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A New Reason Why Youth Athletes Shouldn’t Specialize Early

It is well-documented that young athletes should not be specializing early in any one sport. Baseball is an often-cited culprit, as the repetitive stresses of throwing accumulate much faster with players who specialize and only play baseball. These players end up playing most of the year, never giving their body the rest it needs nor the unique stresses and stimuli that other sports can provide.

…but we know all this, right? It’s well-documented that early-specialization in baseball is a major risk factor for throwing injuries. Rather than re-hash this, today we’re going to draw on the wisdom of coach and educator Paul Reddick, in what he says is a critical, but often-overlooked reason that young athletes – not just baseball players – should be playing multiple sports.

 

Sports Help Young People Grow Emotionally and Socially

Sports offer numerous life-lessons and growth opportunities, including the following:

  • Meeting new people
  • Working as a team
  • Interacting with others in a stressful environment
  • Dealing with adversity
  • Dealing with failure
  • Dealing graciously with success
  • Helping, teaching and mentoring others
  • Accepting that luck, unfairness and inequity are parts of life
  • Learning physical limits
  • Learning mental and physical toughness
  • Much, much more

But specifically, from Paul Reddick’s point of view, let’s discuss some major reasons young athletes should not specialize early.

 

Reason #1: Missed Opportunities to Make Friends

Paul explains in his video how he met a lifelong friend through a sport that he was – quite plainly – bad at.

If players only stay in their most successful lane, limiting the pool of social exposure to other athletes, they’re limiting the amount of positive interactions and potential friendships they can develop.

Takeaway: Kids may be missing out on amazing friendships they might develop when exposed to new people and experiences.

 

Reason #2: Learn to Play Different Roles Within a Team

We’re not talking about shortstop versus third base. Rather, Paul rightly argues that young athletes should be put in situations where they can be both successful and unsuccessful. This forces them to adjust their mindset as they learn to play supporting roles on teams. These roles can help young athletes better understand team dynamics and how even star players can contribute in unique ways.

In business, relationships, and sports there are all sorts of roles that people play to make sure overall goals are met and harmony is achieved. Players don’t learn this when they’re allowed to only play when they can be the star. Kids need to learn

Takeaway: Kids should learn to support others and the team from different perspectives. This helps them understand how to not be the star in an organization, which they will need later in life.

 

Reason #3: Players Learn to Compete When They Can Play Other Sports

Athletes competing in only one sport year-round will run into long periods where they only train and don’t compete in games. This is a natural progression of in-season to off-season, but when players choose multiple sports, they can continue to learn how to compete and build mental toughness without burning their bodies out with repetitive motions.

We all know champion professional athletes who have ice in their veins in the most pressure-packed situations. Paul Reddick argues that they didn’t develop this shooting free-throws or hitting off a batting tee, though both activities have their place. Rather, they learned to develop the eye of the tiger, so to speak, through regular competition and being placed in situations where they had to step up and be mentally tough. For athletes who play multiple sports, they’ll get more opportunities to do this in more unique ways.

Takeaway: Early-specialization can rob a young athlete of the chance to compete more often with more unique experiences and challenges. Multiple sports provide the venue to be placed in more situations that require mental toughness for a larger portion of the year without increasing repetitive injury risk.

 

Check Out the Full Video Here Below

Paul has some great advice for parents and players that we at EBP wanted to share with our audience. Check out the full video below from which this article was adapted, and be sure to leave us a comment if you agree or disagree!

4 Tips for Strength Coaches to Connect with Baseball Coaches

The ability to connect with players is a topic getting more and more attention in the sports performance world these days. But, what are some strategies for connecting with the coaches of the athletes you train?

This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I figured no better topic to get me back into blogging.

I see a lot of articles on the science involved with being a strength coach, how to be a great programmer, how to teach the squat, top five accessory lifts for baseball players etc.

But, as we all know, being an effective strength coach is more than just the nuts and bolts of a micro-cycle or setting up correctly for a deadlift.

Strength coaches need to be equipped with a certain set of interpersonal skills which allow them to communicate efficiently with the many different personalities they will deal with daily. Athletes are the obvious example that comes to mind, but here I want to focus on the importance of a good relationship between the strength coach and skill coach, and how it can make or break the progress of the athletes involved.

I have seen this relationship from multiple angles in my career, both as both a player and an strength coach. If you’re not careful and collaborative, the dynamic can quickly turn into a coach vs. coach relationship leaving an athlete in a tough spot.

