College Baseball Recruiting Timeline – Middle School

March 6, 2012

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

Yes, you read that correctly…MIDDLE SCHOOL! Yesterday I directed a seminar to parents and players in our RBI Hawks Travel Baseball Program on some of the ins and outs of the college baseball recruiting process.  Prior to the seminar I put together an outline of notes on some things I thought would be important for players/parents to know.  It’s truly a dynamic topic and there is just far too much information to jam into a single one-hour session.  I thought this would be a great blog topic that I could spread out into a few important sections to help those seeking information at least gain some sort of knowledge base. 

I felt the best way to share this information would be to put together a timeline so that anyone reading this can see what they should already be doing, what they currently need to do, and what they need to do in the future.  One of the questions I most commonly field is “When should we start paying attention to this?”  My typical answer is “you’re already behind.”  Most people don’t even think about the process until the end of their junior year of high school.  This can be a decent time for non-athletes, but athletes, baseball players in particular need to get the ball rolling early.

MIDDLE SCHOOL (Grades 7-8)

While this is NOT the time to be sitting there debating which college to go to nor is it the time that coaches will be actively recruiting, it is definitely a time to start to create good habits both on and off the field to put yourself in the best possible position entering high school.  Here are a few bullets on some important things that parents and athletes should begin to add to their schedules:

– Study Habits & Good Grades: As will be discussed down the road in this blog series, having superior grades is an absolute must.  Some of the habits kids have when they are sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school were created when they were in middle school.  Parents need to make sure they are setting time aside at the home for kids to be focused on school work.  This needs to happen every school night and most Sundays as well.  If parents can stay on top of this in these years, most kids will continue these habits on their own in high school.

– Sports: Kids at the middle school age should be playing multiple sports.  I played football, basketball, and baseball all the way through high school and it’s a great way to develop the complete athlete.  It puts kids in both a constant learning and competitive environment.  Parents need to accept when a kid isn’t the best at his sport.  Too many times kids quit sports because their parents don’t want to see the kids fail, which in my opinion is a horrible lesson to teach.  Check out another blog article I wrote a while back called 3 Reasons NOT to Specialize in 1 Sport

– Off-Season Skill Training: I suggest 4-8 weeks of off-season skill training for your “secondary” sports and about 8-16 weeks for your “primary” sport.  Many kids at this age won’t know exactly what their “primary” or “secondary” sports are and that’s ok but you should try to avoid going into a season with zero preparation for obvious reasons.  This skill training should be a combination of on your own at home (ie tee work in the garage, shooting outside on the basketball hoop, playing catch with the football, etc) and clinics/camps/private instruction.  There are so many options out there for kids to receive quality instruction from professionals, but it shouldn’t be the only work the kids do to help themselves improve.  Keep in mind that in-season commitments should take precedent over off-season. 

– In-Season Skill Training: Depending on the athlete’s practice schedule, the athlete should still make time for in-season skill sessions.  You need to work on your individual skills like hitting and fielding. 

– Strength/Resistance Training: There is no questioning how important this is.  Players of the middle school age typically hit one of their most significant growth spurts just as puberty sets in.  This tends to seriously effect the athlete’s coordination and athleticism.  The feet get a bigger, the arms and legs get longer, and unfortunately this doesn’t always happen simultaneously.  Beginning a supervised resistance training program can be a great way for kids to gain coordination and strength.  It’s also a fair substitution for any kid not participating in a sport that season.  There is no age that is too early to partake in “resistance training” which doesn’t always have to be “weight training.”  Doing pushups, squats, and other exercises using only your body weight is a great start.

– Nutrition: Many kids at this age eat for pleasure, meaning they eat what taste good, smells good, and satisfies them for the immediate time being.  Typically these food choices are high in sugary carbohydrates, saturated fat, and do not provide much nutritional value to an athlete’s body.  These choices do not cater to young athletes trying to retain muscle mass and minimize any increase in body fat.  Like study habits, these positive choices at this age can translate to even better choices down the road in high school. 

Overall, these years should be used to begin to make better choices in the classroom, on the field, and in the kitchen.  Adding a bit more structure to the child’s routine will hopefully translate into them making these choices on their own in high school and beyond.  One thing to also note is that family time should be accounted for before anything.  Having a strong bond with one’s family is a huge factor in the overall development of the person with or without athletics.  It should not just be for whatever time is left over. 

