that we train, will be relatively similar across the board. Here is a simple list of sample exercises that we would implement upon training cheerleaders:

Landing: One of the first things we do with any athlete is teaching them how to properly land and absorb the force of their own body dropping from an elevated surface. The drill begins with two-foot landings and progresses to one foot as well as implementing rotation and lateral movement too. This will inevitably be a prerequisite for any complex plyometric drills that we implement in the future.

Squat: Shown here, one can see the similar mechanics squat to the landing. We train our athlete’s to create a stable and strong squat stance that will allow them to build strength that will carry over to the landing itself.

Quadruped/Crawling: By getting the athlete to crawl with opposite arm to leg, it forces them to create a cross body and torso stabilization. This is an incredibly important strength requirement whenever an athlete is rotating, twisting, or changing direction. Proper crawling is also key in building transferable upper body strength in athletes as they are forced to coordinate their upper body with their lower body. Spending time supporting their body weight on their hands will also build stability in the elbow and wrists.

Box Jumps: Shown here is a box jump, which is a useful tool in any training program. It allows the athlete to produce a tremendous amount of force and athleticism in landing on an elevated surface. Box Jumps are a very good tool for increasing vertical power, which when done properly can increase an athlete’s vertical jump. Again, whenever we complete this movement we are always reverting back to our landing/squat position to ingrain those proper force absorbing movement patterns.

Sled Pushing and Pulling. This is by far one of the greatest ways for an athlete to express and build their absolute strength. This will be the primary platform that we utilize in providing a younger athlete with an external load other than their bodyweight. The reason being is that the weight never leaves the floor. Upon fatigue or technique breakdown, the athlete is never in a position of vulnerability or injury as they only bare the weight when they are pushing or pulling it. These are great movements in building strong and stable ankles, knees, hips, torso, and shoulders.

Pushups and Pullups. Finally, these two movements have stood the test of time in strength training for a reason. Similar to the crawling pattern stated above, the pushup teaches the athlete to support their body weight on their hands and press with a stable torso. Moreover, the pull up is another foundational movement as we are going to build shoulder stability by teaching athletes to support their body weight from a hanging position. These are the starting points to building strength through the upper body for an athlete who is going to be supporting their own bodyweight, or in this case someone else’s body weight, with their arms.

Strength and conditioning for cheerleaders is an integral part of both their performance as well as their health and longevity in the sport. Regardless of the sport, our goal is to create resilient athletes who are able to handle the demands of what their sport throws at them. An important takeaway message is to realize that many of the muscular and connective tissue injuries that youth athletes constantly suffer from are those of overload. Their bodies simply were not capable of handling the force or volume placed upon it. These issues are preventable with a well planned progressive training program.

RETURNING FROM INJURY

Fear had very rarely been a term I would have ever used when it came to playing sports. I loved them, had a passion for them; they became a safe haven for me as I got older. Between softball and basketball, I felt fearless while playing – like nothing could touch me. It created a sense of exhilaration that only those who played would truly understand. Hitting a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down or making the crazy, incredible play would have me feeling on top of the world. When I got to play college softball, that feeling was only exaggerated. The feeling of having a crowd of over 1,000 people cheering for you is incredible. Fear would have been the last word in my repertoire in this moment.

Fast-forward to my senior year. I was recovering from my second shoulder surgery with a small likelihood of ever being the same player I was before them.

Fearful was the only word I could think of to describe how I felt.  

For as long as I can remember, I had always been gifted with an exceptional arm. I started as a baseball pitcher and then slowly transferred into the sport of softball, around age 13, where I became a shortstop and catcher. If you ask any coach of mine, they would agree with the statement that I was not gifted with the power of speed (even if I felt like I was). Because of this, I was not always thought to have potential as a shortstop until a coach saw my arm strength. I was able to adapt to my lack of speed with deeper angles because I had the arm strength to make the play deep in the whole. When I got to college, throwing off my back foot or on the run became my staple play as the speed of the game was ridiculous. My arm strength became my safety mechanism.

The First Hurdle

After my shoulder labral repair surgery, I remember looking up the statistics on throwing velocity post surgery (probably not the smartest decision for anyone in this situation). Some of the studies said the athlete would only get 80% of their velocity back. 80 PERCENT! I felt defeated before I even started the rehabilitation process. While in the process of my throwing program, I had a moment of clarity with my assistant coach, Jessica Moore. I had begun the section of throwing a softball from 90 feet and I thought it was going to be the hardest thing in the world – mind you, in order to complete the program I had to throw from 150 feet. It had been so long that I was struggling to understand how far 90 feet was. She set me up like I was throwing down on a steal to second base and I went after the first throw – it flew over her head. Now, for anyone who knows Coach Jess, she is quite sarcastic. I will never forget the stare she gave me with the, “and you were freaking out for what, Boyle?” look. I thought that was it; I thought I had gotten over my major mental hurdle coming back from an injury. Then came February 9th….

