Scarborough Stingers Off-Season Training
With the announcement of our partnership with the Scarborough Stingers to run their off-season training, we got an influx of inquiries from parents, players and coaches asking us things like “what does the development program look like and what does it include?” or “why should I consider BDG over anything else?” Questions like these are important to address, and although the best way to experience BDG is done in person, I think that this is a good first step. Selecting where you want to play and train is not a decision to take lightly, especially with the rising costs required to become an elite baseball player in Ontario.
In this post, we are going to do our best to provide some background information on Baseball Development Groups philosophy, what it is working towards, how the off-season program is structured and much more.
Baseball Development Group
I believe that it is important to first define and highlight the overarching philosophies, principles, and mission of BDG before diving into the specifics. Understanding the core of what BDG stands for and is striving to do provides a greater appreciation for what drives it’s day-to-day – and how that ultimately affects the program.
BDG’s mission is simple: to provide the best possible baseball training model in the world.
With each passing day, we try to take one step closer to fulfilling that goal. How we establish that training model, and how we ultimately make each decision, is guided by three key principles; being athlete-centered, grounded in the scientific process, and integrating the development process.
Being athlete-centered means exactly what it sounds like; the training model is all about the athlete. From comprehensive assessments and individualized programming, to providing progress reports along the way, BDG’s entire existence is to serve the athlete. To do everything that we possibly can to get athletes where they want to go. A considerable part of that is creating a space for our players to educate themselves about baseball, learn about committing to a goal, facing adversity, and being surrounded by a group of people that are working towards the same goal of chasing down their potential.
Serving the athlete is everything, but the athlete must be ready to be helped.
BDG is rooted in the scientific process & first principles. We place a great emphasis on defending our decision making based on rationality and first principles; from the inclusion of a throwing drill to the structure of a lifting program. Good programs and coaches should be able to defend their decisions – to be able to tell you exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing. Moreover, each intervention needs to be accounted for and we are in a constant battle to refine and validate our methods. That includes collaborating in research projects with Brock University and UOIT to help push the game forward.
Finally, we are dedicated to being on the forefront of innovative ways to develop baseball players. Our unique and integrated training model is one that I’ve been fortunate enough to present on throughout North America; from college coaches to MLB organizations, and is constantly being re-iterated. BDGs commitment to providing an integrated model provides athletes an all-inclusive experience that grows with each passing day.
What Will the Program Look Like?
Now that we’ve established the driving factors being BDGs program, it’s time to provide some insight into what the off-season development program would look like for its players. Without knowing where you’re starting from, you cannot travel the most efficient route. Everything starts with a baseline assessment. We need to know the athletes starting point prior to making decisions on how to get them where they need to go. This is easily the most important component of our off-season training program. One that is comprehensive, takes up a considerable amount of time, analysis, and consideration for the program is built.
The entry point is a with a one-on-one conversation – we need to get a better understanding of the person behind the player. What is the athletes background like, what are they looking to accomplish and what are their key drivers for success? Do they have any previous history of injury? What barriers to getting better have they encountered in the past? Getting a better sense of where they’re coming from, the challenges they’ve faced, and what makes them tick provides valuable insight into how we handle their development process.
Once that’s complete, we go through a full physical examination to determine the players health, range of motion and movement capabilities. This is where we employ orthopedic screening, joint range of motion testing and the Functional Range Assessment. Doing so tells us exactly what the athlete has available to them for movement and helps us answer the question “can your joints do what you’re asking them to do?” If we know what an athlete’s joints can do, we can avoid asking them to do something that they cannot.
Functional Range Assessment
The Functional Range Assessment (FRA) has been invaluable to our assessment process. The FRA does a tremendous job of systematically quantifying each joints capacity for movement. In the femoroacetabular joint (hip), for example, we will quantify how much rotation is available, as well as total flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction. This done both passively and actively, paying very close attention to end-feel and tension.
In going through the entire body, joint-by-joint, we are systematically investigating a players overall movement capacity. Employing a checklist ensures that we do not get complacent, removes bias, and insulates us from error. What renowned author Atul Gawande taught us in the Checklist Manifesto.