One coach pitted against the other can be escalated to even greater heights thanks to the infinite amount of training information available at your fingertips thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, with little guidance on sorting out the good from the bad.

Most coaches develop their ideas and philosophies through personal experiences. Because no two coaches have the exact same background or coaching path, it’s unlikely they’ll see eye-to-eye on every training philosophy; that’s why strength coaches need to be adaptable!

It is naïve to believe there is a one size fits all approach that a strength coach can use to effectively communicate with every sport coach they will encounter.

So how does a coach with knowledge and expertise in getting athletes faster and stronger best communicate with a coach whose main concern is putting together lineups, winning games, and teaching how to throw a change-up?

 

Check Your Ego at The Door

In coaching, just like any other profession, there are egos involved. Some strength coaches and baseball coaches are slow to change the way they do things, especially if they have had some success. Resistance or hesitation to implement a new training style or program should not be met with resentment by the strength coach.

Instead, the strength coach must be able to communicate the basic tenants of their program to the sport coach. Explaining how the program would benefit the athletes and ultimately improving sport specific performance.

Remember, the sport coaches measure success in wins and losses, not vertical jump height and back squat numbers.

Too often I have seen a strength coach get frustrated and “write off” a coach because they are unwilling to implement fully what the strength coach recommends. Avoid the urge to get upset, and keep being a professional!

Understand where the coach’s reservations are coming from and keep an open mind, perhaps they have some good points based on their experiences that could help you grow as a baseball strength coach.

However, you can communicate to the baseball coach see the “value” in your program, building trust as you develop a relationship. Start by getting small “training” victories and build these small victories on top of one another.

These victories lead to players buying in you, which will hopefully eventually lead to their coach buying in as well as they start to see the results.

 

Share the Same Goal – Developing Players!

Another thing that is easy for strength coaches to lose sight of is the fact that they are there to elevate the on-field performance of the athletes they work with, through performance training.

Performance training is not the end goal for athletes! This elevation in on-field performance manifests itself in performance!

When I feel I am having trouble communicating or getting through to a coach, I remind myself of this fact, we both want the best for our athletes!

Finding this common ground with a sports coach can create a very strong foundation in which a cohesive work relationship can be built.

Again, patiently describing how you can help the coach and their athletes develop will create value in your training program.

 

Give a Little to Gain A Lot

Many times, a strength coach must be willing to adapt at times to achieve a greater overall goal.

A quick example of this might be getting on board with a baseball coach taking his team through an basic workout or training session once a week to allow those athletes to come train with you 3 other days that week.

Sure, in your head you know that the players will only have minimal gains in performance by training ince per week, but start building that relationship with both the players and coaches will help develop into a longer relationship.

Trying to be a dictator or a “my way or the highway” strength coach, is a sure way to drive them away from you and your training. This is especially true when you haven’t worked with a sport coach before.

 

Be Part of the Team

This is a tricky point, one that I feel is vitally important, but can also be easily misunderstood. I have heard strength coaches complain about how they don’t get respect from baseball coaches and sometimes even athletes they work with.

They get hung up on being called “coach”, complain about buy-in, scheduling difficulties, players being on time, the list goes on.

Usually these are the same coaches that don’t ever attend games or practices, rarely to ever show interest in the athletes on-field performance and then wonder why they may be treated differently from other “on-field” coaches.

As a player, I wanted my strength coach to be “all in” on me and the team! It made me feel like he was a part of the team when I would see him at our games.

I think it’s also an important way to show the sport coach that you care as much about team’s success as they do. Showing up at games, practices etc. can go a long way to smooth over any bumps that may be present in a relationship with a sports coach.

It can also begin to help coaches and player see you as an integral part of the staff. Demanding everyone call you “coach” will not earn you anything but a reputation as power hungry egomaniac.

All of this is great, but it must be mentioned here: you are not a sport-specific coach! Know your role and stick to it.

In no way should you involve yourself with any on-field activities/instruction unless explicitly asked to lend a hand.

It is not unusual to see a competent strength coach playing catch with a rehabbing pitcher or maybe helping out shagging balls during batting practice, but again, only do so if you are asked to assist!

Overstepping your bounds is the quickest way to a sport coaches dog house. Stay in your lane!

As the strength and conditioning profession continues to evolve, interpersonal relationships are becoming more and more important.

Yes, the ability to connect with athletes is an integral part of the job, but so is the ability to connect with their other coaches. Understanding and employing the tips above will go a long way in making sure you relate to the coaches in working towards a common goal for your athletes.

