The Next Level…. This seems to be where everyone wants to be, and it’s where every coach and trainer promises they can take you. But the next level can mean have different meanings to different guys. For some of our ARMory students “the next level” means playing division 1 college baseball and being drafted to play in the pros. For others “the next level” is cracking the starting rotation on their high school team, or making a travelball or little league allstar team. We had one 25 year-old client who had never pitched or played organized baseball of any kind. His “next level” was simply the self-fulfillment of knowing he could throw a baseball 80 mph. It was important to him. Therefore it was important to us. No one plays baseball forever. It’s not what you would call a lifetime sport. My good friend Carl Kelley is the owner of an auto sales business his family has been operating since 1942. He reared 2 sons who played professional baseball and now his grandsons are on a similar path. He constantly stresses to them that the most important thing is to push yourself as far as you can and to milk the game for every bit of joy you can. Because as he puts it, “We all turn into beer league softball players eventually.” The point is that when you eventually walk away from the game (and everyone will), you want to leave on your own terms knowing that you took it as far as you possibly could. You want to walk away with no regrets. You never want to be that 40 year old guy in the bar who sits around talking about how good he could have been if only…. I have been a baseball coach and a physical therapist for over 20 years and in my experience many pitchers leave the game before they should, because they don’t get the opportunity to advance to their “next level”. And that failure can be attributed to 3 major factors. The top three reasons pitchers don’t get the opportunity to advance to the next level are 1) lack of velocity, 2) lack of command and 3) lack of durability Lack of Velocity: You don’t throw hard enough! This is the number one reason pitchers don’t advance. Pro scouts and college recruiters are in love with the radar gun. If you are a right handed high school pitcher and don’t throw harder that 90mph, you probably won’t be offered a division 1 scholarship. If you’re a lefty you get about a 2-3 mph break on that number. I don’t care how good your secondary stuff is, how pinpoint your command is, or how many high school or travelball games you win, if you don’t throw 90 you’re probably not going to get the opportunity to play at the next level. The reason is simple: the recruiters and scouts you see at travelball tournaments and high school games are not the ultimate decision makers in the process. Their motives for recommending a pitcher to their head coach, scouting director or general manager are two fold. They want to improve their team, but they also want to keep their jobs. If they recommend a guy throwing in the 90s and the guy flops at the next level, the bosses will blame the player…”He had talent, but he didn’t have the makeup.” If they recommend a guy throwing in the low 80s and he flops, management will ask the recruiter or scout why they’re bringing in guys with such obvious lack of talent. And then they get fired. We all know that velocity alone doesn’t win games, but you must gain and show velocity numbers 2-3 miles per hour greater than your peers if you want the opportunity to play at the next level. You can ignore it or you can go get it. At The Florida Baseball Ranch® velocity development is one of the easiest things we do. And frankly, we’re very good at it. Pitchers that commit to doing the work in our program, gain an average of 5-7mph in the first 12 weeks. The most fertile time for learning efficient movement patterns that lead to velocity development is between the ages of 9-14, but it’s never too late to get it done. We’ve had guys as old as 25 make significant gains. So how do we do it? It’s about understanding how humans acquire and improve motor skills. The Florida Baseball Ranch® began as an extension of my Physical Therapy practice. Our methods are all based in science and are heavily influenced by what we know from rehabilitation of the various systems of the body. The same principles we use to teach a stroke victim or a Parkinson’s patient to learn to walk, or to get off of a toilet independently apply to teaching pitchers how to develop the most efficient movement patterns for optimum performance. Traditional coaching tends to be weighted toward saturation of the athlete with verbal/cognitive cues. However, we know through rehabilitation science that the motor domain is not most effectively accessed through cognitive input. Words don’t help someone learn a motor skill like pitching. In fact, the words get in the way. Verbal cues often create kinesthetic confusion and inhibit free flow of movement. Our athletes use guided discovery to allow their amazingly smart bodies to figure out the best way for them to get it done. They develop their own styles. There are no choreographed movements or cookie cutter approaches. Our pitchers are better when we give them the goal, provide objective feedback and let their bodies figure it out. Obviously, there are certain parameters of safety that all pitching movement patterns must adhere to, however there are lots of degrees of freedom within those boundaries. Every pitcher that enters our facility is walking around with 2-3 mph they are not using. Those first 3 mph are gained rapidly through improvement of the pitcher’s movement pattern (what some people call “mechanics”). The second 3-5 mph are the product of building a bigger and faster motor—a motor specific to the demands of the pitching movement. And we are masters at developing workout protocols that specifically target the neuromuscular system as it is used in the pitching motion. Pitching requires a combination of movements in a few different planes and most of it is done on one leg. After helping 16 pitchers eclipse the vaunted 90mph fastball threshold over the first 2 years of our existence, we examined the current research and restructured our workout programs to make them more specific to the pitching motion. The results have been incredible!! You’re sure to set your pitching career off on a whole new trajectory—one that will include increased velocity and popularity among scouts and recruiters