Protect Your Kids...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, we tend to get more reflective. On behalf of BALL, I would like to would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers and supporters of BALL. We're looking forward to doing great things in 2014!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Debunking Myths…Lactic Acid

Wooden said that to be successful, you must master 3 components:  physical, mental, and emotional.  Therefore, BALL has lessons dealing with each.  The following is an example of the physical component...

For years, coaches have been telling their players that lactic acid causes muscle soreness.  Conventional coaching wisdom said that, to get rid of such lactic acid, athletes need to run longer distances in an effort to “flush” the lactic acid from the player’s sore area. We’ve even heard of some trainers force-feeding unfortunate athletes with various bad-tasting concoctions made up of stuff like baking soda to magically “flush” the system of the acid more quickly.
Conventional wisdom is wrong…and has been doing athletes a disservice since the late 1970’s.
This is particularly disconcerting for athletes who need explosive quickness but not necessarily extended endurance.  In a nutshell, unless an athlete needs to sustain a competitive pace for a long time, extended aerobic exercise can do more harm than good.  Examples of these athletes are baseball pitchers, football position players, wrestlers, etc.. While there is always a place in athletic development for aerobic conditioning, running long distances actually decrease a player’s ability to explode by suppressing the central nervous system’s ability to fire fast twitch muscles.  In other words, it can retard athletic development.  Want anecdotal proof?  Look at the physical difference between an Olympic sprinter versus a distance runner.  
Way back in 2006, the following article about the mythology of lactic acid generated heated discussions in several coaching circles…yet for some reason, many coaches missed it.  This highlights the need for coaches to be current in their education and not simply rely on training techniques simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.

The New York TimesLactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe…It's Fuel
Everyone who has even thought about exercising has heard the warnings about lactic acid. It builds up in your muscles. It is what makes your muscles burn. Its buildup is what makes your muscles tire and give out.
Coaches and personal trainers tell athletes and exercisers that they have to learn to work out at just below their "lactic threshold," that point of diminishing returns when lactic acid starts to accumulate. Some athletes even have blood tests to find their personal lactic thresholds.
But that, it turns out, is all wrong. Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.
The notion that lactic acid was bad took hold more than a century ago, said George A. Brooks, a professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. It stuck because it seemed to make so much sense.
"It's one of the classic mistakes in the history of science," Dr. Brooks said.
Its origins lie in a study by a Nobel laureate, Otto Meyerhof, who in the early years of the 20th century cut a frog in half and put its bottom half in a jar. The frog's muscles had no circulation — no source of oxygen or energy.
Dr. Myerhoff gave the frog's leg electric shocks to make the muscles contract, but after a few twitches, the muscles stopped moving. Then, when Dr. Myerhoff examined the muscles, he discovered that they were bathed in lactic acid.
A theory was born. Lack of oxygen to muscles leads to lactic acid, leads to fatigue.
Athletes were told that they should spend most of their effort exercising aerobically, using glucose as a fuel. If they tried to spend too much time exercising harder, in the anaerobic zone, they were told, they would pay a price, that lactic acid would accumulate in the muscles, forcing them to stop.
Few scientists questioned this view, Dr. Brooks said. But, he said, he became interested in it in the 1960's, when he was running track at Queens College and his coach told him that his performance was limited by a buildup of lactic acid.  When he graduated and began working on a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, he decided to study the lactic acid hypothesis for his dissertation.
"I gave rats radioactive lactic acid, and I found that they burned it faster than anything else I could give them," Dr. Brooks said.
It looked as if lactic acid was there for a reason. It was a source of energy.
Dr. Brooks said he published the finding in the late 70's. Other researchers challenged him at meetings and in print.
"I had huge fights, I had terrible trouble getting my grants funded, I had my papers rejected," Dr. Brooks recalled. But he soldiered on, conducting more elaborate studies with rats and, years later, moving on to humans. Every time, with every study, his results were consistent with his radical idea.
Eventually, other researchers confirmed the work. And gradually, the thinking among exercise physiologists began to change. "The evidence has continued to mount," said L. Bruce Gladden, a professor of health and human performance at Auburn University. "It became clear that it is not so simple as to say, Lactic acid is a bad thing and it causes fatigue."
As for the idea that lactic acid causes muscle soreness, Dr. Gladden said, that never made sense.
"Lactic acid will be gone from your muscles within an hour of exercise," he said. "You get sore one to three days later. The time frame is not consistent, and the mechanisms have not been found."
The understanding now is that muscle cells convert glucose or glycogen to lactic acid. The lactic acid is taken up and used as a fuel by mitochondria, the energy factories in muscle cells.
Mitochondria even have a special transporter protein to move the substance into them, Dr. Brooks found. Intense training makes a difference, he said, because it can make double the mitochondrial mass.
It is clear that the old lactic acid theory cannot explain what is happening to muscles, Dr. Brooks and others said.
Yet, Dr. Brooks said, even though coaches often believed in the myth of the lactic acid threshold, often they ended up training athletes in the best way possible to increase their mitochondria. "Some coaches have understood things the scientists didn't," he said.
Through trial and error, coaches learned that, in endurance-based team ports such as football, basketball, and soccer, athletic performance improved when athletes worked on endurance - running longer and longer distances, for example. That, it turns out, increased the mass of their muscle mitochondria, letting them burn more lactic acid and allowing the muscles to work harder and longer. 
But when a sport calls almost exclusively for explosiveness, this is simply not the case.  Modern coaches in these sports often tell athletes to train very hard in brief spurts.  That extra stress increases the mitochondria mass even more, Dr. Brooks said, and is the key reason for improved performance.
And the scientists?
They took much longer to figure it out.
"They said, 'You're anaerobic, you need more oxygen,' " Dr. Brooks said. "The scientists were stuck in 1920."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Saturday, June 29, 2013

