Week 1 at 108 Performance

I’m going to document my thoughts on a weekly basis throughout the course of my internship at 108 Performance. Below are my thoughts from week one, the on boarding process, and some helpful tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Five Tools

The first thing that really stood out to me after my first appearance in the shop is the amount of stuff they have lying around. When these guys say everything works and everything sucks, they really mean it because they have tried it all. If there’s something Eugene thinks might help a player, he’s going to try it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a plyo ball, football, club, bowling pin, PVC pipe, swimming flipper, or floatie – it all works if it creates good movement. Everything they do is designed to create a specific movement. As Eugene says best, “I’ve never seen a bad hitter that moves well.”

Really good players move really well. Unfortunately, most kids have been taught how not to move well throughout their careers. As a result, a lot of what Eugene and his team do is uncoaching; the moves that we all need are already inside of us.  

An eight year old showing a clean arm spiral just like Max Scherzer

This prompted me to ask a question: “If you had to eliminate every training tool in this shop except for five, what would they be?” 

Below are the answers I got from Eugene and Will Marshall

Eugene – Pitching

  1. iPad 
  2. Baseball
  3. Heavy ball
  4. Light ball
  5. Water ball

If Eugene could eliminate everything else, he would keep the baseball and the iPad. There’s no better way to capture movement outside of your own two eyes than it is to video it. Two dimensional video gives you a lot of information about what’s going on and can give you a point of reference for future interventions. Eugene likes to use both full speed video and slow motion video. Full speed video helps you absorb the activity in its purest form and gives you a feel for rhythm, tempo, sequencing, fluidity, and efficiency. If you spot an energy leak through full speed video, slow motion video can be used to dive deeper into what’s going on.

Outside of the iPad, the regular ball, light ball, and heavy ball give Eugene the specificity he needs along with some slight variation to keep things fresh. Based on the needs of the athlete, a heavier or lighter implement could help create better movement solutions. Guys who need to pull out a lot of slack (loose movers) might benefit from throwing something heavier. Guys on the other end of the spectrum (tight movers) might need something lighter to prevent movement compensations.

Eugene loves water balls because they create instability that forces the co-contractions of muscles that are necessary for the production (rate of force development) and acceptance of force in small window. Athletes need to be able to create tension at the right moments of time in order to capture energy and efficiently transfer it to the bat or ball. Using water balls helps create feel for this.

Eugene – Hitting 

  1. Heavy long bat
  2. Light long bat
  3. Short bat
  4. Baseball
  5. Soccer ball

Eugene loves long bats with guys who struggle with creating space and bat path. The length forces hitters to clear space with their upper half to deliver the barrel and keep good direction through the middle of the field. The light and heavy versions are designed with the same intention of the heavy and light baseballs – some guys will do better with a heavier or lighter based on how they pull out slack. Short bats force adjustability through the zone and delivery of the barrel. If you have a guy who yanks balls and has a tough time decelerating, giving them a short bat is a great way to teach them how to deliver the bat head without pulling off.

The soccer ball is something Eugene loves to use to teach hitters how to strike balls. Pitchers and hitters have to create a lot of force in a short window of time. Hitters especially have to do this because they are at the constraint of the unpredictability of the incoming pitch. Thinking about “sticking the ball” helps create feel for when hitters should apply force in the swing. Doing too much too soon creates inefficient moves that become difficult to pull off when velocities increase. A cue Eugene likes to use when teaching hitters how to stick balls is “pretend the ball is 500 pounds.” While a soccer ball is not 500 pounds, it represents a constraint that forces athletes to learn how to brace and deliver their bodyweight into contact.

Will Marshall – Pitching

  1. PVC pipe
  2. Baseball
  3. Core Velocity Belt
  4. Waterbag
  5. 7 ounce ball

Will loves the PVC pipe to create feel for specific moves on the mound such as the plane of rotation, keeping posture, getting around the front hip, or teaching the shoulders to work with the hips to deliver the ball. The Core Velocity Belt helps create awareness for the hips and how they move down the mound. Eugene and Will talk a lot about how the extremities (arms, legs) should be slaves to the midsection. Trying to create tension in the arms or legs can create bad moves that expend a lot of energy. Using the belt teaches athletes how to bring focus to their hips so they can control their center of mass down the mound. All movement starts from the middle of the body. If you want to teach efficient movement, the hips are a great place to start.

Teeter Totter

Something Will talked about was how everything is on a teeter totter. Certain cues, feels, tools, and drills work to represent one of two ends on the teeter totter. For example, if thinking about getting on top is at one end thinking about throwing the ball sidearm is at the other end. Both of these cues work, but problems can arise when coaches or athletes spend too much time on one end of the teeter totter. Anything you overindulge in can hurt you. Some cues or drills may work really well right now, but they may not work so well in another training session. It doesn’t matter what you do – the only thing that matters is the movement created

Thinking about getting on top is great until the elbow climbs up and gets out of the plane of rotation. One day you might need to think about staying into your backside – another day you might need to think about getting out of it. Getting out and around your front hip works until you start spinning out of it. 

Don’t get married to certain drills or cues – they only work if they create the right moves. 

