Helping Young Athletes Reach Their Full Athletic Potential

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)

When looking at the most effective way of training young pitchers, we need to project out 3-4 years (or more), and consider the “long-term athletic development” (LTAD) of the athlete.

What is Long-term athletic development (LTAD)?

LTAD is a training program based on the biological age (the maturation level of an athlete), as well as the chronological age. It is athlete-, program- and most importantly coach-driven. Athletes who progress through a LTAD program experience training in programs that consider their biological and training ages through periodized plans specific to their developmental and sport-specific needs.  When planning out a pitcher’s LTAD, we need to focus on 4 big parameters:

    • Age, Size and Maturity
    • Arm Care
    • Strength
    • Mechanics / Throwing Program

Let’s look at each category, cleverly referred to by PT Mike Reinold as “buckets”, one-by-one.

Bucket 1 – Age, Size and Maturity

For every inch a young athlete grows, he gains approximately 1.5 mph in velo (up to a certain point).  What to do: Get older and bigger. This involves a proper nutrition program designed to gain Lean Muscle Mass. Increasing muscle size is directly related to how much force can be applied and how quickly. In other words, nothing will be a bigger deal breaker for throwing harder than getting stronger by putting on more muscle!  As a result, we often get highly motivated athletes coming into RPP asking if they can gain that 5-10 lbs. of lean muscle during the off-season. Our simple answer? Yes.  But, it’s all about nutrition and intake. If you want to know where you stand with respect to your lean muscle mass, here’s a great reference for average weight ranges among young, high level pitchers based on height (courtesy of Graeme Lehman):

If you’re not within 10-20 lbs. of the minimum end of the above range for your height, you need to get in the gym and also take part in a nutrition plan to put on weight. To read more on this topic please click here.

“While such factors as height and limb length are primarily genetic and out of your control, putting on lean muscle mass is in your control and one of the easiest qualities to improve.”

Bucket 2 – Arm Care

Throwing makes you tight and tired.  What to do: Get into a great progressive arm care program that includes:

A Complete Movement Assessment – Any significant physical constraints that may negatively affect the athlete’s “movement strategy”, such as pain or extreme tightness, should be addressed prior to the start an arm care / throwing program.

Cuff Activation and Mobility – The importance here is that we ensure that each of the individual rotator cuff muscles are strong enough independently so that they can help contribute to overall shoulder health.

Dynamic Cuff Stability – As a baseball player, you need the rotator cuff to dynamically stabilize the head of the humerus (arm) so that it stays in the glenoid fossa (socket). Not only do we need them to stabilize the humeral head, we need them to work on how quickly they do it. The bottom line is, even if you have strong cuff musculature, if they fire slowly, your arm is still going to impinge

(Band Distractions w/ Perturbations)

“There’s a time and a place for everything. After a long season, clean yourself up rather than immediately entering into a velocity program!!”

Bucket 3 – Strength

There should be three areas of long-term focus a) Lower Body – Produces Power, b) Core -Transfers power and c) Upper Body and Arm – dissipates force and delivers.  What to do: Get into a great strength program that addresses:

    • Lower Body Strength and Power
    • Core strength and stability
    • Linear and Rotational Power (Hip/Shoulder Separation)
    • Total Athleticism – Dissipation and re-direction of force (Plyometrics/speed)

The following chart provides a summary of how long term development should unfold from season-to-season.

Ages 13-16 – This is the stage at which young athletes are physiologically the most responsive to stimuli and training.  At this age, we should be focusing on the training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed, hypertrophy and power development. They need to learn proper technique on the basic lifts (squats, deadlifts, pushes, and pulls first) and only then is it appropriate to move on to power, speed & agility skills.

These athletes will train in every phase of the strength speed continuum (please click here) at the same time. This will help us produce a more “multi-faceted” athlete from an overall development standpoint later down the road as we get more specific to the sport being prioritized.

“The real art here is giving the athletes what they want, as well as what they actually need.”

Ages 16-18 – We implement skill training more specific to the sport only after the athlete has achieved success in all of the foundational movement skills. Because of the competitive nature at this age, training is intensified so high-volume and high-intensity training begins to occur year-round. We recommend 3-5 days/week to give athletes the best chance to succeed at the highest levels. They don’t need to be peaked for any individual event. Rather, they need to be ready to perform for periods of greater than half the calendar year. Our high school ball players, are playing around 40-50 or more games.

Note: As the off-season progresses, a pitcher’s throwing program begins to become the primary focus of his training. Scaling back the volume of his strength training program is paramount to avoid over training once throwing begins.

Bucket 4 – Mechanics/Throwing Program

What to do: Work on mechanics and develop a “year-round” throwing schedule.  Program should address both mechanics as well as incorporating them into a total throwing program/ schedule (incorporating both throwing AND time off).  Bucket 4 can be viewed in three components: a) delivery and mechanics, b) the point of release and c) a well thought-out throwing program.

Mechanics – Here is a summary biomechanics of velo:

    • Lower half engagement
    • Hip/Shoulder separation
    • Stride Length
    • Glove side integrity
    • Finish (decel)

Point of Release (Rapsodo) – Not long ago, I heard someone say that “data talks to you”. Well, it’s true.  It does. You just have to listen and know how to apply it and put it to work.  The introduction of devices like the Rapsodo (read blogs here) and the related data analytics are bringing a new and important focus to what we refer to as the “point of release”. Here, RPP pitching coach Robbie Aviles explains how incorporating data analytics info such as a ball’s spin rate can help create a more effective pitcher.

(Rapsodo)

“There is a little bit of battle between the art, and the science of baseball…in my opinion you need to have both…”

Throwing Program – The following is a sample year-round throwing schedule (8 months/year with 3-4 months off):

    • December 14th – March 1st – Bullpens
    • March 1st – June 1st – School Season
    • June 1st – August 1st – Summer Ball / Velo Program
    • August 1st – December 14th – Off-Season

Note: Fall Ball, low-volume fielding positions and light catch do not count as “Throwing”.

“A throwing program should not be the sole source of attaining velo, we need the other 3 buckets as well”

Summary

Trainers and coaches NEED to educate themselves with respect to working with kids during the sensitive periods of puberty and thinking of their development as a “long-term” process.  Remember, you’re not training adults, that’s a completely different animal all together!  The bottom line is be passionate about what you do; a young athlete will smell it on you. This will allow you to get much better “buy-in” from them.  So, with all that let’s not forget the key pieces to the LTAD puzzle:

    • Maximize Buckets
    • Good Nutritional Program
    • Reduce Stress (arm care, manual therapy)
    • Maximize Potential / Athleticism (strength training)
    • Increase Efficiency / Monitor Volume (mechanics / throwing program)

DON’T TAKE SHORTCUTS…

See ya’ in the gym…

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