In defense of high schools with "bad" high school coaches

As a college coach who recruits high school and JuCo athletes, I have a pretty broad net cast in search of those special players that could possibly play for my university. That also gives me a unique view from the "other side" of recruiting kids that I can share with parents.

VUSC is a NAIA DI school - equivalent to mid/high-level NCAA DII. The NAIA allows a maximum of 10 1/2 possible full ride scholarships for a baseball team. Most universities, however, don't allocate every one of those 10 1/2 scholarships. In fact, one school I know allocates only two.  The point is this: Athletic scholarships don't grow on trees, and many schools have less than you think.

So with this in mind, one of the east coast parents I correspond with wanted to know about any non-high school baseball travel program to have his kid.

For the Fall? Summer?...

"Nope. The Spring, as a replacement for our local school's team", he responded. "The coach is an abusive clown who can't judge talent correctly."

Yikes...I see this more and more. Apparently, high school athletic directors are now going out of their way to hire bafoon, abusive clowns as high school baseball coaches.

Now, I have no problem with parents wanting to make sure their athlete gets proper training and the right "experience" in order to get to that "next level". But obviously, many are being conditioned to think that the local high school coach is an idiot.  And, anecdotally, I've noticed that much of it seems comes from fall and summer travel ball or private coaches who parents pay to coach a travel team.

While it's true that some high schools have less experienced coaches, it is the exception, not the rule.  And blatantly abusive coaches might fool people during the job interview, but they typically get weeded out over the long haul.

Which brings me to the painfully tedious point of this post.  While a bit wordy, this is is about how I, as a coach scouting your kid, look at kids who choose not to play for their high school team, then expect to be recruited by guys like me at showcases or travel team events.

I use showcase events/travel teams to *validate* a high school player's career, not replace it. Note: while this is baseball-specific, it also applies to softball and football. I can't speak for the recruiting process for other major sports like basketball, soccer, etc.

If we go to a showcase game or a travel game, usually it's to see a player that we are already interested in. And it's usually a pitcher or catcher, because that's where he will be getting meaningful reps outside of high school games. A position player getting a few at-bats is tougher to judge because of the randomness of the game.

This is an important consideration. I can't afford to go to see the same team more than once or twice because there are so many prospects. We only need three or four freshman per year. Almost NONE of them get a scholarship because only front line difference makers (i.e., top 5-6 pitchers, starting catcher, and top 3 or 4 starting position players) get them. And most of them are already on the team.

The *new* kids that get scholarships are usually JuCo transfers (see this article to see why coaches think like this). This holds true even if the freshman kids are solid players, and even if they could be starters the next season.

