Off Season Workout (Part 2)

Below is Part Two of Alan Jaeger’s Off Season Workout. If you missed Part One, click here.

Long Tossing Indoors (into a net if necessary)

Where surgical tubing can help make a significant difference in your ability to both properly warm up and condition the arm without picking up a baseball, getting distance (Long Toss), even in a restricted space, is crucial. Though it may seem very limiting if the length of your facility is no longer than 120 feet the reality is that with a little patience and creativity (and an indoor net), there are ways to get the necessary distance that the arm so desperately needs during this 3-5 month indoor period (as you will see, you can actually throw the ball as far as you want on any given day).

Here’s how it’s done:

Assuming you’ve done a very thorough Arm Care/Surgical Tubing warm up, use the first 5 minutes to have your players play normal catch as if they were outdoors (the first 5 minutes of warm up should come pretty quickly due to the increased work load with the surgical tubing). I would assume that if your players are in good shape they will get out to 120 feet in 6-8 minutes. Once they’ve hit the wall of the indoor facility (ie 120 feet), they can stay there as long as they desire, especially if that’s all the distance they want on that given day (ie they bull-penned the day before). But if it’s a Long Toss day, they should come back in to a net (again, this is assuming you have an indoor batting cage/net) and finish their throwing program the following way: Just as you would expect with regular Long Toss, the more stretched out your arm feels the farther you are going to throw the ball, and the more your going to need to raise your angle. Therefore, as your arm gets looser, keep aiming slightly higher on the net as if you are simulating the same angle as if you were throwing outdoors.

For example, at 60 feet, there is no real angle yet, but as you “move back” in theory every ten feet, your might move your target up one degree or so ( a few inches). That would suggest that after you “moved back” to 100 more feet, your new focal point is raised up to about 10 degrees on the net. Thus, if you were able to throw outdoors as far as 300 feet, your angle up should be approximately 30-35 degrees. Naturally, distance and angle may vary from player to player but the bottom line is that in time, you’ll start to know how high to aim, depending on “how far out you would have gone outdoors”, and how many throws you need to make at each increment. The idea is pretty simple — the more stretched out your arm becomes the more you raise your focal point. As you take your arm through the same motions as if you were long tossing outdoors you will begin to notice that you are getting the same sensation you’re accustomed to feeling at 120 feet, 200 feet, 240 feet and 300 feet. If you are someone who is already intimate with your arm these sensations should come pretty quickly.

Once you get to your desired distance and feel completely stretched out, it is time for the “pull down” or downhill phase of Long Toss (if that is what your workload is that day). This is the time when you would normally come “back in towards” your throwing partner if you were outdoors. So, to simulate this pull down phase into the net imagine that you were coming in toward your partner in 10 foot increments with each passing throw (so it would take you 24 throws, or 240 feet, to go from 300 feet to 60 feet). With each throw, simply lower your focal point on the net by one degree or so, and keep lowering this focal point until you are back to 60 feet. Once back at 60 feet, you may begin to notice that in order to maintain your furthest throw that day (e.g. 250 + feet) you actually have to aim lower than chest height to keep the ball on a line. This is because you are compressing a great deal of distance (250 + feet) into a very short space (60-65 feet). Another way of saying this is to aim 20-30 degrees downhill (your partners waist) and make sure you are maintaining your furthest throw (by not decelerating) and the ball should end up no higher than chest height or so. This lower focal point will teach the body (mind) how to be explosive downhill and how to not decelerate. And if you’re a pitcher, and you want to work on getting even more leverage out in front, simply lower your focal point down to your throwing partners shins or toes (see jaegersports.com/articles) and see if you can get it to where the ball is ending up at knee height. Again, it all comes down to lowering your focal point and not decelerating in order to maximize the compression of your furthest throw into your shortest throw; to be in the best position possible to have optimal leverage downhill with explosiveness. If you are a position player you can aim a at your partners belt line (which should equate to the ball ending up at your partners chest if done correctly).

Note: once you come back to approximately 120 feet with your pull downs into the net, it would be ideal to go back out with your throwing partner to the 120 foot range in the gym and finish your pull down phase back in to 60 feet with your partner. Naturally, throwing the ball to someone rather than into the net will give you more realistic feedback.

By the end of your pull downs, you will have taken your arm through the same Long Toss throwing routine as if you were outdoors, without any height or distance restrictions. In essence, what the arm needs is full range of motion uphill and downhill just as if it had been throwing outdoors without any restrictions. This ability to “stretch” the arm out thoroughly, and “pull down” aggressively through a well prepared arm is what allows the arm to best condition — it’s what allows the arm to evolve, rather than regress indoors.