Next up: Freshman Year!


High School Spring Training & What I Took Out of It – Part 3

February 27, 2012

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

Parts 1 & 2 of this series discussed the importance of speed and strength for a high school baseball player.  If you have not read either of those pieces, I suggest doing so prior to getting into Part 3.  Check them out here High School Spring Training & What I Took Out of It – Part 1 and High School Spring Training & What I Took Out of It – Part 2.

CONDITIONING & NUTRITION

Part of our pitch to these players was that this program would give them an opportunity to “live the life of a college baseball player.”  Many of these players have aspirations of playing in college without ever knowing the commitment that comes along with it.  A collegiate baseball season is far more physically and mentally demanding than a high school schedule.  There are times where you may end up playing 20 games in 25 days which is very physically demanding and that doesn’t even include going to class, homework assignments, long-term projects, internships, group meetings, travel, etc.  We tried to keep the players as busy as possible while on our trip. 

By day 3, it was very evident that the players were tired.  There wasn’t nearly as much fire as there was when we first got there.  Players footwork in the field was definitely a bit slower, more mental mistakes were made, and the aggressiveness and speed on the basepaths was limited. 

I believe there were a few factors that contributed to this drop-off.  The first factor is something that is a bit out of the players’ control but the change in climate (avg of + 30 degrees) from home in Massachusetts to Orlando, FL definitely did its part in running down the energy levels of our players. 

Secondly, the overall average level of conditioning for our player’s was below average.  I know some of our players take part in strength & conditioning programs a couple times per week and that is great but I think they need to realize that there is a lot more conditioning needed to be able to perform at a high level on day 4 after 1 full day of on-field practice and 2 days of games.  The conditioning needed to perform in baseball is that of multiple short bursts of energy.  Going for a 2-mile run is not going to increase your baseball conditioning like 10-20 short sprints followed by 10-30 seconds rest would. 

Lastly, the nutrition displayed was just absolutely atrocious.  Each time I entered a players room I’d see soda, gatorade, chips, pop-tarts, white bread, and more.  Most of the food choices by our players did not cater to a high-level athlete looking to perform at a high level.  I credit this to the players just simply not having the education or knowledge.  I mean most kids know that Doritos and Coca Cola are not good for you but why shouldn’t they be drinking Gatorade or making sandwiches with white bread?  I could go all day on this subject but let me just tell you that high-sugar beverages and starchy white carbohydrates shouldn’t be consumed when just sitting around a hotel room.  These can be of great nutritional value following a strenuous workout to increase a depleted blood glucose level from the stress your muscles go through during the workout itself. 

With all of that said, I highly recommend players who are serious about the game and their health in general to make a commitment to paying  more attention to the food and drinks that enter their body.  A solid nutritional plan plays a major role in the quest to attain a consistent high level of performance.  For anyone interested in getting some help with this, I highly suggest reaching out to the staff at Elite Health & Fitness in Stoughton or Julie Nicoletti over at Kinetic Fuel.


High School Spring Training & What I Took Out of It – Part II

February 24, 2012

Yesterday I wrote the first installment of this series and had a lot of great feedback.  If you haven’t read it already, I would highly suggest reading that before moving on to Part II.  You can find it here: High School Spring Training & What I Took Out of It – Part I.

Part I discussed the importance of how speed can take a player from average to above average.  This doesn’t just mean straight speed from point A to point B but also first-step explosiveness, athleticism in the field, agility, lateral quickness, footwork,  as well as closing speed especially for outfielders. 

I LIFT THINGS UP AND I PUT THEM DOWN!

Today I’d like to discuss the importance of STRENGTH!  I’m not talking about the “how much can you bench press” type strength (although having that type of strength is not necessarily a bad thing), but more so functional strength.  The game of baseball is rotational in nature.  You rotate when you swing, you rotate your body to get to the ball in the field, and you rotate your body to throw the ball.  A player has to be able to transfer power from toes to fingertips on almost every play and they have to do it quickly and under control/balanced.  Think about it…

Pitchers go from “rocker step” in the windup to releasing the ball off their fingertips, catchers catch the ball from a squat position and transfer energy out the fingertips to release the ball when throwing out potential basestealers, hitters load & stride with their lower body and hit the ball with a bat held in their fingers, etc, etc.

The game of baseball has changed.  It’s no longer a game that players can just get away with doing a few pushups, situps, run long distances, and do some light weight shoulder work.  There are far more 90+ mph throwers than there ever were before.  This is due to the evolution of strength training for the baseball player.  Some of the best baseball trainers are the ones who are not afraid to implement heavier loads into a player’s routine, as long as they prove healthy enough to do so from the start.

One of the first things I noticed in our group of players in Florida was that a lot of them have nice swings, but there is a serious lack of “pop” and explosion off the bat.  These guys have been training in hitting cages since November and see the ball jump off their bat for about 10-15 feet before it hits a net.  It might sound and look great in a cage, but it’s a whole other story when you’re outdoors and there is nothing to hold the ball back until the outfield fence that sits 330+ feet away.  Many players were simply not strong enough to DRIVE the ball through the gaps.

One of the last nights we were there I began compiling a few bullet points that I could share with each player on what they need to do most to improve.  After the first 4 players I realized that just about every single kid on the trip AND outside the trip for that matter needed to get serious about a strength & conditioning program.  People tend to just throw out the term “strength & conditioning” without quite understanding what that means and/or the difference between strength AND conditioning.  You don’t have to look too far for a great strength coach either.  There are a number of extremely reputable strength trainers in our area including the guys over at Elite Health & Fitness in Stoughton as well as Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro, MA.  You can also find trainers for great speed & agility work right in our building at Premier Athlete Training.

I will be getting to Part III of this piece soon which will address the conditioning part of strength & conditioning as well as proper nutrition.

Stay tuned and as always, please let me know if you have questions or feed back at jbreen@rbiacademy.com!


High School Spring Training & What I Took Out of it – Part 1

February 23, 2012

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

I, along with Coach Chris Welch recently returned back to RBI after 5 days training some of our high school players in Winter Park,Florida on the campus of Rollins College.  We had 1 full day of practice followed by 3 days of intrasquad games.  During our time spent there we took many notes on things that we could preach to these players to help them improve once we get back as well as to give them an idea as to what they need to do to become the overall player they are looking to be. 

There were a few glaring skills and characteristics that separated the highest level players from the lowest.  The group we brought down was very diverse not only in their current skill and ability, but their family backgrounds, training backgrounds, and overall playing experience.  This made for a great coaching opportunity as we were able to cater to each unique player.  It also gave these players a chance to see where they currently stand among their peers.

We also had a player in the group who is among the highest caliber of player you will ever find at the high school level.  He can hit for average, hit for power, run, throw, and is athletic as they come from his outfield position as well as the base paths.  He is a true 5-tool player at the ripe age of 17.  Outside of his physical skills, he possesses some of the best qualities a coach/scout would look for in a potential prospect including a great work ethic, attention to detail, a desire to improve, and much more.  Also, due to his time spent in the weight room, he is simply far stronger and more conditioned than your average high school athlete.  It was an eye opener for a lot of players that have aspirations at playing at the highest of levels. 

The following are some notes I took and thoughts I have with regards to what your typical average high school baseball player who is looking to play at the next level must do to get there.

Speed Kills

Among the group, we had a few players that could really motor.  One player in particular was not only the fastest player on the field, but truly knew how to run the bases better than anyone I’d ever seen at his age.  This was a combination of fundamental base running skills, natural instincts, and an ability to get to top speed in only a few steps.  Some of his speed is natural; however, I know for a fact that the combination of his strength work, sprint work, plyometric training, and nutrition has allowed him to increase his first-step quickness as well as his full-stride speed. 

Rhett Wiseman – 60yd dash – Perfect Game USA

Many high school players underestimate the importance of this aspect of the game.  They do not realize that you have to be a superior ATHLETE in order to be a superior baseball player.  Too many players focus solely on the hitting or pitching skills and not enough on the total on-field package.  Heck, let’s say you become a great hitter…doesn’t that mean you will be on base more often?  Above average base running skill is not an added benefit, but a MUST for those looking to play at the highest levels.