That last point is HUGE.

We rarely pursue a high school kid unless he is a huge scholarship prospect. And those guys are usually pitchers and beast catchers. The rest contact us and a jillion other colleges, fishing for a spot.

So as for the rest of the players who get attention, it all comes down to "screens".

We, as coaches, have to filter the several hundreds of high school players that contact us each year and weed it down to maybe 25-30 kids that we'll track in their senior year of high school. And, as stated earlier, we pursue immediate difference makers more zealously that future difference makers. On a team of 25, there's very little room for non-contributing freshman players. And there are always a few kids that magically show up during the summer/fall after another college reduced a scholarship offer (or for a zillion other reasons).

So, in this context, as sad as this sounds, not playing for your high school team definitely raises a red flag with guys like me simply because we don't have time to investigate whether a high school coach is a clown or the parents are simply overzealous.

Guess which way we typically lean?

So follow this scenario: If the high school coach really IS is a clown, and the kid shines anyway, suppose I have a choice to make between him and a travel ball-only kid who didn't play for his high school for the same reason. He thinks the coach is a clown.

So I'm left with two kids:
  • One who shines with a clown coach, or
  • One who skipped that high school team and played travel ball, shining there.  
Assume all other things are exactly equal (perceived skills, grades, outside interests, family dynamics, etc.).
  • Which kid do you think will stick it out at my school when he doesn't get a single at bat his freshman year and there is a sophomore or junior starting ahead of him?
  • Which one will *typically* be mentally tougher when he finds out that getting good grades at a college is way tougher than at high school?
  • Which one of them has the most untapped potential to improve by practicing with my squad and (supposedly) better coaches?  
To a prospective college coach, a potential baseball resume is reviewed very similarly as to how a prospective employer looks at a resume. There are boatloads of prospective players to look at. Thus, part of the screen in gauging an athletic profile without knowing him personally is our perception of potential program loyalty and perceived ability to deal with adversity.

Not being able to play for a coach for whatever reason in high school immediately raises eyebrows as to the motivations of the *parent*. By osmosis, we have to assume that it trickles down to the kid. There are simply too many me-first players out there with the same story.

So, all things being equal, we track the player who plays for the clown coach, then plays travel during the summer or fall. I know it's not fair, and it might not be accurate...but it is what it is. Incidentally, that's another reason why I also rank two sport athletes higher than single sport players if both appear equally gifted on the baseball field.

If you choose to have your athlete forego the high school team, please note that I am *not* saying that you or your son are one of "those" parents or "those" me-first kids. But unless the kid is projectable, playing on an official MLB "scout" team, and slotted for a draft position by an MLB team (i.e., NCAA DI full scholarship caliber), it's an uphill battle for a potential freshman college player to fight.

Monday, June 10, 2013

On Perseverance...Of CP's record 15 2013 MLB draft picks, one story stands out.

Imagine you are a 15 year old kid in your dream scenario...

State Championship baseball game.Bottom of the last inning. Tying run on 3rd. You are up.

And you strike out looking.

Do you have the intestinal fortitude to come back?

Flash forward a few years to find out.

We are proud to be able to call Cressey Performance a Friend of BALL.

"This last Saturday afternoon, the 2013 MLB Draft wrapped up, with a record 15 Cressey Performance athletes having been taken over the three days. While I'm proud of them all, one story in particular stands out as a means of teaching many up-and-coming athletes lessons they need to learn for long-term success."

Check it out here.

And Eric, if you're reading this, thanks for training kids up the right way: physically, mentally, and emotionally strong.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wrestling inspiration...

BALL doesn't (yet) have a wresting module. We do, however, have a passion for all sports-related inspirational stories. HERE is one that Wooden would have loved... "Don't let what you can't do, dictate what you CAN do." - John Wooden

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Multiple or Single Sports and Athletic Scholarships

About this time of year, the subject of "single sport vs. multiple sport" seems to come up every year with parents and kids I teach through BALL or various sports leagues.  In essentially all cases, I am in favor of youth experiencing multiple sport, multiple interest development.  Let the kids have fun!  Don't promote the idea that their self worth is defined by how good they are at a particular sport.  If you talk to other college coaches and professional scouts, they will essentially tell you the same thing (like this guy does here...Franco ROCKS).

