In this 2 part series we are discussing the landscape of a failing baseball system and how you can develop your year round schedule at any level to assure you stay focused on what matters most. Click here to visit P.1.
“In 2007, I was rehabbing a partially torn UCL as a sophomore in high school. At the time, Jamie Moyer was also rehabbing at the same facility. In a brief discussion, he asked me how much time I took off from playing during the course of a year. As our discussion continued, he said something I would never forget. He said “the pros take up to 5 months off so why don’t you?”. In my mind it wasn’t that I didn’t agree with him, I just never thought about it and didn’t know why taking that time off was even important. All I knew was I was doing what everyone told me would get me “seen” and I was excelling, despite a few seemingly minor injuries.”
-Casey Mulholland (KineticPro Lead Developer)
In reference to complaining, the author Eckhart Tolle states you must “leave the (a) situation or accept it, all else is madness.” In baseball today, it is widely acknowledged that in the lower levels of the game, athletes are over-played in a demanding year-round schedule. It is also widely proven that injury rates have sky rocketed in the last 10 years. There are plenty of us who stand in the baseball community widely criticizing and often complaining about these issues of overuse and arm injury. In reference to Tolle’s perspective on the act of complaining, it is necessary we stop the madness and begin to change how we approach the situation. The safety of the athlete in the game today depends on us not accepting its current state.
Research on little league players states…
Approximately 20% of baseball players between the ages of 8 and 12 years will experience arm pain during a single youth baseball season. This is particularly concerning given that this injury rate has increased over the past 2 decades.
As we explored in P.1 of this series, everything from travel organizations at the youth level to a misleading understanding of the recruiting process, can increase the overuse of players year after year. Looking at opportunities for a career of any length, high school level and beyond, it is imperative to remember that as skill level increases so too does opportunity.
Why Off Season?
The argument “the pros do it that way, so you should too” is often an anecdotal inaccuracy. But in the case of offseason length, compared to other levels of the game, it is safe to say the professional level has the right idea. Professional players receive approximately 42% (5 months) of the year as an allotted offseason. When looking at other levels, such as year-round play in high school, we see about 25% of the year allotted to an offseason. To make matters worse, pros will typically have their 42% of the year as consecutive months, where high school players will typically only see 1 month off between the transition of seasons.
The youth level is guilty of nearly the same schedule as the high school level, but the difference is the majority of games at the youth level are played in a tournament format. In a tournament format, the players may play as many as 4-7 games in a three to four-day period, where the youth athlete will typically see a higher total number of innings in a shorter time period. The question that needs to be asked is, if professional players (fully grown men) are taking 42% of the year to develop and hone their skills and physicality, why don’t younger athletes follow suit? One-month periods of off-time are not long enough to adequately rest and prepare for another season of play. However, we see this repeated every year at the lower levels of the game. In one month increments, the athlete cannot administer a proper “Rest Period” and spend any quality amount of time developing skills and strength.
Breaking Down The Needed Phases Of An Offseason
1. “Rest Period” (Month 1)
(This time off should be upon properly assessed throwing program needs and a season start date.)
This is a period of time in which the athlete does not throw but can continue strength training. During this “Rest Period”, we encourage our athletes to review the previous season’s play and begin to establish goals for their future. We also want to review the damage done to the body through the season and begin evaluation on how to fix these issues. An example of changes the body faces can be found in research that shows through the course of the season, athletes experience an increase, on average, of above 10 degrees of external rotation. While this is a natural adaptation, it is important to observe the risk of continuing this in a year-round setting. Providing the body adequate time to repair this damage, and allowing the athlete to rebuild their strength base, with the needed training, is simply a necessary foundation for any quality development in the course of an offseason. With no rest we have no true recovery.
Eric Cressey says it best in this article when discussing the rest period…
“You can’t regain passive stiffness of the anterior shoulder capsule or ulnar collateral ligament. You can’t make significant improvements to elbow and shoulder range-of-motion. You can’t get rotator cuff strength/timing up or improve scapular control. Trying to fix these things when a guy is always in-season is like trying to teach a 16-year-old to drive in the middle of the Daytona 500; things might get a little better, but don’t expect great results when stressful situations are still in play.”
2. “On Ramp” (Month 2)
The “On Ramp” phase is single handedly the most over looked phase of any level today. During a proper “On Ramp” the athlete is effectively increasing workload by starting at light intensity throwing and progressing through appropriate Acute: Chronic ratio’s. When looking at injury rates in accordance to the time of year, we typically see that throwers will have the highest spikes in injury shortly after the beginning of season. This has been linked to improper preparation, meaning spikes of acute workload, early in their offseason. This phase should typically take 1 full month alone to properly work from a low intensity throw to high intensity. We will discuss this further in a future three-part series called “Workload”.
3. “Skill Specific Training” (Month’s 3+)
Once through the “Rest Phase” and “On Ramp,” it is time for the player to focus on specific skill needs. This is a period of time that can be filled with focus on things such as velocity, command, pitch design, etc. Implementation of these phases should be based around the athletes needs to continue to become a more skilled pitcher. Competitive stress is removed and the ability for the athlete to experiment with trial and error methods are encouraged. In an in-season environment, athletes must perform.
Experimentation during the season is risky and leaves the athlete in a space where he can quickly reject anything that does not offer immediate success. This time-period in the offseason allows the athlete to develop through experimentation and more effectively understand why things work or do not work for him. This time is necessary for those athletes who seek to increase their overall skill to reach the next level. When done properly, athletes can see substantial gains.
Now that we have an idea of how an offseason should break down to be effective, let’s begin to look at how we can schedule our year to incorporate this needed period of training. As noted above, a real offseason is at minimum 3 months long. To best explain our recommendation of when to implement an offseason, we have compiled a chart to show the optimal offseason periods at each level…
The above chart illustrates recommended seasons based on an average seasonal length and time frames. Looking at this you may be realizing that we are recommending an offseason that may directly conflict some very popular times of year to play. For example, Little League All- Stars and travel baseball will often span the summertime in which we recommend the youth player takes as an offseason.
High school athletes now get quality exposure in the summer through major events and camps. We recommend high school athletes take the fall to train away from the optional high school fall season instead of taking the summer off. Though we recommend taking the fall off from playing baseball, it is important to understand that taking the fall or summer as an offseason can be conducive to the growth of high school athletes.
College players will oftentimes be asked to play in summer leagues. We recommend that college players take this 3 month period to train in an offseason.
Referring back to our P1 of this series, we discussed the offseason is the time for a player to develop the adequate skill level to reach their goals. If you’re not reaching the skill level you need to take the next step in your baseball career, then it is time to properly plan and implement the offseason into your year. Even if you are the best player at your level it is important to understand from a health and continued development standpoint why implementing an offseason is imperative to your long-term career. No matter your level, ability or situation, an offseason should be part of your year-long schedule.
It is time for us as a baseball community to stop complaining about arm injuries and year-round overuse. It is time for us to begin to walk away from the conventional schedule baseball offers today. It is time for us take the first step in making the yearly schedule for players right by beginning to prioritize offseason for all players. The baseball industry is failing us. Together we can stop the madness.