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Squash the Bug

I thought that I had heard the last of the phrase “squash the bug”. Boy was I wrong. I still hear these words thrown about like they are gospel. This is unfortunate because it is NOT what good hitters do. For the sake of this blog, we will define “squash the bug” as turning on the ball of the back foot.

If a person were to watch an at-bat in real time, live or on video, they may see something similar to what looks like squashing a bug. However, this action occurs after contact. Taking a look at high speed video or a still photo at contact, you will see that all good hitters are either on the tip of their toe or not in contact with the ground at all. Here are several examples.

Beltre and Gonzalez - FinishEthier and Cabrera

Beltre and Gonzalez

Proponents of squash the bug will try and explain to you that it is necessary to get your hips moving. If you would humor me for a moment and stand up, take a batting stance and turn your back foot on the ball. You will find that your leg is allowed to rotate internally in the hip joint without creating any hip rotation. Further, when you do attempt to rotate your hip from that position (keeping your weight on the ball of the back foot), the hips will only rotate for about 45 degrees before having to stop. Taking another look at the photos, you can clearly see that all of their hips have rotated to or near 90 degrees at contact.

By squashing the bug, a hitter will effectively limit their rotation which in turn will limit weight transition which will limit power. “But I don’t need power. I am fast.” So are the defensive players. Infielders are bigger, stronger and faster than ever. Youth players with shorter base paths may be able to beat out throws all day long, but it becomes a different story when the bases are 90 feet apart. You had better have some serious speed to leg out enough ground balls to make you a viable hitter on the next level.

In conclusion, if a coach or instructor is teaching you to “squash the bug” they are wasting something more valuable than money. They are wasting the valuable time you need to stay competitive and preventing you from reaching your full potential.

It’s Official!!!

Indeed it is official. The Knights and Flashes are now the a part of the Pelicans Travel Baseball Organization and will play their future games in Pelican Blue.

I would like to thank the Pelicans for a fun and exciting evening last night and look forward to working with them in the future to move this program ahead and help develop baseball here on the Grand Strand. I will be providing information in the near future how other players/teams can become a part of this new program.

Thanks for all of your support over the years. It has been a tremendous ride. But this is just the first in a series of big announcements. There is more to come!

Pronation

Last week I came across a YouTube video posted by Trevor Bauer. Trevor was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He pitched his college ball at UCLA. To say Trevor is a student of the game is an overwhelming understatement. The video discusses and demonstrates pitch design and the vital part that pronation plays in generating proper rotation. I feel it is a must see for pitchers of all levels.

One of the most important things that Trevor discusses in the video is the “release” of the baseball. All pitchers, especially young ones, need to understand that they do not consciously let go of the baseball. It leaves the hand when the arm transitions from an accelerated state to a decelerated one. The release point is determined by the movement, timing and speed of the kinetic chain (a.k.a. mechanics).

I offer this video so that pitchers of all levels can get a more thorough understanding of what their arms do during the release phase of a pitch. Even though this video discusses breaking pitches, pre-pubescent athletes should still adhere to the recommendations of nationally recognized organizations such as the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI).

I wish you all a very safe and happy holiday season. I hope you enjoy the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmSMSEdyNVU

Caffeine and Young Athletes – Part II

In Part I, I touched mainly on the effect caffeine has on vitamins within our body. Part II takes a look at caffeine as a diuretic, effect on essential minerals and the added sugar found in most caffeinated beverages consumed by young athletes.

There is debate about whether or not caffeine is a diuretic. I have read studies that show evidence supporting both sides. If it is a diuretic, then water soluble vitamins may be depleted before they can be fully absorbed. This includes a number of B vitamins which are essential to the central nervous system, boosting athletic performance and generating energy from sugars, proteins and fat. There is also evidence to suggest that caffeine strips away the sheathing around nerve fibers and suppresses healing of the nervous system. In addition, if caffeine is a diuretic, there is also a greater risk for dehydration especially given four games in two days in 95 deg F plus weather.

Caffeine is known to strip away essential minerals such as magnesium (proper function of nerves and muscles, proper metabolism of calcium) and potassium (nerve conduction, energy production, regulating heartbeat, and muscle contraction). Potassium is believed to aid in athletic performance.