Here's an idea: instead of playing one sport all year 'round, take 4 months of travel ball expenses and teach the kid how to study the 3 R's and develop emotional intelligence though experiencing multiple sports and multiple interests rather than learning the nuance of throwing a superior curve ball.  In almost all cases, the good grades will get Little Johnny/Jolene a better scholarship than sports ever will.  An example? At our university, a freshman student with a 3.5 GPA can get a $15,000 academic scholarship. That doesn't count any needs-based grants like the Cal grant or the Pell grant.  And it will pay even bigger dividends once they are left to their own devices when they go away to college.

This point of view is often met with chagrin by many folks who have young kids that have a demonstrated talent in a certain sport (baseball, softball, basketball, water polo, etc.).  Invariably, the parent brings up that the reason to play the sport year-round comes down to getting a scholarship.  I cringe at this logic.  They've spent thousands of dollars following the advice of private coaches and "select" or "travel" or "club" coaches, sometimes since the kids were 7 or 8 years old. Added up, that amount can be as much as $50,000 or more.  That's a lot of private education or tutoring.

I've learned to try to respond tactfully about this topic, because it's a sensitive subject.  I truly believe that the parent believes that he/she has the best interest of the kid in mind.  But in all honesty, in 49 out of 50 cases, there needs to be a stronger message sent: many who advise parents about this topic have a vested financial interest in keeping the kid locked into a year-round sport.  And many parents have been conditioned to trust someone they pay versus someone who is on the "outside" for that very reason. And in the mean time, the kid gets inflated expectations, and often burns out of the sport before graduation.

In addition, multiple sports/interests teaches valuable life skills that a single sport mentality cannot.  We, as coaches and scouts, ultimately value that more highly than sports proficiency.  If given the choice between two kids that perform equally-well, coaches generally choose the kid who has the most upside potential.  All other things equal, that usually means that we go with the kid with more raw talent but less polished skills.  In other words, multiple-sport, multiple interest students.

Now, please understand...I'm no big shot in my sport.  But I am a college baseball coach at a school that offers several athletic scholarships in many different sports, not just baseball.  The college is not unlike hundreds of others nationwide.  We all recruit and sell our schools and talk with scouts about our kids and...well, generally dedicate ourselves to the sport and the program.  And by-and-large, the opinions are the same: multiple sport athletes are preferred.

But your kid has another level of competition that you probably haven't considered.,.because it's not as obvious.  The competition? Your kid, but three or four years older.

Here's the flow of logic:
1) Academic and fine arts scholarships are much more lucrative and plentiful than athletic scholarships.
2) Freshmen get better academic scholarships than JuCo transfers.
3) JuCo athletes get MUCH better scholarship opportunities than high school seniors.


First, consider the university's coach.  Ultimately, the coach's goal is to put the best team on the field that also meets the school's stated mission (each school has a different take on this).  And that comes down to recruiting athletes that can help the team perform now, not two years from now.  Attracting these impact players takes scholarship money.  Most top notch high school kids, while dominant at their level, cannot compete against top notch 21 and 22 year old athletes with 4 or 5 more years of experience and the same raw talent.  There is simply a world of difference in physical strength and speed.  And for scholarship purposes, there is a difference between making the college team and being one of the top players on the college team.

Added to this is the level of competition. While travel teams may have a slew of really good high school players on it, that team couldn't hold a candle to an average college team.  So the athletes are unproven at the level of competition at which they will play in the next year.  This makes a high school senior a risky athletic scholarship proposition...especially when there is a viable option (at a higher level) in the JuCo circuit.  Since scholarship money is finite, JuCo transfers are generally more highly sought after.

The bottom line?  Let your kids be kids.  Let them play multiple sports.  And if you're going to make them do anything, make them hit the books.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Robinson and Ryan...

Happy Birthday to two of Ball's greatest role models (for completely different reasons): Jackie Robinson and Nolan Ryan!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


‎"When Poise is present, you'll perform at your own personal best because Poise precludes panic. You'll understand what you're supposed to do, and do it even when the odds are against you, even when the experts say you'll fail." - Coach Wooden