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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Where Has the Off Season Gone For Young Baseball Players?

By Mike Posey

Is there really an off season for young baseball players? Not too long ago, when I was growing up, we played whatever sport that was in season. When one season ended another started. Spring was always my favorite time and baseball was my favorite sport. But playing football and basketball help to keep us busy and in shape and they were fun sports.

Today, very few young players play more than one sport. We see a number of young players beginning to "specialize" by the time they are 12 or 13 years old. With the emergence of top travel teams and showcases, many young high school players play year round. Tournament play in late November or early December seems to be the norm these days. Tournament teams and showcases are making good money and there will always be parents/players that feel the need to play, even if on Christmas Day. For some reason, everyone thinks playing in the next tournament will help them gain an edge or competitive advantage over another player that might not be participating.

What does the future hold? Your guess is as good as mine. But I do know that young players are not meant to play baseball twelve months out of the year. I wish more players would play multiple sports, but even the ones playing two sports find time on a weekend to travel to a baseball tournament. I have never been a big proponent of fall baseball. It has some merits, but not many. If a baseball player is going to improve their skills they need the off season to help accomplish that goal. Let me give you a few reasons.

1. Rest - If a young player participates in games from February to August, it would be a good time to let the arm rest.

2. Conditioning - For high school players, I believe in a year round training program for strength, agility, flexibility, and conditioning. But let's be realistic. As a high school coach, you have a limited time during the season. After years of training our players in the weight room (or at least trying) we have come to the conclusion it would be better if someone (a professional) train our players. We try to convince our parents to invest in training classes that we set up. Twice a week from January to July and three times a week from September thru December. (A short break in August and one over Christmas may give the body a needed break)

This is not an easy sell, especially in the economy today, but for the ones that do it, the results are absolutely amazing. All of our top players have been involved in systematic training programs and we have seen a high percentage of them advance to play at the next level in college and/or professional baseball. We know for a fact that the best time to make strength gains are during an off season of intense training. If a player is involved in a fall or winter tournament team he will probably have plenty of reason to miss time in the weight room, time that is more valuable to his development overall than the games he plays in the fall.

3. Skill Development - The best time for a player to improve skills is the off season. It takes 21-24 days to change a habit or technique. Making a change while playing games is sometimes a little more difficult. Players will go into a game and revert back to an old habit due to comfort level. Working on changes to a swing in the off season is a lot easier if the player does not have the pressure of performing in a game. Taking ground balls several times a week during the off season will go a long way to help players develop their hands. (Players have quit taking ground balls or working off a wall to improve their skills. If you play in a travel tournament, there are usually multiple games on the field during the day and the directors will forbid teams from taking pregame infield. Very few travel teams take pregame infield everyday).

4. Gaining Arm Strength - The best way to improve your arm strength (velocity in throwing) is thru a systematic long toss program during the off season. A player should spend at least 8 weeks throwing three/four days in a long toss program. The long toss program involves warming up properly then throwing for 12-14 minutes from intervals starting at 75 feet, moving back each week to lengths of 270-280 feet (or more). This takes time and discipline to follow a good long toss program.

5. Improving Mental Training - The off season is a good time to work on mental training. There are a number of good books and videos out on improving concentration, focus, confidence, and overall mental toughness. For some reason players/parents think playing more games will improve mental toughness. Mental toughness is a process learned through adversity and training. Practice, Practice, Practice. What are you doing this "off season" to help your player improve?

Mike Posey "CP"
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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick