As many of you know, senior pitcher Sean Hard and his high school team St. Joe’s (Montvale, NJ) recently won the New Jersey State Non-Public A Group Tournament. They actually won their league, county, sectional and ultimately the state championship, all in the same year. Sean’s record for the season as a pitcher was 8-0, 50.2 IP, 87 K, 2 R, 0.62 WHIP, 0.36 ERA. He topped out at 95 mph at the final game of the year. There are a lot of things Sean has done right during his development and it’s important to highlight how he got here, as no one has worked harder at this craft than this young man.
Long Term Athletic Development
Sean started his training at RPP in November 2015 and there is no better example of long-term athletic development (LTAD) for a young athlete.
Parents can play an extremely important role in this process and long-term development is truly a long-term process. Starting at an early age (preferably 13-14) and committing to a strength training program early should be at the top of every athlete’s priority list. When planning out a pitcher’s LTAD, you need to focus on several parameters and make sure ALL the buckets are being filled, as all are equally important:
- Age, Size and Maturity
- Arm Care
- Strength / Mobility
- Mechanics / Throwing Program
This is what the development process should look like as a young athlete progresses through his developmental years.
How do you do this? Let’s go through some of the important parameters in this process.
Managing a “Controlled Fall”
We’ve written often about the values of off-season strength training for young athletes. But equally relevant and important is training during the spring, summer and fall seasons when they’re actually playing the game. We refer to this as “in-season” training and for many this is a foreign concept… not quite sure why!
We all know physical gains begin to break down and dissipate when we stop going to the gym. It’s really no different for young athletes. If you’re aspiring to be at the top of the game, in-season training is a must. It allows you to maintain plateaus on an annual basis (similar to the chart above), while playing and then advancing to the next stage of development.
If you’ve been involved in a successful off-season program, you owe it to yourself to continue with an effective in-season baseball lift. Part of a great LTAD program is managing training residuals or the “controlled fall” that happens when there are longer breaks (more than 3 weeks) of specific strength training. Once the athlete’s power output drops down to 80% of capacity (or where he started at the beginning of the off-season), compensations begin to take place up the chain in order to maintain overall performance (image below courtesy of Mike Reinold).
Sean trains all year and he’s been doing so for at least 3 years. Beginning in September, which we consider the start of the off-season, through the winter, spring, and summer, he has consistently trained year-round, which brings us to our next topic.
If there is one thing that separates the best from the others, it’s consistency. It doesn’t mean that you’re training 5x per week, 52 weeks a year. It means that you understand that training regularly is a must, and it should be a part of your approach and psyche. Does this mean you never miss a week or two? No, it does not. Everyone needs a break at some point or other, both mental and physical.
A quick summary on training residuals demonstrates the value of consistency. Training residuals represent the length of time a specific adaptation stays with the athlete once the training stimulus is removed (normally when tryouts begin in the spring). The table below shows the training residual time frame of specific adaptations (Issurin 2008), or, in other words, how long a particular adaptation stays with the athlete once training drops off.
Note that the first two adaptive qualities, aerobic strength / endurance, and maximal strength, last longer once training stops. As a result, they do not need to be trained as frequently as other traits such as power and power endurance. If you want to throw hard and go deep in innings and also do this late in the season (August-October), you need to know that power and power endurance losses begin after 18 days (+/- 5 days). If you’d like to maintain your power on the mound, you need to work at it to maintain it.
Getting assessed should be, actually must be, a regular part of your long-term development. Evaluating how your body is growing, adjusting, changing, and knowing your strength and weaknesses are extremely important to any long-term plan. The assessment categories listed below focus on the basic attributes that allows pitchers and baseball players perform at the highest levels. They are baseball-specific in nature and cover four distinct areas of an athlete’s overall condition:
- Overall Physicality
- Weight / Height Ratio
- Body Fat
- T-spine Rotation
- Shoulder (Strength / Stability)
- Shoulder (Dynamic Movement)
- Shoulder (Range of Motion)
- Lower Half (Mobility / Rotation)
- Posture / Core Control
- Strength and Power
- Lower Body
- Upper Body (Proteus Motion, beginning summer 2021)
- Overall Physicality
Getting assessed twice or more a year is a must. The body is constantly growing and adjusting to the stresses placed on it. As the outline above suggests, it should be noted that it’s not all about strength, it’s also about mobility. Strength without the appropriate amount of mobility can be detrimental. Hip, t-spine mobility, and shoulder mobility are topics that need to be evaluated and addressed to make sure you can throw with command (yes, command!), throw with gas and avoid injury.
A few years ago, we began measuring power production in the lower half and incorporating the data into our training programs. Sean’s image up above (freshman vs. senior years) says it all, but here is the data behind it. He’s 3 inches taller, 45 lbs. heavier, while maintaining his LBM% at an optimal level at 14%. Net result, his power production is up nearly 60-70%.
Gaining weight can be a difficult topic for many young athletes. Their metabolism is so fast that consuming enough calories to add muscle mass can be a challenge, especially when lifting weights and playing all the time. We have often written and talked about this and it’s important to understand that increasing lean body mass (LBM) has two different benefits.
The first one is obvious. It’s pretty much why every athlete lifts. Strength generally allows you to do things better, such as throw harder. But the second is equally important, which is the body’s ability to absorb and handle the stress placed on it. You really don’t want to throw harder without allowing your musculature to be able absorb the additional stress placed on it. At 6’5”, if you’re throwing 95 mph as, you’re better off with 210 lbs. and 14% LBM. It’s just a fact. Here’s a quick summary of Sean’s development since 2018.
Off-season is a great time to add additional lean body muscle mass. Make sure to take part in a nutrition plan designed for athletes.
Pitch Design and Development
Technology is obviously changing the game and the training behind it. Back in 2019, we evaluated Sean’s pitch movement patterns and saw an opportunity for him to develop a Change-up. Sean’s movement pattern was already advanced for a player at this age. But adding a change-up gave him an additional pitch in the mix. Working with Rapsodo in our Pitch Design program, Sean developed a highly differentiated change-up from his fastball.
Recovery After Outings or Bullpens
We’ve often written about recovery and its importance in overall performance and overall physical resilience. Let’s put it this way, recovery is huge and should be taken seriously. A comprehensive arm care program for pitchers should be a part of every athlete’s routine. Although most pitchers think of the warm-up when it comes to arm care, a post pitching arm care routine and recovery protocol is just as important. Too many young athletes don’t take this seriously.
Not Sean. He’s a regular in the gym after he pitches. He understands the value of recovery and how it applies to his performance and success on the mound.
The desire to excel clearly has to come from within and Sean’s commitment is beyond reproach. He’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. Here he is as a Freshman and as a Senior. Any doubts about his commitment?
Training young athletes is not without its challenges, from lack of commitment to those looking for a quick fix, there is no shortage of those that fall off the plan. Our advice… find a program you trust at an early age and stick with it. Success isn’t a straight line. It has its twists and turns. But, if you’ve done your homework and believe in the process you’ve selected, then stick with it.
IT WILL PAY OFF!
Congratulations Sean. Well done!
See ya’ in the gym…
By Nunzio Signore and Bahram Shirazi (Owners at RPP Baseball)
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