At least once per week we have an athlete come in who is struggling from the effects of a practice, training session, or lifting session that they have done elsewhere and under another coach’s guidance. We have athletes from more than 20 high schools, nearly a dozen colleges, and several middle schools, many of whom are currently playing or in pre-season preparation for their sport. We have a few high school baseball players who also play football. This almost always means that we have to deal with the football lifting program at their high school, and its impact on how our athletes are able to move and perform.
In the typical 2 hour blocks while baseball athletes are at our facility, they will work on the skill of throwing a baseball and then go through a full-body lift before leaving. Our lifting sessions have the sole intention of improving the skill (in this case throwing a baseball) while possibly improving velocity and reducing risk to the athlete. This might mean general strength training or it could mean special exercises for our more advanced athletes. If our pitching staff sees something that may need some work, they bring it to our attention and we work to find an exercise, movement, cue, etc. that helps resolve that issue. Sometimes, there’s a bigger problem.
One of our athletes came in this week on Wednesday to throw a little, have his workout, and prepare for pitching in a travel ball game on Friday. This young man happens to live more than an hour from our facility and as such is only able to make it once per week. He also happens to play football at his high school. I noticed that he wasn’t throwing and was just kinda hanging out; almost looking for something to do. I asked him how he was doing and he told me that his pecs were too sore for him to throw.
Me – “Why are your pecs so sore?”
T – “We had lifting for football on Monday and our coach had us bench. Sets of 10, 8, 8, 6, 4. I’m so sore that it hurts to try to throw, so I don’t know what to do. I’m scheduled to pitch on Friday.”
Me – After an internal scream… “Man, that sucks, but let’s see if we can’t get you feeling better.”
We guided him through some soft tissue work and some mobility for his shoulder and had him alter his training session some to help alleviate the tissue damage that had been inflicted on him at the football lift in hopes that he would be good to go in less than 48 hours. It was essentially lots of movement to promote blood flow and healing. I gave him some nutritional tips and told him to take a contrast shower before bed – alternating hot and cold water for several minutes each – and to let me know how he felt the next day.
Thursday he sent me this, “Cold water treatment last night was great, this morning woke up feeling great.”
Now, I’m happy that the work we did and the advice we gave him worked, (at least 18 hours later) but I’m frustrated with the position we are continually forced in to by coaches who don’t quite have a grasp of what the hell they’re doing. Given that there were no spring sports, no spring practices, no spring lifting sessions, etc. due to Covid-19, coaches should be a little more aware that athletes are not going to be physically prepared for everything they want them to do. By having the team lift in this fashion, the coach essentially overdosed the kids on volume with no regard for the consequences. Sad thing is, the coach knows this particular athlete is playing summer ball and knows he’s a pitcher.
However, we have to think of the consequences. Every exercise we choose, every lifting session we coordinate, we have a ‘WHY’. Why this exercise? Why this rep scheme? Why this tempo? Why sprint this distance? Once we were able to resume training June 1st, we implemented a different training program that we had never used before. Why? Because athletes needed a training plan that considered the fact that they didn’t play any club soccer, high school baseball, or high school softball, most didn’t have a place to lift, and a plan that would allow them to focus on the development of skills needed to practice and play their sport. If we crippled them with exhausting lifting so they couldn’t sit down, run, or wash their hair without pain, how have we helped them?
I’m not naive to think that this particular coach or any other coach is going to change their methods because of this post. It’s an ‘old school mentality’ that is perpetuated by the simple fact that the human body is incredibly resilient to all the dumb things we do to it. Yes the body can adapt, but it takes time. I wonder if I took his star running back from the football team and ran him in to the ground with a training session a couple days before the big game if the coach would then understand his transgressions?
The moral of the story is that as coaches, we have a duty to do what’s in the best interest of the athlete. Both in the short term and the long term. If we do that, then we also accomplish the task of doing what’s in the best interest of the team. Athletes will do damn near anything we ask of them, and we have to respect their willingness to please but also respect the near blind trust they have in us to do what’s in their best interest.