Hard Ball Talks
Date: October 26, 2015
Guest: Coach Ray Bennett, Assistant Coach of the St. Louis Blues. You can learn more about Coach Bennett and the St. Louis Blues at www.stlblues.com.
Topic: We see often the underselling of our youth in their youth sports experience, Coach Bennett dialogues with us on this topic. Coach Bennett has a wealth of experience and perspective, not only from his time coaching in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings, but also with his work in the Canadian National program and junior hockey. Coach Bennett brings unique perspective as a father of two children who have grown through the junior hockey system in the United States.
Too often in youth sports, coaches have total control of the game. When a ball is hit to the short stop, who yells the loudest? The coach. This is where the Extreme Baseball and Softball Club wants to improve the game with a new defensive mindset called “Create a Play Sequence”. In this blog, you will see three examples of our “Create a Play” idea; 1st & 3rd’s, bunt situations, and one step further. Our goal is to see players execute defense at a high Ball IQ level, always one step ahead of the game looking towards the next play, and making the play without the coach telling them what to do.
A constant critique of youth baseball and softball is that players are becoming too robotic, relying so much on the coach to call a play. For example, 1st and 3rd situations, who do you hear call out a play? The catcher who receives a play from the coach. Again, the call comes from the coach. Imagine if the call came from the Shortstop or Catcher who recognized the situation independently of the coach. Instead of a coach calling out a play, we are encouraging players to recognize the situation on their own, have the confidence and Ball IQ to call a play based on the situation, and finally execute the play. It should be every coach’s wish to watch their team execute and make the correct decision without being told what to do.
Another example we are using to open up the minds and creativity of the players is through bunt situations. Do we run a wheel or basic bunt crash defense? This call currently comes from most coaches, instead of the players. Again, we want to be one step ahead of the opponent. For example, bunt situation with a runner on 2nd base, instead of just throwing a pitch and wondering if the other team will bunt or swing away, we encourage our players to make the other team “show their hand” before we even throw a pitch. One way to do this on the baseball side is by running an inside move pick off. Most fans and parents watching may think that the only purpose is to pick the runner off at second, when in reality, the goal is to see what the batter does with his hands. Don’t get me wrong, if we can pick off the runner at 2nd base, we will definitely take that. But again, the ultimate goal is to determine if the batter is bunting or swinging away in this bunt scenario. This also could lead to a pitch out, snap throw behind a runner at 2nd, opening up other avenues of getting the lead runner out. Our goal isn’t necessarily that they can execute a designed play, but that their Ball IQ and instincts allow them to see opportunities to get outs.
The last example of Create a Play is encouraging our athletes to be one step ahead. Players are learning how to set up a play with a previous pitch, learning how to lull a runner to sleep on the bases, which leads to getting those tougher outs other than your volume outs (K’s, fly balls, ground outs). One tactic our athletes use is visualization before every pitch. We want them to know what they are doing with the ball before it is even hit to them. Nobody should be surprised when the ball is hit their way. This reemphasizes our players to be “One Step Ahead” so when they have the opportunity to make a play, they execute with confidence without second guessing themselves.
When introducing this concept to our athletes for the first time, the reaction was deer in the head lights. We are now 2 months into this process and the improvements being made have been significant and very unique. Most training, rather individual or team, is focused on the physical movements of a player. This Create a Play Sequence is very unique in the fact that it is predominately mental, with the physical being execution of the play. The biggest improvement we want to see from players is their communication skills and being confident in what they are communicating. The Extreme highly encourages players to “get out of their bubble” during a practice, since after all, it is called practice for a reason. Too many times, a player shuts down and does not communicate at practice in fear or being wrong or the repercussions of being wrong from coaches and other players. With that said, the mistake is made in practice, but come game time, players are confident in their communication. Needless to say, we are encouraged by the current progress and potential opportunity that will come from the Create a Play Sequence training.
Hard Ball Talks
Date: October 12, 2015
Guest: Elliott Finkelstein, Director at Triple Crown Sports. You can learn more about Elliott and the professional events that Triple Crown Sports hosts at www.triplecrownsports.com.
Topic: With an increasing number of youth clubs forming, more and more tournaments and events popping up, it is critical for us coaches and parents to take a more active role in the assessment of finding the right experience for our athletes. Events have the ability to be a contributor to the right experience in youth sports or a deterrent. Elliott took some time with us to discuss sports events, tournament experiences, and his overall passion to improve the youth sports platform.
Baseball & Softball athletes deal with an increase risk of injury due to the constant strain the game puts on their bodies. From planting, rotating, exploding, stabilizing, core activation, and arm whip their bodies are constantly being challenged to stay healthy. We have refocused on injury prevention for our athletes as we launch the Extreme’s 17th year.
Professionals brought in through the Extreme Network have been brainstorming on the trends of our sport & the strengths and weaknesses of our Midwest athletes. They have created a standardized warm-up system that is tailored for our program goals and needs. The depth of professional input that was used to create these standards is a first for our program on this large of a scale. Our program now benefits from a professionally designed program with 2 purposes: 1) to increase our athletes’ velocity and 2) to decrease their risk for injury.
Extreme Baseball and Softball teams go through a consistent warm-up that progresses and reinforces movement and athletic positions that every viable and healthy baseball or softball athlete need to enjoy years of competition.
The Extreme Baseball & Softball Warm-up System focuses on increasing the temperature of the muscles to increase the speed of nerve impulses, making our athletes faster. They will also experience an increase in range of motion at the joints reducing the risk of tearing muscle & ligaments.
Here are the basic themes of the warm-up that all of our athletes complete:
- Increase Heart Rate
- Dynamic Stretch
- After we increase the heart rate and pulse the muscle temperature has increased and are more elastic, reducing the risk of injury.
- Agility & Coordination
- Agility requires a combination of balance, speed, strength, & coordination. After our dynamic stretch athletes are primed to work on increasing their rhythm and output in these areas.
- Shoulder/Rotator Cuff warm-up prior to throwing
- Increase blood flow to the shoulder prior to throwing reduces the risk of injury.
- Throwing Progression with focus points on mechanic efficiency + proper force and inertia increase as quantity of throws increase.
- Many athletes come out and throw the ball as hard as they can from the start. Doing this increases their potential risk for injury greatly. By taking our athletes through a progression with focus points around mechanics, force, velocity, and timing we build healthy habitual habits they will lean on for years to come.
- Cool down for our athletes includes mobility focused stretching + flush exercises to help increase range of motion and recovery.
- Mobility and flexibility of the joints, muscle tissue, ligaments and tendons surrounding the joint is crucial for maintaining a healthy body that can withstand large quantity of reps and temperature changes prevalent in the mid-west.
Our game is being increasingly challenged to be safer. The Extreme Baseball & Softball Warm-up System will be one solution for our coaches and players to increase our athlete’s safety.