like you’ve never seen before. Lack of Command You can’t throw enough strikes! The second reason pitchers don’t get the opportunity to play at the next level is that they simply can’t make the ball go where they want it to go. Command is mental. Command is about banging out the deliberate practice repetitions necessary to improve your skill. Deliberate practice is the kind that takes you just beyond your current level. It’s about making positive reaches to stretch the limit of your ability and then repeating it for 10,000 hours to become a master. At least once per week we work on fastball command. Our horizontal command days involve pitchers learning to move the ball laterally in the strike zone from pitch to pitch. On vertical command days they move the ball up and down in the zone, and on diagonal command days the alternate from up and in to down and away and vice versa. To measure our performance, we use Target Pads and a device called and Advanced Command Trainer to challenge our pitchers’ ability to command the baseball. The target pads employ a series of gradually decreasing target sides. Players advance through the target sizes like levels of a video game. If they score 70% targets hit, they advance to a smaller target during the next session. The Advanced Command Trainer is a merciless 17”wide, 17” high pad designed to replicate the major league strike zone. Our more advanced clients train on this device once or twice per week. Despite the fact that fastball command has received a cascade of attention over the past few years, we believe offspeed command to be of equal or more importance. To throw an offspeed pitch for a strike a pitcher must be completely connected and in sync with his mechanics. At The ARMory, our pitchers work on offspeed command at least once per week. Command is more than just throwing strikes. Excellent command is the product of hours of practice to develop a feel for how to locate any pitch anywhere you want to go. Lack of Durability You can’t play because you’re always hurt! The final reason pitcher’s miss their opportunity to advance is lack of durability. Let’s be clear. There will always be a risk of injury among pitchers. The only safe pitch count is zero. Anytime anyone gets hurt, the knee jerk reaction is to blame a coach or parent for overusing him. Many well-respected baseball gurus ascribe to the idea that there are a finite number of pitches in every arm. Use up all your bullets and you’ll break down. Coaches with this philosophy advocate rest and avoidance of pitching for extended periods of time to save those bullets. I completely disagree with this approach. I’ve seen dozens of pitchers who have been coddled and babied and were still injured. At The ARMory we believe you load your own arsenal of pitches for battle. It’s written on the back of our t-shirts. Over the course of my first 20 years as a baseball coach, I have come to realize that most of the time, “overuse” is really “underprepared”. Injuries occur when there are gross mechanical flaws or when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are not conditioned to tolerate the workload demanded. This idea of “saving your bullets” defies logic. Those who advance that theorem are essentially saying, “The best way to prepare for an activity is to not do that activity.” That makes absolutely no sense to me and I believe it to be a dangerous proposal. As stated earlier, The ARMory was born as an extension of my physical therapy practice. Several of our initial clients were pitchers who were recovering from injury. I realized that although they had recovered from their injuries or surgeries, the movement patterns they exhibited were predisposing them to repeating the same problems. If they were to recover completely and return to long-term optimal performance, we would need to change the way they threw. This meant I would have to develop a means for evaluating them that was beyond the borders of physical therapy, and traditional pitching instruction. From thence came our transformational 3-phase assessment. Employing a unique combination of medical and baseball skills, I developed The ARMory Pitcher’s Assessment. Each of our clients receives this evaluation within 2 weeks of enrollment and every 60 days thereafter. Phase 1 of the assessment includes and orthopedic physical screen. We check for typical throwing athlete injuries such as rotator cuff impingement/tears, labrum tears, UCL (Tommy John ligament) insufficiencies. We test shoulder mobility, hip mobility, ankle mobility, thoracic mobility, lumbar stability, and core strength. Then we perform Gray Cook’s Functional Movement Screen to test the athlete’s ability to maintain core posture and stability throughout a series of functional movements. And finally we perform a high-speed video analysis to examine 18-21 markers to identified significant opportunities for development of the pitcher’s movement pattern. You can sign up for one of our initial assessments by CLICKING HERE! When you consider the number of guys who pitch, catastrophic injuries are rare. We always want to be vigilant in reducing the risk of catastrophic injury. However, of equal importance is the training time lost when you experience a minor tweak. If you have to be on the shelf for 6 weeks because of injury, you’ll deny yourself training time you can’t afford to lose. But injury isn’t the only factor in durability. Recovery is also vital. In the major leagues a pitcher throws every 5th day. In college and high school he toes the hill every 7 days. If you want to be great, you need to have your best stuff available every time you take the mound. If it takes you 10 days to completely recover from an outing, you’ll frequently find yourself out there with less than your best. That is a recipe for disaster. If you can’t answer the bell with your best stuff, you’ll find your coaches pitching you less and less and soon you’ll be denied the opportunity to advance to the next level. At The ARMory, we execute a cutting edge arm care and recovery plan after every session. We call it arm insurance. It’s key to long-term health and short-term performance. Velocity, Command and Durability Those are the 3 main reason’s pitchers are denied the opportunity to play at the next level. At The ARMory we have become world-class specialists at developing all three. Our results are indisputable. Now it’s up to you.