A Smoother Transition into the Spring

What you do during the time you are forced indoors is not only crucial to the development and maintenance of a players arm, but also, to allowing pitchers/players to make a smooth transition into the Spring when they do go outdoors. Remember, when players get outdoors after being indoors for months they are often excited and in a “hurry” to get going. If their base was not maintained and strengthened well indoors you may have a lot of players vulnerable to breaking down simply because they have gone from 1st gear to 5th gear in a couple of days. When a pitcher/player rushes into shape the first thing that tends to suffer is recovery period, which is also a sign of poor conditioning (poor recovery period is a sign that the arm is heading into a precarious position). In either case, players who didn’t do the proper work to condition and maintain the health, strength and endurance of their arm indoors are very vulnerable to not only losing arm strength, but to breaking down.

In Summary

Conditioning the arm indoors through the Fall/Winter months is imperative. Emphasizing Surgical Tubing/Arm Care exercises is Step 1.…Step 2 is Long Toss. Though it may seem difficult to throw 300 feet into a 120 foot space it can be done. Put rather bluntly, there is no substitution for distance throwing (Long Toss) — it, along with Surgical Tubing exercises, is the most important factor in the development and maintenance of a players arm throughout the Fall/Winter months, and to best ensure a safe transition period into the Spring. Again, it’s all about making the time and being creative. Now that you are aware that there is a way to condition and develop your players arms thoroughly, despite the “limits“ of being forced indoors for a rather significant period of time, you can do something about it.

Alan Jaeger has consulted with several high school/college programs including UCLA, Arizona and Cal State Fullerton, and MLB Organizations including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians.  For more information about Jaeger Sports and their products (“Thrive On Throwing 2” DVD or Digital Download, J-Bands and Mental Training Book, “Getting Focused, Staying Focused”), please visit their website at www.jaegersports.com or call 310-665-0746.  You may also download additional articles/videos at http://www.jaegersports.com/press_articles.php/, and Youtube, keyword jaeger sports.  Twitter: @jaegersports

Things My Mother Never Said to Me (Part 1)

By Tony Earp, Director SuperKick Columbus

I truly believe nobody accomplishes anything on their own. Success is a combination of individual effort and surrounding yourself with the right people who will influence your life in the correct way. I was fortunate enough to have a mom who loved me dearly and would do anything necessary to make sure I had the best chance to be successful. As a kid, my success on and off the soccer field was a direct result of a lot of hard work (because I am not overly gifted in any capacity), and the discipline instilled in me by my mom in every aspect of my life.

My mom would often say to me, “You can only control what you do.” With this in mind, she rarely ever allowed me to blame other people or look anywhere but internally on the reason for, or the result of, my actions. This is a tough thing to stick by because there are a lot of times in life that you do everything you are suppose to and things do not work out the way we want. It is usually at those times we look for external reasons for “why” and will point blame to a person, group, or organization. My mom would never allow me to do that. She always refocused me to learn from the experience and work harder the next time around.

It may have been different times when I was a kid, and I will never tell a parent how to raise a child or to not step in when their child is being treated unfairly. All parents have the urge to protect their child and want their child to have the best opportunities to be successful. But when do parents step in too much? Even with the best intentions, by parents protecting their kids from negative situations, they can create situations for their kids that actually will have long-term negative effects. On the surface, it looks like the right thing to do, and may have a short-term benefit, but will have negative effects on the child moving forward.

As a soccer coach, I hear a lot of things said by parents to me or their kids that my mom never said to me growing up. I attribute my success on the field to my mom avoiding these comments and not allowing me to make excuses or justify disappointment in the wrong way. By avoiding the comments below, my mom forced me to always focus internally and never make excuses for myself or others. My high school team won 3 state championships, I received a full scholarship to play at Ohio State University, I was a four year starter for the Buckeyes, and captain my senior year. I am convinced the only reason I made it to that level and had success, not being overly athletic or talented, is my mom forced me to take responsibility for everything that happened to me on and off the field. Her most common advice to me was, “work harder next time.” The sentiment stuck.

Below is a sample of comments I hear all the time. As a coach, I cringe every time I hear them. Maybe because I never heard them growing up from my mom.

“My child is not being challenged enough.”

My mom never said this to a coach when I was growing up. If I ever came home from a training session and said, “Practice was easy today,” my mom would reply, “Then, you did not work hard enough.”

She did not even humor the idea that maybe I was not being pushed hard enough by the coach or the coach was making me do training activities that were “below my level of play.” Her immediate reaction was to let me know that how hard I worked was completely under my control. If I felt practice was easy, I just did not put forth enough effort. Case closed.

Am I taking the coach completely off the hook, absolutely not! It is critical for coaches to try to challenge every player and push them to excel. But being challenged is more internal than it is external. For example, if an athlete is asked to run a mile, it may not be a challenging distance for the athlete. The player may be in great shape so a mile run is not challenging at all (on the surface). If the player wanted the mile to be challenging, all the player would need to do is try to run the mile as fast as possible, maybe try to break his/her record, or to put it simply, the player would make the choice to make the activity challenging.