Along with caffeine, most beverages consumed by young athletes like soda, sweet tea and energy drinks are high in refined sugars. Refined sugars are known to deplete several minerals such as magnesium, chromium (regulates blood sugar, stimulates the synthesis of proteins), phosphorous (increases endurance and energy levels, essential for communication between cells, energy production, forms bones, activates B-complex vitamins), potassium along with vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C.

There is evidence to support that caffeine disrupts the sleep cycles of youth. I think it goes without saying that sleep is important for an athlete to function at their peak level, but there appears to be more to it than just rest. A recent article published in the journal Brain Sciences (Kurth,  Achermann, Rusterholz, LeBourgeois 2013) concludes that sleep may aid in the development of fibers which optimize brain and central nervous system functioning. This would allow for  potential interference to development during critical maturation cycles caused by sleep disruptions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies caffeine as both a drug and a food additive. In 1995, NASA scientists injected several chemicals into common garden spiders to see what effect it would have on their ability to make webs. The premise being the more toxic the chemical the greater the deformity of the web as compared with a normal web. Caffeine was one of the chemicals tested. You can see the paper issued by the scientists along with pictures of the results here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20070704003310/http://science.nasa.gov/faq/NASA%20Tech%20Brief.pdf

In conclusion, this blog is not an indictment on caffeine. There is very little data with regards to the quantity of vitamins and minerals that are inhibited by caffeine. There is also not a lot of data indicating the extent of the effect on the central nervous system in teens and adolescents caused by caffeine. The article referenced above with regards to sleep did not draw any hard conclusions about the effects of sleep deprivation on the development of the nervous system and brain. But there does appear to be enough evidence to suggest that caffeine may have an adverse effect on athletic performance over the course of time; enough anyway to seek further advise from a qualified professional. I think it is also safe to say that the NASA test speaks for itself.

Again, I am neither a doctor nor an expert on nutrition. Any changes to your athlete’s diet should be discussed with a qualified medical professional and/or a nutritionist.

Caffeine and Young Athletes – Part I

I first came across the idea to tackle the topic of caffeine as a I was doing research for a different subject. I read some compelling literature that stated caffeine had a direct effect on the development and functionality of the central nervous system. Given the amount of soda, sweet tea and energy drinks I see consumed by young athletes in a given weekend, it seemed that further research into this topic was warranted. That turned out to be an understatement as I have turned the subject into two part series.

Let me first preface this blog by stating that I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. The following is a presentation of findings by various articles, studies and research trials. It is recommended that any changes to an individual’s diet be discussed with a qualified professional.

There have been countless studies (more than 70) with regards to caffeine and its benefits to production and endurance in adult athletes. I would like to keep the focus on young athletes, but there is a point to be made here. The studies indicate that the benefits are for endurance (aerobic) activities. There is a negligible effect on sprinters or anaerobic activity. Baseball is 90% anaerobic.

It should be noted that there are studies that show both the positive and negative influences of caffeine in teenagers ranging from increased memory retention to risky behavior such as fighting. For the sake of this blog, I am going to limit the discussion to athletes (specifically baseball players) between the ages of 8 and 18.

The generally recommended level for caffeine consumption for teens appears to be around 100 mg per day. For adolescents, it is even less. To put that in perspective, here is a link published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest containing caffeine values for a host of consumer products.

http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm. (As stated at the bottom of their web page, the data was largely acquired from corporate websites or direct inquiries)

Now to the question at hand. How does this affect the young athlete? As nutrition and a balanced diet are a common issue amongst all young athletes, it is as good a place to start as any. Simply put, if your athlete is drinking the aforementioned beverages, they are most likely not consuming necessary nutrients into their bodies in order to develop their skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.

In addition to not receiving necessary nutrients, caffeine is also known to cause calcium to be excreted from the body at a rate of 5 mg per every 150 mg consumed. Caffeine also inhibits the absorption of calcium through the digestive tract. Calcium is necessary for bone growth, bone mass, nervous system impulses and muscle contractions. Aside from the obvious potential for skeletal issues, an athlete seeking peak performance needs a highly functional nervous system and needs to be able to control muscle contractions in order to properly execute and repeat mechanics.

