(In Photo: Jacob Lindgren) Over the course of the year we here at BYB have had the pleasure of speaking with Coach Steve Hayward from Baseball Health Network, Mike Cocco, a long time expert in baseball training and preparation and other very knowledgeable baseball minds regarding arm health and maintenance. Check out our stories in the SAVING ARMS Series:
Anyway, as we approach the end of the fall baseball season, I was able to speak with Coach Hayward again to discuss some fall and off-season maintenance for young throwers around the country.
Fall ball is a different season than the spring and summer. It is more of a developmental kind of season. Some players are making transitions from the 50×70 to the 60×90 diamond while others prepare for high school level ball or their junior and senior years where they could have college eyes on them. With that being more a developmental thing, Coach Hayward mentioned some points to focus on.
We, as coaches, have to assure we don’t overuse and abuse our young players. The Little Leaguers making the transition to the 60×90 field have to be monitored closely. Pitching from 46 and 60 are two very different animals. Many of the youngsters pitching on the big diamond for the first time likely pitched quite a bit over the spring and summer months on the 60’ diamond. They are going to struggle and get fatigued and we have to make sure we are vigilant of that. Their bodies are not accustomed to it and it can cause some arm issues. They just aren’t prepared to be worked like they were on the smaller diamond yet.
As for the older kids, we have to make sure we have good discussions with them. How much did they throw over the spring? What about the summer? If they threw a lot of innings, then in the fall they should throw less, bottom line! Coach Hayward suggests about a 30 pitch bullpen, followed by one inning. At that point assess the situation, ask how they feel and if they are up to it, have them go throw another simulated type inning in the bullpen. Seriously.
For the players who were, say, the number four or five starters on their teams and didn’t amass a lot of innings, the fall is a good time for them to get some work and continue their development as they try and earn more time going into next year. Coaches can be aggressive with these pitchers since they aren’t at the same risk due to a lesser workload over the course of the year.
For all pitchers, the fall should be a time to work on your weaknesses, not your strengths. Coach Hayward tells his pitchers to throw their fastball and their weakest pitch, whatever that may be, and that’s it. The fall is a great time to develop your other pitches. Just getting the feel for a pitch like the change-up in situations that aren’t as serious can help lead to confidence and effectiveness in the pitch for the next season and beyond.
As the winter approaches, especially for us in the north, we won’t be able to play outdoors anymore. At this point the players do need some rest. Bodies and arms need a break to recover from the long season.
But that doesn’t mean stop throwing. In fact, throwing is good, but you have to know the intensity. Coach Hayward suggests frequent throwing but at a lower intensity. He compared it to walking, jogging and sprinting. We want to walk and jog, get loose and work on mechanics and feel, but now is not the time to ‘sprint’. The exception to this rule would be for players who are attending winter showcases. For the showcases they need to be physically ready so Hayward suggests letting loose once a week.
For pitchers, 50-75% intensity bullpens are good for maintenance. Hayward firmly believes in that and feels many players don’t do it enough. For many young players, they also play fall or winter sports. For those players, making 60-70 throws a couple times a week is good to keep the arm in sufficient shape for the following season. That could encompass simply 24 reps each of 30 foot throws, 40 foot throws and 50 foot throws. Coach Hayward also stressed ensuring the players use their legs and do four to five foot shuffles each repetition. Nothing too strenuous but repetition is important.
The winter is also a great time to hit the gym, especially for the high school aged players and older. For younger players 13 and younger, they should stay focused on being active in general. Coach Hayward takes his young sons to the park and sets up obstacle courses on a playground and has them have friendly competitions. They have fun and it’s competitive but it’s not in a gym. That’s just an example he used. Younger players lifting weights is not my expertise so I’d leave that up to the professionals.
A strong core and legs are essential to stamina for athletes, and in our case, pitchers. A solid workout regimen should be incorporated in the off-season to build strength as compared to in season which should be for maintenance.
For those of us who coach, we have to assure we are aware of injury risk factors and proper training for our young athletes. Coach Hayward and his partner Yankees team Doctor, Dr. Christopher Ahmad, have been working tirelessly to build their site Baseball Health Network. Personally I check out a lot of BHN material. A broad range of knowledge and preparation is key to preparing our athletes for the future.
By having the proper knowledge we can set our kids up for success by getting ahead of the injuries as Coach Hayward likes to say. Most of our players won’t go pro, many won’t play sports in college but all of the players we coach have long lives ahead of them and by keeping them as healthy as possible, we are being the best coaches we can be.
Thanks to Coach Hayward for taking the time!
–Dan Lucia, BYB Senior Writer Follow me on Twitter:@DManLucia