We can use the FRA at the beginning of the off-season to direct our initial phase of training but have also found a lot of value in using it prior to the in-season. As we’ve talked about before, ensuring that players maintain ‘normal for them’ ranges of motion throughout the season is critical to maintaining movement patterns and potentially avoiding injury.
From there, the players move on to their specific skill analysis, be it hitting or pitching. Each player goes through a mechanical checklist where we identify movement inefficiencies and strategies. Without going into detail, these assessments look at key positions in the swing and throw, how the player moved to get there, and how that fits with their movement limitations. Matching what we see in their skill with the physical assessment provides us insight into why a player moves the way they do and allows us to pinpoint the necessary changes that need to be made.
This is also when we can employ a wide range of technology to gain objective measurements of their abilities – something that has become more prominent in today’s game. (You can read more about some of the tech here, here, and here). Tools like HitTrax and Blast Motion are used to identify ball and bat outcomes, respectively. The Rapsodo unit and 1000 frames per second cameras are used to quantify pitch characteristics like spin rate, spin axis, and movement profiles. This is used in conjunction with a Motus sleeve to quantify arm stress, speed, and fatigue.
Here’s a video of one of our players arsenal and each pitch’s measurables. Our athletes are educated on what they mean and why they matter. Objective measurement of a pitcher’s arsenal has been one of the many faces in major league player development that have seen a significant shift in recent years. We’re able to identify things like total spin rate, total spin contributing to movement (% efficiency), horizontal and vertical break and spin axis. The ability to grade pitches with quantifiable variables, visualize movement at incredibly slow speeds, and then make changes is incredibly cool.
At this point we have a pretty good understanding of what the athlete is capable of for range of motion, and how efficient their swing or pitching motion. The last piece of the puzzle is identifying how they interact with and produce force — in other words, what can they do in the gym.
Depending on the age of the athlete, different assessments will be used. Whether that’s looking at landing mechanics, reactive strength index, max push-ups or how fast an athlete can deadlift 0.75 times their bodyweight is dictated by things like age, training history, previous injuries and other factors. At the end of the strength testing, and after looking at everything else, we have a clear picture of the athlete’s physical makeup; their strengths, weaknesses, energy leaks, etc.
Building the Plan
Armed with the above information, we then build out a plan for each player that includes specific mobility work, throwing or hitting drills, and strength and conditioning programs. At BDG we don’t use a cookie-cutter approach to training. We prefer to use a scalpel. Each intervention needs to be backed up by a rational thought process. If we’re asking a player to perform a mobility exercise, there must be a rationale for doing so. This is where the program excels.
Players are given their own dedicated programs for skill development and strength & conditioning that reflect their unique needs. As we progress through the off-season, we work our way through specific phases of physical development; from restoring range of motion, to gaining strength and size, to physically preparing to handle the rigours of the season. Moreover, data points on things like how a player is recovering, their fatigue levels, soreness, bodyweight, range of motion, among others, are collected and analyzed to ensure that we aren’t doing too much. Progress reports are provided at specific checkpoints so that players, parents, and coaches are all on the same page. Everything is measured and reported.
The day-to-day structure of the off-season program looks something like this. Players come into the facility and immediately fill out forms about how their feeling, their sleep, stress levels, and others. Once that is complete, they are put through a comprehensive warmup that prepares them for their skill work. Each player has a program, placed in their personal binder, that details exactly what drills, intensities, and number of throws that need to be made on that day. The skill sessions are different on each day, since we can’t throw or hit max effort all the time, and low-intent (recovery) days are included. These high-low effort days are matched in the strength & conditioning programs.
After the skill sessions are completed, players move into the gym where they will complete their programmed lifts for the day. Again, each of these lifts is created for the specific athlete and our coaches guide them through. All of their weights and numbers are recorded and placed into the players progress reports.
For More Information
We are excited to be able to offer our off-season development program to the Scarborough Stingers this winter and will be putting out more information about the specifics of the program soon. If you have any questions or want to learn more don’t hesitate to contact us.