The One Aspect of Baseball Training That You Must Master to Succeed

If I were to ask you what the most important part of baseball training is, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps programming, force production, or sport specificity? Maybe injury prevention, strength, or speed? Even nutrition, movement quality, and recovery could make the cut.

Based on each coach’s individual philosophy, that list could go on forever. While there is no right answer to that question, as long as you can give a reason “why” it is the most important aspect, I would probably agree with you.

All of those listed (as well as countless others) are just pieces of a much larger training puzzle. In my years of competing and coaching, I have come to the conclusion that arguably the most important aspect of training is “consistency.”

 

Consistently Show Up to Train

 

An athlete that trains 4x a week is more likely to make gains faster than the one that comes 4x a month. The same can be said from season-to-season. Working in the private sector, we have plenty of turnover from month-to-month.

If a high school athlete plays baseball and football (which we strongly encourage all of our athletes to play multiple sports), their only true “offseason” is from November (end of high school football season) through the beginning of March (start of high school baseball). That gives them only 4 out of 12 months in the year to really focus on training.

Now compare that to the athlete that consistently makes time to train in-season. Those strength gains they made in the offseason will not disappear (they can even continue to increase) as the season progresses.

That strength is necessary to combat the stresses these athletes experience during games and practices to keep them healthy and performing at a high level.

 

Consistently Attack Their Training, Too

I have witnessed way too many athletes that show up just to go through the motions and do the bare minimum during training.

The athletes that are always taking advantage of their time in the weight room are the ones that seem to build strength, move better and complain less about injuries (if at all).

That means showing up early, get moving and taking their warm-up seriously, competing on every rep, encouraging others around them, asking for help when needed, making sure they are moving correctly, progressively overloading, never skipping sets or reps, staying after to do extra, focusing on mobility work, and so forth.

 

The Consistency Must Apply to the Coaching as Well

 

As a coach, we must bring energy every day. I’m not saying that every coach needs to be a “hype man” or “hype woman” like you see with many in the field.

They just need to know their identity as a coach and follow their principles they set forth for themselves while making sure that they are locked in to help every athlete that walks through their door that day.

Their programming should always be working towards certain goals depending on the athlete(s), time of the year, available equipment, etc. They must be learning and looking for new ways to improve on a daily basis.

Lastly, constant communication between a coach and athlete is crucial. They can write up the best program in the world, but none of it will matter if the athlete and coach are not on the same page.

 

The Athlete Must Stay Consistent with Their Nutrition and Recovery

I have been asked numerous times what supplements I recommend. I love seeing their faces when I say, “real food, water and sleep.”

If you consistently make time to eat a real breakfast, lunch and dinner while sprinkling in 2-3 smaller meals aside from those, you will have a much better chance to gain weight than the athlete that skips breakfast, eats a turkey sandwich and chips for lunch, and then nothing until they go grab Chipotle with their friends after class or practice.

For athletes that need to lose weight, following a similar protocol while just controlling their portions should yield results.

Programs like the 21-Day Fix, 24-Day Challenge and so on are effective for some of the general population because they ask someone that eats junk and sits around all day to consistently exercise and eat normal food every day over 3+ weeks.

The exercises and foods are nothing new; people have been using them for years. Those companies just gave them a plan to change their ways and found a way to hold people accountable.

 

Athletes Need to Consistently Practice Their Sport

Skill development on a consistent basis is critical. I will admit that throughout high school baseball, I did the bare minimum in terms of hitting and throwing and was fortunate enough to still earn a preferred walk-on spot at a Division-I school.

It was not until I stepped foot on campus that I realized just how far behind I was in terms of development. The “show-and-go” mentality was not enough anymore.

All of those guys that were spending extra time in the cages every day, long tossing, making live reads on balls during batting practice and so forth for the past few years were way ahead of me. Relying on natural ability will only take you so far.

It was not until a year of buying in to my coaches’ system and working my tail off while redshirting that I finally earned my chance to play halfway through that following season.

Consistently putting in extra work each day with the right intent will put you in your best position to succeed in your respective sport.

I recently came across this tweet from Coach Aaron Feld who is now a strength and conditioning coordinator for the University of Oregon (and also happens to have the best mustache in the game):

 

I feel this pretty much sums up how you handle yourself on a consistent basis. If you are being honest with yourself, is your “average” where you want to be?

If not, what steps are you taking to improve? For a lot of athletes, I’d say be more consistent with your training, eat real food, drink water, improve sleeping habits, practice skill development and just doing the right thing on a daily basis.