Running or Sprinting - You Decide
There is a growing debate over developing an established pitchers’ regimen using long distance running as a part of their training, or whether this is the wrong approach and that sprint work is better suited for pitchers. The root question at the heart of this debate and the essential point of this article: What are you training for?
It is essential to first answer this question to best understand how to train yourself for your activity. A swimmer doesn’t train the same way a cross country runner does, who doesn’t train the same way as a football player or baseball player; all these different athletes must train differently to compete differently. However, it is important to also concede and understand that all athletes use a variety of cross-over skills and activities that transcend all lines of sports, land or water.
Cardiovascular endurance and strength are essential for all athletes to compete; if you can’t breathe and recover you can’t compete. An athlete’s ability to recover as quickly as possible is almost as important, if not more so, as his or her ability to prepare; if he or she cannot recover they will not be able to compete at the same rate and level as their competitors. Running, long or short distances, is an important tool in the tool box for developing a highly competitive athlete. Young baseball and softball players who have been active in sports and are entering high school might find themselves in a conditioning program that begins with long distance running and then closer to season, and within the season, focusing primarily on sprinting. It begs the question, in a sport where the longest action may last 30 seconds, why would baseball programs use long distance running? The answer is that in high school program coaching staffs must create training programs that help those kids without proper conditioning to catch up to gain endurance and help ready their hearts and lungs to recover quicker for the sprinting that is essential for baseball and softbal success.
Baseball and softball is a sprinting sport and the more sprint work and speed work one can do, the better off they’ll be, because foot speed has no off day. Pitchers have to push their bodies to maximum energy levels in short bursts over and over again and their ability to recover can be the difference in the quality of performance to performance and pitch to pitch. The ability to explode, hold focus and then recover are broad terms pitchers hear but are hard to train for; but by altering your training to more explosive speed-centered work outs in combination with resistance training, weight training, long toss and other pitcher development training, your pitchers can best reach their highest potentials.
As the leaves begin to fall, for many boys and girls growing up this is a time of changing from baseball to football or soccer. The Little League World Series is over and for a majority of youth baseball and softball players they will stop practicing baseball and move onto other sports that will provide them with other skills that will assist in their development as an overall athlete.
However a growing trend of ball players are playing baseball/softball year round to hone and advance their baseball/softball specific skills with the hopes that this year-round dedication will give them an advantage when they enter high school. From personal experience as a high school, college and professional player and now as a coach, those players who have that dedication do end up having an advantage adjusting to year round high school programs. This creates quite a quandary for a parent as they attempt to help their children reach their athletic dreams and potentials: how do I help my son or daughter who excels in baseball/softball and another sport stay on track with year-round players, and/or should they dedicate themselves to one sport?
The answer to the question of whether a child should dedicate themselves exclusively to one sport is no. Children need to experience sports that interest them; the experiences alone will provide them with essential lessons in teamwork, responsibility and communication that will be invaluable in life. For those boys and girls who excel in two sports and play them competitevly to high school, there are some simple guidelines that will help him remain ready for each baseball/softball season.
- Play catch – it’s important that their arms stay in shape so when the spring comes they will be ready. Once a week for ten to fifteen minutes ranging from 60, 90 to 120 feet depending on you’re the dimensions your child plays on.
- Get your swings in – tee work is not the most popular thing, but it’s the tool that has produced Hall of Fame swings for decades and is cheap and easy to use. Seeing live pitching is helpful, but when it is raining or snowing use a simple tee and wiffle-ball in a designated area.
These two things will allow those boys and girls who don’t play year round baseball/softball keep pace and ready for the spring season.
Using the Long Toss
For those boys and girls who are entering high school, the next four years means preparation and a competitive environment that will generate college baseball and softball players. Of all the skills that translate to all positions at all levels is the ability to play catch and develop arm strength. Playing catch accurately, with strength and from great distances, is paramount to players who move on to college and it does not happen by genetics or chance. All have actively followed some type of throwing program that required them to gradually and consistently increase in distance and volume. These programs are called long toss and there is some debate as to whether it is best going as far as one’s arm allows using an arc to reach your partner, or that your throwing should be contained to the arm angle and release point to keep the ball on a straight line.
The first thing that must be made clear is that any throwing must be done with proper mechanics to use the whole body and not just arms. If players have not been throwing consistently it is also important to build up the volume your child is throwing before he or she will be able to feel his release point comfortably as he or she increases his distance. If he’s in high school it’s important that he determines which program his varsity coaches want them to be on before making any decisions. If you have no coaching however I offer this program from my own experience:
- 0-5 minutes – Spent warming up the arm with short forearm toss, shoulder warm-ups and then regular stand-up-and-catch from 60 feet.
- 5-8 minutes – Begin backing up to 90 feet and spend a majority of your time at 90 feet, as it is the distance of the bases at high school, college and professional baseball.
- 8-10 minutes – Begin backing up using your legs to shuffle and throw to 120 feet, this will take arc for younger boys and girls without experience in a throwing program.
This is a simple program that will help get your player ready to throw greater distances when he is ready to back up and being stretching out his arm.