My point is players can control how challenging any activity or environment can be for them. Playing with more skilled or less skilled players, doing complicated or simple training activities, or the duration of activity are not the only reasons something is challenging.

Many parents reaction to a child indicating they are not being challenged it to search out other types of training or a higher level team. I am not saying this is not a good idea at times, but at times it is a quick fix to a deeper issue that goes unaddressed. The child does not put forth the effort required and the reason for that is being put on everyone else but the child. In time, this will hurt the kid’s ability to continue to develop down the road. Anytime a situation is not “ideal” for the player, the excuse of “I am not being challenged enough” will be an acceptable reason for their lack of success and effort.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

The Incredibly Massive Importance of Play (Part 2)

By John O’Sullivan

One of the greatest differences between adults and children is that adults are goal oriented, and children are focused on immediate pleasure. Adults see everything as leading toward something in the future – the big picture if you will – and thus tend to look at everything we do not simply for “how does this serve me now” but “how will this serve me in the future.” As a result, we tend to look at play, with its focus on immediate gratification instead of long term goals, as a waste of time, and an obstacle to long term growth. It might be getting in the way of things we want for our children in the future, so we tolerate it only to a point.

As a result, we look down upon coaches who roll a ball out and say “go play.” We get angry when our soccer coach sits quietly on the bench, letting the kids work through their own problems, all bunched up in a giant blob, making mistakes without fear of repercussions and public correction, and playing a game that looks nothing like the adult version we see on TV.

We get upset that our coach does not teach kids positions, when in reality they do not possess the ability to understand a position until they understand positioning (do I need to provide, depth, width, close support, etc.). In other words, we have a long term goal in mind, and we want to get our kids to that goal as quickly and efficiently as possible. Clearly by sitting there and not fixing the problem, our coach is delaying their development, right?

Wrong. The coach is doing it right. He is fostering development by helping them learn, and guiding their discovery of the answers rather than providing the answers. He gives them ideas in practice, but then lets them develop skill, creativity and critical thinking during the game. Everything that intuitively feels like inhibiting development is actually promoting it.

Yet many parents and coaches do not realize this.

As a result, we want them to practice, and not play.

We feel compelled to tell them where to be and what to do, instead of guide them to find the answers on their own.

We believe that if we help them acquire enough skill first, then they will fall in love with the game and be intrinsically motivated to pursue it to a higher level.

We measure development through the outcome of games, because outcomes are how we measure success in the adult world.

In the end, we take away play, and substitute work, believing that is the path to performance.

We are wrong!

Show me a list of the best players in any team sport where creativity is valued, such as soccer, hockey or basketball, and the vast majority of them, if not all of them, will have a background filled with a lot more play than practice prior to the age of 12. For some it is play in one sport, and others it is multi-sport participation. The common denominator is an early focus on enjoyment and fearless competition, rather than results and advancement. Top athletes played sports, and have a higher level of intrinsic motivation and autonomy than their fellow competitors who go down the early practice route.

Hopefully, we all want our athletes to develop the ownership, motivation and enjoyment to pursue a sport long term, not only as an participant, but as a fan, a coach, and a lifelong passionate supporter of the game. It is very hard to put aside our adult values, to ignore the great futures we see for our athletes and/or our kids, and instead allow them to focus on the present. It is difficult to put aside the perspective we have gained over the years, which tells us that the only things we regret are the things we did not do, that talent we did not develop, the sport we chose not to pursue.

We do not want our kids to make the same mistakes. That is a great thing.

An even better thing you can do is to realize that the way to help them avoid those mistakes is not to force them onto the path that in hindsight we wish we had taken, but to give them the tools to find that path themselves.

And the best way to do that is to let them PLAY!

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”

Dwyane Wade plays basketball with Grandma Nelly

Here is a sweet, brief video that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, whether or not you are a fan of Dwyane Wade and/or the Miami Heat. Check out her video message to him at the beginning and his heartfelt comments at the end, when he says “This is real. This is giving me life. This is what it is all about.” Amen.

High school cross-country heroics

A North Dakota teen from Devil’s Lake, Melanie Bailey, carries an injured competitor across the finish line in a high school cross-country race. Here is a video of the story courtesy of CNN.com.

What we stand to lose in our obsession to win

We’ve told you about TrueSport before but it bears repeating. TrueSport is a movement powered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that seeks to ensure a positive youth sport experience by imparting the lessons of clean competition, sportsmanship, and peak performance. We recommend reading their report which details some of the challenges facing our sports culture and offers solutions to make it more healthy.

Happy Birthday, AYSO!

The LA Times’ Chris Erskine, (one of our favorites) has written another terrific piece about the humble beginnings of what has turned out to be among the greatest youth sports organizations in the country, the American Youth Soccer Organization, (AYSO), which began in Erskine’s backyard of Torrance, CA. If you’ve ever had a kid play AYSO or are interested in soccer in any way, you’ll want to read this article.

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