The Baseball Player Development Crisis Circa 2019:

The Disappearance of The Off-Season

 

By Coach Ron Wolforth-

 

Some reading this might scoff at my use of the term ‘crisis’.  “Talk about a real crisis Coach Wolforth, like the rising epidemic of ulnar collateral reconstruction surgeries and/or the rise of national rankings and championships for 7-10 year olds”, they might say. 

 

In our opinion at the Ranch Consortium, much of our current issues in baseball stem to a large degree from a lack of a deep understanding of the difference between training/development/preparation and performance/competition/production.  Much of the baseball universe have long blurred those lines and have profoundly confused the very divergent precepts and applications of ‘practice’ vs. ‘games’.  

 

And, inevitably, we are now seeing the significant and sometimes severe negative consequences of that lack of understanding.

 

Let me explain by asking you to think through some things with me.

 

In your opinion, is there an important distinction between the deep deliberate practicing of musical skills on an instrument (piano, guitar, clarinet, violin etc.) vs. actually playing that instrument in a concert setting? 

 

Is there an important distinction between developing a mastery of the precepts and application of specific calculus equations vs. taking an Honors Calculus exam in college?

 

Is there an important distinction between building your mastery of different shots on a driving range and putting green vs. playing in a golf tournament?  

 

I believe a vast majority of us would say there are indeed clear distinctions between these examples of practice vs. performance.  

 

Are there similarities?  Certainly.

 

Can you learn critically important things from the concert, the test and the tournament? Certainly. 

 

Can you become so skewed and obsessed with the training and preparation side that you miss the bigger picture of performing at a high level in competition?  Again, it is certainly possible. 

 

But today, circa 2019, most often what is cut short is the training, the preparation, the development and the time for deep, deliberate practice. 

 

Baseball is especially bad at this relationship.

 

We play.  In fact we play a lot!  We scrimmage almost immediately after our practices have begun.  We play all Spring.  We play in the Summer.  We have Fall “Development’ leagues and Winter Showcases.  We play in a league during the week.  We play in tournaments during the weekend.  We keep our rosters small so very few have to sit out or miss innings and can be sparred the incredible humiliation of supporting our teammates from the bench / dugout (sarcasm). 

 

We don’t throw during the week so we can be fresh during the weekend. 

 

If you are in college, it’s the exact same thing, just shuffled around bit.  You scrimmage in the Fall.  You play all Spring.  Players are shipped all over the country to play in summer collegiate leagues. 

 

Certainly you get some time to practice and train, but competition, performance and the results at game time is the straw that stirs the drink.  All of these are forwarded in the name of… wait for it… ‘Development’.  It would actually be funny if it wasn’t so sad. 

 

Development, learning, growth, evolution, adaption, accommodation, refinement and assimilation occur, by far the best, in an environment in which the athlete feels free to experiment, test, probe, stretch and investigate.  Competition and game time performance, on the other hand, do not lend themselves well to these applications.  Failure, in the heat of competition, often has very strong and emotional consequences.

 

Yet, most of the baseball universe goes merrily forward, content in the accepted paradigm that playing in games = elite training and skill development.  They of course are FAR from the same thing.  

 

K. Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist, Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University who is internationally recognized as a researcher in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance.  In his brilliant book PEAK, Ericsson details a classic example of the incredible gap between deep deliberate practice and primarily performing in games when it comes to elite performance. 

 

Ericsson used Benjamin Franklin as his perfect example as to why simply playing a lot of games or competitions is far from the same thing as development.  As we all know, Ben Franklin was incredibly prolific in many areas including science, finance, philosophy, politics etc.  He constantly and continually worked at his passions with deep, deliberate, purposeful practice and dedication.  He was a ardent reader and an exquisite journal taker, chronicling his experiments, lessons and his efforts in excruciating detail. 

 

But mostly unbeknownst to history, Franklin also loved the game of chess.  He played as often as he could.  However, even with his obviously incredible intellect, Franklin never developed as a chess player.  He simply played chess and remained only a slightly better than average player.  He enjoyed the game immensely but never applied the same processes of purpose and investigation to chess that he gave his other pursuits.

 

Let me be clear.  It is not that Franklin learned nothing from playing games against his friends.  I’m certain he did.  It’s that the actual lessons learned were often so random, vague and esoteric that true skill development as a chess player never materialized. 

 

The crisis in baseball circa 2019 is that young athletes have in essence lost their off season. They simply play….and play…and play! 

 

They have very little dedicated time to assess their constraints or limitations.  They don’t have time to test, to experiment, to stretch, to fail, to reach and to appraise. 

 

If they are behind their competitive peer group in terms of:

 

Velocity

Command

Health and durability

Spin / deception and creating ‘swing and miss stuff’ 

Recovery / ability to bounce back. 

Consistency

Mobility / flexibility

Strength / stability

Mindset / tenacity

Strategy / tactics

Where and when in the world are they supposed to catch up or close that gap? 

 

Skill development takes time and playing in games 12 months of the year or playing 9 months of the year and taking 3 months off of all baseball activities…will NEVER be a recipe for that young man to really take his skills to the next level.  

 

Any player, parent or coach who signs up for a constant performance mode will almost certainly go the route of Ben Franklin’s chess career.  In short, mediocrity is where you are headed.

 

The Texas Baseball Ranch® has a Summer Developmental Program that runs from June through August.  We have been improving and enhancing that program for the past 20 years since we first began that course in 1999.   Athletes come from all over the US and even the world (including Norway, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, Mexico and Australia) to join us for 2-10 weeks of training.  In fact, many weeks of that program sell out.  It has been an absolutely incredible success. 

 

It has become ‘the off-season’ for many college and high school pitchers.  It allows them to do exactly what they need which is, for at least a 2-week period during the year, to actually work on themselves and what THEY need.

 

Many folks have tried to copy our summer program and as strange as it may sound, we are very thankful for that.  Young baseball athletes desperately need an off season, regardless of where they find it.

 

While we may not have solved this troubling trend of the ‘disappearing off-season’, we take great pride in doing our part in reversing this current course and helping players, parents and coaches better understand the critical difference between practice and competition in the development of motor skill. 

 

If you would like more information on our “Summer Developmental Program”, go to www.TexasBaseballRanch.com/events.  

 

– – – – – – – – –

 

Our Elite Pitchers Bootcamp dates have been set with a choice of  six dates between June and August.
Go to https://www.texasbaseballranch.com/events/epbc/

 

In Addition, registration for our “Extended Stay Summer Development Program” is now open.  Come train with us for 2-10 weeks.  Early Bird rates available through April 30th but space is limited so don’t delay.
Go to http://www.texasbaseballranch.com/events/tbr-summer-program/

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