Caffeine is known to inhibit the absorption of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has an important role in how calcium is absorbed and used.

Caffeine is known to inhibit the absorption of Iron. Iron is necessary for  red blood cell production. Red blood cells are responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the body. Lack of iron can result in fatigue in athletes.

Caffeine is also known to inhibit vitamins A (eye sight) and H (cell growth, production of fatty acids, metabolism of fats and proteins, aids process in which energy is released from food, healthy nerve tissue and bone marrow, helps with the transfer of carbon dioxide, helps maintain steady blood sugar level).

That will conclude Part I of the series on caffeine. I will post Part II next Monday. It will touch on caffeine as a diuretic, effects on essential minerals, the sugar in most caffeinated beverages, and potential sleep issues.

Commitment

There is an old saying in baseball. Those that have spent any amount of time around me have heard it often (and will continue to). I believe it to be the cornerstone of every great athlete and a question every aspiring player should ask themselves daily. What are you doing when no one is watching?

All players attend practice (most do, anyway). A fair number of players even get private instruction. Ask these same players what they are doing in their spare time and you will get a variety of answers with very few of them relating to baseball. Some of them are playing other sports. Great! You are at least making yourself a better athlete. Some of you are getting in extra work (you guys need to make sure you are working and not just going through the motions to say you did it). But what about the rest of you?

We see it weekly, if not daily. Young players sporting the emblems and colors of their favorite teams. Eyes big with dreams of someday dawning that uniform and driving in the winning run or closing out the series on the mound. And, unfortunately for a vast majority of you, they will never be anything more than dreams. This isn’t because you don’t have the skill set or can’t learn the skills. This is because you lack the motivation to hone and fine tune those skills.

Players leave their respective practices and lessons and go home. No one is watching or forcing you to do it so it’s on to the next thing. Forgot to do my push-ups and crunches. Didn’t have time to do my sprints. I had too much homework. It was dark outside. My dad wasn’t home to play catch with me. Need I go on?

Where there is a will, there is a way (just ask the players from the Dominican Republic and Cuba). If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get the work in. I had a player when I was back in Colorado who was at number 6 on my depth chart for incoming freshmen pitchers. He was looked over by the other coaches and threw very few innings that spring season. By the end of the summer, he had elevated himself to the number 2 starter on the JV squad that went on to win a state championship. Two years later he hoisted the Colorado 5A State Championship Trophy and was named the tournament’s MVP. Shortly after that he was drafted in the 4th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in the MLB Draft.

The one thing that always separated this young man from the other players was work ethic. He wanted it and that was obvious. I have been fortunate enough to work with 4 players that have been drafted and a host of Division I and II athletes. They have come in all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, experiences, etc. The one thing they all have in common: Commitment!

As a player with goals, there are a few things you should know and understand. First, someone is always watching even when you are at home. We can tell if you are doing your work without being there. It’s usually pretty obvious when you come to your practice and/or lessons. The second is that we don’t create talent. You do! The third is that a lot of colleges and scouts will call to ask our opinions. We are going to be honest. We have to be if we want them to call us back. What do you want us to say about you?

Travel Baseball Tournaments and Pitch Counts

How many pitches should my child throw? A question that is not asked often enough. With most youth leagues supplying pitch count limitations and  travel ball tournaments all supplying inning restrictions, why would the question need to be asked? The simple answer, for the sake of your son’s arm.

Most travel ball tournaments in the area allow pitchers to throw up to three innings on Saturday to be allowed to pitch again on Sunday. We see a majority of teams use this approach each and every weekend they play. Throw three innings on Saturday so the player can pitch 3 more innings on Sunday. But how does that fit in with nationally recognized pitch count limitations?

Based on studies done by the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), a young pitcher throws an average of 5 pitches to each batter. Assuming he faced the minimum number of batters (no one reached base) for the course of three innings on Saturday, he would have faced 9 batters and thrown approximately 45 pitches. Based on Little League’s pitch count guidelines (produced with the help of Dr. James Andrews and ASMI)  a pitcher age 15 to 18 who throws 31 to 45 pitches requires one day of rest. For players ages 7 to 14, the Little League rule states that a pitch count of 21 to 35 constitutes one days rest. At 45 pitches, our young hypothetical should rest for 2 days prior to pitching in a game again. Even if he threw just 3 pitches to each batter (27 pitches), he would still require one days rest. A link to a complete set of Little League’s pitch count rules can be found on our Articles of Interest tab.