February 9th

Game Day. First game back. Emotions are running high with excitement as the season is about to kick off. This team gets to start to define what they are about today. We go through warm-ups and batting practice then go back to the locker room to get ready. Down to the field, we walk and the nerves start to set in. What if my arm gives out again? What if the anchors don’t hold? It’s my senior year. I can’t go through this again.

Luckily, I run into Dr. Lee, our Behavioral Health Coordinator at USF. I have been working with him throughout the entire injury recovery process and at that moment, I knew I was beginning to freak out with fear and needed help to calm down.

“Cassidy, take it pitch by pitch and just breathe. You got this.”

First inning. No ground balls – awesome, we can do this. Second inning – pop up, great we are okay.

Third inning. Ground ball bouncing over the pitcher’s head. Bare-hand, throw on the run. No pop. No pain. The umpire calls out and a smile erupts across my face, my coaches faces, my teammate’s faces. I was back, in Cassidy Boyle fashion. But the true test was still to come. Two more innings pass. Ground ball in the 5-6 hole. Backhand, throw off the back foot. It was the moment we all were worried about; we didn’t know what was about to happen. An absolute cannon across the diamond and the girl is out by a step. WITH NO PAIN. Last out of the inning.

Moments.

There are moments in our career that we never forget. This was one of mine. It was the realization that not only my effort but the help and aid of those around me all paid off. I trotted off the field and was swarmed in a hug by my head coach, Ken Eriksen. My teammates were all around me in excitement because we had just gotten out of a huge inning. Amidst this, I looked into the crowd to find my dad. Grinning ear to ear, with his quivering lip of love and relief, I gave him the thumbs up sign that he always looked for when watching the games the past 4 years. I walk into the dugout, finishing up the high fives, and put my glove down and just took in the moment. I turned around to find my best friend just standing there. We didn’t say anything, just a quick hug with enough understanding that no words were necessary. Fear was no longer in my mind but instead family. These people went through my journey with me. They were there for the good days and the bad ones. They pushed me to get back on the field and made me want to be out there with them again.

You see, I was lucky. I was lucky to be at a University that understands the importance of Student-Athlete Mental Health enough to have a Behavioral Health Coordinator in the department. Lucky enough to have a coaching staff that allowed him, the team doctor, and Sports Medicine Staff in our dugout for moments like February 9th. We are all under the presumption that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. That 90% is way too important not to take care of. Dr. Lee is one of the most influential individuals in our Athletic Department. Without him, this moment may not have occurred. Returning from an injury is almost all mental. The mental battle needs to start during the physical recovery, but it doesn’t stop when we get cleared physically. In fact, that is when that battle revs its engine. It is one thing to practice post injury where you always have in the back of your head that you aren’t ready to go all out yet; it is another thing to play in a game where you are going all out to the point where there is no second thought of “what if.” I am so grateful to have had an individual during my process dedicate a portion of their time specifically to this aspect of injury recovery.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

WHAT COACH JACK IS LEARNING ABOUT THIS WEEK

While we have had the luxury of getting our athletes in the building multiple times per week, many of these athletes are practicing the specific skills of their sport simultaneously in the same week or even in the same day. We generally see two types of back dysfunction that are exposed during movements performed in the weight room.

Extension-Based Back Pain

This is usually a result of an aggravated joint in the lower back. Where this pain is usually exposed is during a Squat or Deadlift where the athlete experiences discomfort while setting their back. These are athletes that we commonly see as slightly lordotic, and therefore when setting their back before a lift tend to overemphasize extension. The athlete experiences pain in this position due to extension sensitivity, yet interestingly enough, these athletes also lack adequate ranges of flexion. What I have found to be a fantastic training tool for athletes like this is utilizing flexion exercises like a segmented rounding over to touch the toes (even with a light load in some of the stronger high level athletes), reverse hyper, or even many of our quadruped crawling drills that emphasize a global rounded position of the spine.

Flexion-Based Back Pain

This is much less common in many of our athletes as it is usually associated with a disk issue. Simply enough, these athletes usually lack sufficient extension capacity. These are athletes that a coach would see having the opposite problem as stated above. They would have difficulty even expressing any form of extension when setting themselves up for a lift. These athletes tend to benefit from extension based exercises. Movements like an active cobra pose, supermans, bird dogs, or even just a straight up back extension.

Some athletes come out of a long season with mild discomfort in the lower back. It’s important for us as the coach, and often times the first point of contact in identifying an athletes pain, to understand when an athlete must be referred out to see a specialist. Overall, I have found this to be a great guideline to prescribe proper exercise that avoids exacerbating dysfunction, and can even help an athlete build strength and range of motion in areas that they may be deficient.

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