Coach Jon Sjogren of Rollins College told our group a few great things with relation to this topic.  He said that he “needs guys who can get to second base by themselves.  This means I need guys who can either hit the ball to the gap or over the outfielders head and get doubles OR I need guys who can hit singles or walk and then steal second base.  Even better than those guys are the guys who can get to third base by themselves.”  It seems like an obvious statement, but the way it was worded really hit home with the players AND the coaches.

I will have Part II posted asap while it’s all fresh in the mind!!!  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me!  (JBreen@RBIACADEMY.com)


ARE YOU PUTTING IMPROVEMENT AS A PRIORITY??

November 19, 2011

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

Whether you are a 9 year old baseball player looking to make his summer “A” team, a 14 year Major League Baseball Veteran looking to get that final BIG contract, or anywhere in the middle (and that’s a lot of middle ground) you need to make sure you are constantly keeping your eye on the biggest aspect of the game that can often get overlooked – Improvement.

Far too often, baseball players place questions like, “What team will I make?”, “What college will I play for?”, “What scouts are watching me?”, and “What contacts should I make to help get me where I want to go?” ahead of what is really important – Improvement.

No, I’m certainly not saying that off the field questions such as the ones I mentioned aren’t important. Setting goals and figuring out what you have to do to reach those goals is immensely important, but far too often players are worried about the wrong details that are going to get them to achieve their goals. Without constant improvement, reaching that “next level” will often times lead to failure.

My comparison for this would be a high school student spending countless days and hours stressing out which college he will attend. This person will spend hours and hours researching schools, researching tuition costs, filling out applications, interviewing, making on campus visits, etc. Yes, all of this is super important and is certainly necessary but what happens if that student simply stopped learning and assumed their knowledge would carry them through 4 years of college? The answer is simple, they would fail.

I see it all the time with youth baseball players and high school players. They spend all the time in the world focusing on getting to the next level but don’t spend the time improving their ability so when they reach their next step, they can succeed. What good is it to be on the “A” team if you’re not going to work hard to improve your ability each year to make sure you’re on the “A” team the next year and the year after that. What good is it to get to that ACC program’s scholarship money if you aren’t going to be able to perform at that level when you get there on the field or in the classroom?

Fortunately, something else I see all the time here are the players that ARE willing to improve and put the work in to make sure they constantly succeed. We have players here that just signed their letters of national intent to go to programs like Boston College, Vanderbilt, and Bryant (to name just a few) and are still working as hard as ever in the classroom, in the gym, and in our cages. These players know the importance of not just getting there, they understand the importance of staying there. They understand the importance of not just being happy to be there, but the importance of being an impact player there. They want to be someone that will help that team WIN. What do they need to be that person? Improvement.

So if you are a youth baseball player or, more importantly, the parent of a youth baseball player, never forget to keep your priorities with improving as a player. Yes, you are going to have to work through a lot of distractions and deal with a lot of nonsense along the way… but don’t let that waiver you from becoming the best possible player you can. In the end, you can reach your goals but not only just reach them… exceed them.

If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!


When to start your off-season training?

October 3, 2011

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

This time of year we get hundreds of calls from parents and players looking to set up their off-season programs with our instructors here at RBI.  One of the first questions they ask is typically “when should we start.”  Now, the business side of me would love to say, today!  However I know that it is not always in the best interest of the player to be doing lessons/workouts or even picking up a bat/baseball at certain times of year. 

Typically I will ask a series of questions such as: 1. Is he playing or did he play fall baseball?  2.  When did the summer season end?  3.  Did he pitch and if so how much/how often?  etc.  This will give me a good idea as to how much time the player should take off from skills training and when a good time to start back up would be.

Here are a few guidelines I go by when booking off-season program’s:

– Any player who played fall baseball in September-October should take a minimum of 4 weeks off after the fall season ends.  Depending on the age of the player, I would highly recommend this time to get on a strength and conditioning program to restore some of the muscle balance that a player loses over the course of a season.  Baseball is a very lop-sided sport and most injuries occur due to muscle imbalances. 

– Players who did not play fall baseball should have taken the September-October months to get on a strength & conditioning program to prepare their body for the off-season, pre-season, and in-season work that lies ahead.  These players I suggest starting up in November knowing that we’ll miss some time due to the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years).  This gives us an opportunity to hit the ground running come January.