According to a book published by Dr. James Andrews titled Any Given Monday (2013), the number of pitches thrown by a young pitcher has the strongest correlation to injury. Studies performed by ASMI show that pitchers who continued to throw despite fatigue “were thirty-five times more likely to injure themselves” (Andrews, 55). It should be noted that injuries in this study are defined as a player undergoing surgery to continue throwing or who must stop pitching entirely. It is also important to note that “good” mechanics does not allow for more pitches to be thrown.

As it seems to typically happen, an example is usually never too far away. This past weekend I coached in a travel ball tournament. In our first game on Sunday the pitcher for the opposing team was constantly being chided by his coach and presumably a parent in the stands to keep up his arm velocity. With a loss in arm speed being an obvious indication of fatigue, I decided to check on the number of innings this player had thrown prior to this game (team’s fourth). Before I knew it, the tournament director was at the fence with the news that had we checked sooner the opposing team would have forfeited the game. Players were allowed 18 outs for the tournament. The pitcher had collected 21.

This young man struggled against us in his two innings of work as we sent 10 players to the plate. Please forgive me, but I did not get an accurate pitch count on him. Mentally I had him around 45 to 50. In a topic for another discussion, the young man was also attempting to throw breaking balls (1 strike in 8 attempts) adding to his pitch count and fatigue. Comparatively, our starting pitcher threw a complete game on 74 pitches (10 less than daily recommendations) allowing just 1 unearned run. He only pitched in that one game this weekend and he has never thrown a breaking ball.

Another issue related to number of pitches thrown is how many months of the year a young pitcher is on the mound.  Dr. Andrews noted that pitchers who throw competitively more than 8 months out of the year are 5 times more likely to be injured. As I type this blog, I received an email from a nationally recognized travel ball organization. They are promoting an event in December. A few days back, I received a different email announcing tournaments in mid December, January and February. If I were to contact them, I am most certain that they would tell me the tournaments were added because of demand from coaches.

I don’t believe the competitive landscape of baseball is going to change, at least not any time soon. What can we do in the meantime to keep our young player’s arms a little more safe? Control the number of games they pitch in; follow recommended guidelines with regards to number of days rest (specifically not throwing on back-to-back days if they exceed recommended pitch count guidelines); make sure they have appropriate time off each year (2 to 4 months); and control the number of pitches they throw in each outing.

It needs to be understood that pitchers break small (microscopically) and not big. Your son’s arm may not hurt him now, but that does not mean that there is not any damage being done. Yes, the best athletes are usually the best pitchers. And, yes, the best athletes are typically very competitive and want the baseball. Do your son a favor and assist him following the rules and guidelines set forth by the experts much as you would the rules and guidelines in your home and at school. After all, that trophy will mean very little to him if his arm is hanging on the shelf next to it.

Welcome…

Welcome to Performance Baseball; a new environment dedicated to assisting baseball players of all ages and skill levels train to reach their maximum potential in every aspect of the game. Whether you are a 6 year old looking to get your dream started; a high school athlete seeking a scholarship; or a college athlete with hopes of being drafted, Performance Baseball will design a program specifically for you!!!

Here at Performance Baseball, we understand the physical demands of a season as well as rigors of a two day, 4-game travel ball tournament. We also understand that no two athletes are alike. The highly qualified professional staff at Performance Baseball prides itself on providing individual attention to each athlete. Performance Baseball is about you!!!

Upon arrival at Performance Baseball, each athlete will be assessed by our staff. From there, the staff will write a strength routine inclusive of warm-ups and exercises designed to correct imbalances noted in the assessment. The athlete can choose to add skill specific instruction to their program and work out at Performance Baseball or take it back home, the school gym or local health club to execute.

In addition to the strength training, video analysis and skill specific sessions, Performance Baseball will also provide nutritional guidance along with other tips and recommendations to assist each athlete in staying healthy. It’s not enough just to strengthen your body. Performance Baseball is geared to help you understand the movement, strengthen that movement and then sustain that level of peak performance.