Sequencing vs. Efficiency

I picked up on this from a conversation with Will when talking about the idea of efficiency. When it comes to movement, efficiency is what we’re trying to create. Serge Gracovetsky talked about the importance of efficiency in his 1988 book The Spinal Engine suggesting that as a biological system, we strive for the conservation of energy as a means for survival. In essence, the species that does the most with the least is most primed for survival. There’s a reason why the best athletes in this world seem to make really tough things look incredibly easy. They’re producing the most amount of force with the least amount of energy. This is efficiency in its simplest form.

DeGrom is able to run it up into the upper 90s while making it look effortless because of his efficiency

Being able to maximize efficiency requires athletes to properly segment how that energy is captured and transferred up the chain. K Motion is a popular sports technology product that helps visualize this transfer of energy from the pelvis, trunk, arms, and eventually to the bat/ball. In a good sequence, all four segments should accelerate and decelerate in a steep peak where each segment overtakes the next after it reaches its max speed. The correct order of this sequence should be pelvis first followed by the trunk, arms, and then bat or ball. If the sequence is off or if the segments do not accelerate/decelerate sharply, it is going to be very hard for the athlete to efficiently transfer energy. However, being in sequence does not mean the athlete is efficient. 

An example of a good K motion sequence (from Driveline)

To determine efficiency, Will talked about the importance of using full speed video. Looking at a sequencing graph can show you what is happening, but it does not reveal how it is happening. This is why Eugene places so much importance in capturing video. An athlete can have a really good sequence, but how he got there does not mean he did it efficiently. Sequencing graphs don’t quite tell you the entire story. Efficiency comes down to making the most economical use of the resources athletes have at their disposal. You can have a pitcher who’s coming at you with arms and legs that’s in sequence, but it doesn’t mean they are efficient. If you want to determine whether a sequence is efficient or not, watch the film and see how easy (or not so easy) they are capturing energy. There’s a reason why the “old school” guys used to cue less is more – it’s because it works. Understanding sequencing is an important piece of the puzzle, but it is not to be confused for efficiency.

The Brakes and the Rubber Band

The human body is one interconnected system of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints that are intertwined through a giant spider web known as fascia. Fascia plays a crucial role in human movement because it strings everything together, thus playing a role in the transfer of energy. Throughout our body we have four major fascial slings which work like rubber bands to create movement by pulling out slack at optimal moments of time. The best way to describe this is to think about if you were to pull a car with a rope, you would need to first pull the rope taught before you could begin to pull the car. When you pull the rope tight you have removed slack just the way your muscles do when you create movement. However, not every player has the same length of rope. Guys who have to pull more slack out (ex: Donaldson, Chapman) are known as loose movers. Guys who have to pull less slack out (ex: Verlander, Trout) are known as tight movers. Both types of players need different strategies to learn how to most optimally tighten their rope so they can produce efficient movement (see five tools from above on more about this).

A visual of the fascial lines that represent the brakes, from 108 Performance pitching course

This is where the importance of the brakes comes in. The brakes work by using the fascial slings to create tension so energy from the movement can be dissipated. Inability to turn on the brakes leads to movement compensations that can impact force production, movement efficiency, performance, and health. For example, a hitter who lacks breaks is going to be more prone to yanking balls and pulling off offspeed pitches. They don’t have the ability to stop rotation after the swing which impacts their ability to keep good direction through the middle of the field. This yanking motion prevents segments from decelerating resulting in an inefficient sequence. It also can create lower back pain due to the aggressive rotation and lack of stability throughout the movement. If we look at the pitching side, a pitcher with weak brakes might have a tendency to spin out of their front side causing them to pull pitches to their glove side. This creates a poor decel pattern that causes the pelvis to drag the torso and the arm. This prevents the arm from capturing energy and puts it in a position where it cannot slow down safely. If the muscles needed for deceleration cannot be turned on, areas such as the elbow and shoulder are going to take a beating.  

A large engine cannot work efficiently without a strong set of brakes. Placing the engine of a Ferrari into the frame of a Prius is a recipe for disaster. Your body is constantly working to protect you; it will not put you in a position where your decelerators can’t counteract your accelerators. If you’re only teaching the engine, you’re missing out on a huge piece for your athletes. 

We Don’t Write Programs

Something Eugene and Will talked about a lot was their stance on traditional throwing or hitting programs. In their opinion, general programs that prescribe specific exercises and rep ranges fall short because they neglect the main thing that matters – the movement created. If you give five different kids rocker throwers, two might do them really well and the other three might butcher them. General programs will tell you what to do and when, but they can’t monitor how they are being done. What athletes need is constantly changing based on how they’re moving and what they feel. Following a general program doesn’t allow for this freedom and creativity.

Greatness is not a gift, it’s an Obsession

Some people like it, others love it, very few live it. The best players and coaches aren’t successful because they love it – they’re successful because they’re obsessed with it. When it turns into an obsession, nothing will stop you from getting what you want. There’s no doubt in my mind that Eugene, Will, and the rest of the 108 staff are obsessed with pushing this game forward. This next year is going to be a lot of fun.

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