– Pitchers are always a bit different than non-pitchers.  Pitchers need to realize that you need to establish a progression of throwing before you begin “pitching.”  Too many kids come to me in January and February and haven’t picked up a baseball since July and are looking to start pitching workouts.  It doesn’t work that way.  The best players (and those looking to minimize the risk of injury) need to spend 4-8 weeks building arm strength and conditioning those intricate muscles used mostly by overhead throwing athletes before even thinking about stepping on the mound. 

Work backwards!  If you are preparing for a high school tryout which we know in Massachusetts is the 3rd Monday in March then you should set your off-season training program backwards from that date.  You need to ask yourself, what kind of shape do I need to be in by that date followed by figuring out HOW you are going to get to that point and how long it’s going to take you to get there. 

–  Don’t peak too soon!  A lot of players that begin their program too early are typically forced into it by their parents or are simply afraid that they will fall behind other players if they don’t.  I can tell you this, if you are on a solid strength and conditioning program and working on improving your athleticism, you will not be behind…you will be ahead!  Also, a lot of the younger players who are “forced” into it do not present much mental focus and it becomes simply a waste of time and the player develops bad habits. 

– Hitters need to spend time “getting back into the swing of things” through various tee drills and soft toss before even bothering with overhand batting practice and far before seeing any live pitching.  You have to get your technique to where you need it, get repetitions with that technique, THEN look to incorporate that muscle memory into more of the “reaction” type drills like front toss, overhand BP, and live pitching.

Hopefully you find these tips helpful in trying to figure out when to begin your off-season training.  If you have any questions specific to your situation, please don’t hesitate to email me at jbreen@rbiacademy.com!


Field Size leads to Poor Throwing Mechanics

July 29, 2011

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

It’s been a thought in my head over the last few years and I now feel as though I have an official standpoint on the issue.  BASEBALL FIELD SIZES ARE TOO BIG FOR THE PLAYERS PLAYING ON THEM!  I have been coaching at or directing Summer Camps and Fall Leagues for almost a decade and have seen all shapes, sizes, and abilities of players from beginners to seniors in high school.  I have thousands of conversations with parents of players who are struggling at the game for various reasons but one consistent thing I see is that the vast majority of players under 9 years old struggle with making the throws demanded of them by the size of the field they play on.

A Little League baseball diamond’s dimensions are 46’ (mound distance to home plate) x 60’ (base paths).  My proposal would be to have all players who are league ages 7-8 play on a field with dimensions of 43’ x 56’.  It may seem like a small adjustment, but throws from the left side of the infield end up being significantly shorter.  Outfielders would also play shallower with the new dimensions which also makes their throws shorter.  When young players have to make throws at a distance further than their bodies allow, their mechanics are hindered and become more susceptible to soreness and injury.

Compare this situation to weight lifting.  Let’s pick a compound exercise like the squat and let’s imagine loading up the bar with a weight that the body cannot handle with proper form.  For this particular exercise, when the weight is too much, the athlete will bend at the waist leaning the trunk of their body over their knees.  While they may complete the exercise for a given amount of repetition, they are simultaneously putting a harmful stress on their back, knees, etc.  Over time, this stress turns from aggravation (arm soreness) to injury. 

Let’s be serious, how many 7-8 year olds consistently can make accurate throws on a line from shortstop/third base to first base?  By keeping the field at the 46’ x 60’ dimensions, we are asking them to consistently perform acts that their bodies are not mature enough to  handle and this is extremely detrimental to the players athletic development, confidence, and overall physical well-being.  

We also see this same issue when the players end up moving on to the “big diamond” or the 60’ x 90’ field.  While we are talking about older, more physically mature players than 7-8 year-olds, it is all relative as their bodies are not physically mature enough to handle the throws they are asked to make.  What’s even a bigger issue with the older group moving to the bigger field is that they are also taking on puberty and some players are growing at an extremely rapid pace.  Stress placed on the growth plates especially in the shoulder and elbow can lead to some real significant physical damage, some causing minor or major surgery.

 While I believe it is just wishful thinking, I wish the town leagues should at least give consideration to adjusting the field size at their town fields.  These don’t have to be permanent changes as the mounds and bases can be moved up to a designated spot for each practice and game.