Today, I decided to get together with Dr. Ismael Gallo, DPT, the founder of the Baseball Flows™ App. As a former professional baseball player turned Doctor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Gallo specializes in effectively bridging the gap between the movements in-gym to the specific movements essential for on-field excellence.
Many young ball players face a common hurdle. They lack the athleticism to play defense at a high level. In order to field a ground ball or charge a bunt efficiently, movements need to be fluid and this requires what is known as agility. And, when it comes to fielding a ground ball, agility involves making these rapid movements mentioned above in constantly changing, unpredictable environments.
So, what exactly IS agility?
Agility, in sport, is defined as ‘‘a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus’’ (Sheppard, 2005). This is also known as “reactive ability” and is a complex motor skill comprised of three KEY athletic qualities:
- Physical Ability
- Technical Ability
- Cognitive Ability
Today Dr. Gallo and I will break these three qualities down.
1. Physical Ability
Strength gains are attained in the weight room, not inside the nets or on the baseball field.
As an adolescent athlete grows, his center of gravity moves further away from the ground and their core. This is generally why we see clumsiness in youth during their growth spurts both on and off the field. In this case, a good dose of strength training starting, at an early age (13-14), can go a long way with respect to maintaining the center of gravity and ultimately creating a better base of support.
This can be thought of as “building the foundation” or “step one” in making young athletes better at getting in and out of low positions. This involves not only full body strength but mobility and reactive strength (plyometric ability) as well.
Every athlete needs to learn how to hinge, squat, press, pull and also work on ALL aspects of core strength (anterior, rotational and lateral stability). On the mobility side, we are looking for scapular upward rotation, t-spine mobility, and hip mobility, all to an extent (we don’t want too much mobility, this can then become instability).
So, without a good base of the necessary physical attributes, the next two qualities become all that much harder to execute.
Cable Row w/ Rotation
2. Technical Ability
What is technique?
In the world of fielding baseballs, technique refers to an athlete’s skill in performing a series of well-coordinated movements with efficient mechanics, helping them to move with fluidity and more efficiently through global movement patterns. This includes things like body positioning, glove usage, footwork, and overall coordination when receiving and controlling the ball on the ground. This helps produce a smooth and controlled motion, allowing them to make accurate throws or transitions with agility and precision.
The heart of “technique” lies in mastering.
Spending countless hours training players by hitting and rolling ground balls to them may work for some with more elite movement patterns, but for most younger athletes, this can be a struggle to grasp due to the lack of strength and coordinated athleticism needed for both high-level and routine plays.
Picture this… there are over 600 muscles and 300 joints in the human body. Now, imagine trying to control each one perfectly to field a ground ball. By enhancing a player’s global movement patterns, we can naturally improve their fielding technique.
We find that most younger athletes lack fundamental global movement patterns like coordinated rolling, crawling, walking, running, etc., which are ingrained in our nervous system early in childhood. Those with the most deficiencies in technical ability had an underlying movement skill deficit, leading to poor movement flow. By training global movement patterns, these players can hone their fielding skills, helping them to produce clean and seamless transitions (Flow) from the ground to the throw. See examples in the video below…
Much of this is covered in our speed training and through the use of Dr. Gallo’s “Baseball Flows”. Which involve learning proper landing mechanics, proper foot / ankle and hip placement to efficiently accelerate and decelerate, and putting them all together into one fluid movement (neuro-muscular patterning)… as in “agility”.
Remember, agility in sport is defined as ‘‘a rapid whole-body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus’ (Sheppard, 2005). Agility finds its foundation in mastering global movement patterns, a key element for success on the baseball field.
3. Cognitive Ability
This is the ability to process situations visually, quickly decide what to do and the ability to learn and memorize fielding and throwing mechanics. As your eyes follow the baseball, your brain starts processing potential movement solutions for the challenge at hand. Think of your brain as a super smartphone, processing vast amounts of data in a split second. If a player encounters limitations in physical, cognitive, and technical capabilities (apps), it narrows their options, leading to ineffective movement solutions.
This often results in an unnatural and uncoordinated attempt to make the play. The exciting news is that, just like upgrading your phone, this aspect is trainable, presenting significant potential for improvement.
This is developed mostly through repetition with different types of stimuli. Mental and visual processing is mostly controlled by the brain or “the central governor” and this is where the “10,000 hours” of practice comes in.
As with anything in life, success is a combination of multiple assets. In a movement such as fielding a ground ball, agility is the key component. This requires Strength, Cognitive and Technical ability and can help distinguish between a higher and lower level a young athlete. It’s crucial to train all three components first separately and ultimately weaved all together as we get closer to the season.
By Nunzio Signore (RPP Baseball) and Dr. Ismael Gallo (Baseball Flows™ App)
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