The Paradox of Symmetry & Problem with Education

Thought for the Week: “Silent and listen share the same letters.” – Fred Corral, Missouri pitching coach 

What does it mean to be symmetrical in an asymmetrical sport?

Building symmetrical baseball athletes is kind of a paradox when you think about it; we’re trying to build balance when our skill largely forces us to be out of balance. Throwing or hitting a baseball is an asymmetrical skill. Aside from the ambidextrous population, all players are going to have a dominant side from which they work out of for the entirety of their career. Every swing or throw is going to be done from one side of the plate or the rubber – we don’t really go to the other side and “balance” things out. However, this doesn’t mean that symmetry isn’t important. We want to build symmetry in baseball athletes – but before we can build it, we need to define it.

Our extracellular matrix (ECM) system plays a crucial role in human movement because it deals with the fascial system. Any conversation about how the body moves must start here because fascia is involved in it all. The easiest way to think about fascia is to think of it as a giant spiderweb that is strong as steel, flexible as thread, and is woven through all of our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and everything else inside of our body. It is the bridge that connects everything in our body into one integrated system. No movement in our system happens in isolation; everything is interconnected through fascia. To talk about muscles and bones without talking about fascia would be like eating a Klondike bar without the shell – we’re ignoring the very thing that’s holding it all together.

Fascia, just like connective tissue, is going to organize in accordance to the stressors under which the system is placed. These adaptations help us execute tasks with increased levels of strength, stability, and efficiency.  If you were to cut open elite rotary athletes and look at their fascial patterns, you would find thick, dark X’s that run across the anterior and posterior midsection. These X’s run from the anterior shoulder, down across the torso to the opposite hip, and continue to wrap around the opposite leg. We see these X’s in elite rotary athletes because they play a huge role in developing elite rotational power. More specifically, these X’s form what we call the engine and the brakes of the system. The interaction between these two lines is where we can start our definition of symmetry. 

The engine line is going to run across the front functional line. It starts closest to the dominant shoulder on the upper part of the trunk, runs down across the torso to the non dominant hip, and continues to spiral down the opposite leg.  The brakes follow the same pattern but start at the opposite part of the upper trunk. In terms of the skill, the engine works to get us off the starting line and creates power for the movement while the brakes give us the ability to stop, transfer force, and make sure we don’t slam into the wall after the race. In an efficient system, we need the power from the engine coupled with a strong set of brakes to keep it in check. This is where symmetrical comes from: “Symmetrical” baseball athletes are the ones who have balance between these two fascial slings. Asymmetrical athletes have lost this balance through compensatory patterns. You wouldn’t want the brakes of a Toyota Prius on your brand new Ferrari – and you definitely wouldn’t want the engine of the Prius under the hood of the Ferrari.  

The engine fascial line, from 108 Performance courses
The brakes fascial line, from 108 Performance course

Balance between the engine and the brakes creates even tension that we need for an efficient sequence. If we one of these lines is weaker than the other, the other side of the system has to pick up the slack. This opens the door for compensations. Our body is going to gravitate towards the areas where we are strongest. If we favor our strong side and neglect our weak side, we’ve created a compensatory pattern. Compensations make it difficult for us to produce an efficient sequence, perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing it.

To give you feel for what uneven tension looks like, below is a video of Michael Kopech prior to his injury in 2018. Kopech is a great example of someone with an insane engine (check out a video of him pulling down 110 mph) but doesn’t have the brakes to keep it in check.

When we assess for brakes, we’re simply looking at how well an athlete is able to stop. This is a critical piece when we look at how well a hitter or pitcher is able to capture energy and transfer it up the chain to the implement. The first thing that must stop in the sequence is the pelvis. If we look at Kopech, we see his pelvis fly open and drag as he rotates to throw the ball. His front hip acceps force late in the sequence and his rear hip continues to dump forward into ball release. This is a great recipe for lower back pain – and might have been part of the reason why he got hurt.

Kopech pitching in a minor league game in 2018 (source)

Below is another example of a player with a stronger engine and a weaker set of brakes (as shown in the video). Notice a similar pattern where he’s late accepting force in his front hip, the pelvis flies open, and the back hip continues to dump forward, and his center of mass continues to drift forward after release.

If we look at someone who has a strong set of brakes, we notice a completely different sequence after ball release. Check out Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman, and Gerrit Cole below. You’re going to notice how they are able to keep their pelvis closed into landing, immediately accept force with the lead hip, and hold tension in the back hip. Instead of dumping forward, they use the back foot as an anchor point so they can get across their body. In fact, you’re going to notice their back foot never even crosses their front foot.

The pitch was 101, by the way.

Now let’s revisit the athlete from above. 

If we compare this pitch to the one from above, we notice a totally different deceleration sequence. In this delivery, the athlete is able to stop much more quickly and efficiently. Notice how his backside doesn’t continue to drag through after ball release and he’s able to get across his body better towards the catcher. This gives him the ability to produce the most amount of force with the least amount of energy because he’s restored balance by creating even tension in the system. 

When you take an elite engine and pair it with an elite set of brakes, you can unlock some pretty special moves. Sure, we want to build a strong engine and teach our guys how to punch the accelerator but we don’t want to do it while neglecting the brakes. If you wouldn’t feel safe in a car that can’t stop at a red light, we shouldn’t feel safe when athletes our athletes can’t decelerate when they need to.

If we’re talking about symmetry in baseball athletes, the conversation must start with the X’s. While we’ll never be completely symmetrical in theory, we need to be able to find balance between the engine and brake fascial lines to optimize performance.  If you’re only training one side of the equation, you’re neglecting the other side that is just as important. Like anything in life – if you don’t use it, you lose it. When you lose your brakes, you usually don’t realize it before it’s too late. Don’t wait until it’s too late to build symmetry. 

The problem with our current education system 

“If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” – Ken Robinson, British author, speaker, and international education advisor 

If I look back on the most influential classes I took growing up in high school, there’s one that stands alone: AP Calculus. If you know anything about me, you’d probably be a little surprised by that answer because 1) I didn’t major in math in college 2) coaches aren’t typically known for their understanding of calculus, and 3) It was the last calculus class I took in my life (and I have no interest in taking another, either). I couldn’t really tell you a thing about derivatives, the chain rule, or whatever else we learned about in that class – probably because I didn’t really understand it that well when I was actually in the class. However, there was one thing I learned from that class that I use every single day – and it has nothing to do with equations, graphs, or formulas. AP Calculus was the best class I ever took in high school because it equipped me with the ability to not just memorize information – but to think. Here’s the problem: It took my until my junior year of high school to figure that one out; and many don’t even figure it out by then. It’s also not their fault – it’s the fault of the education system we’re brought up in.  

Curiosity, thinking differently, seeing the big picture, understanding different perspectives, finding common ground, admitting faults, recognizing bias/blindspots, and developing a filter are all crucial components to learning how to think

If we think about the average math class up until calculus, success pretty much depends on your ability to memorize a series of formulas, recognize which problems to use these formulas for, and hang on to this information until you can throw it out the window after the last day. Instead of learning how to problem solve, we learn how to memorize and regurgitate. This may have worked in Algebra 1, but it didn’t work for me in calculus. Instead of just searching for the magic formula that I needed, I had to understand context of the problem, what information I have, what information I needed, and how create a plan to find what I needed. There wasn’t one route I could consistently rely on to solve problems. Because of this, I started to figure out exactly what I needed to do to solve problems. I didn’t worry about a specific process I was told to execute or the steps that I needed to follow – I just used what I had and collected what I needed using strategies that best suited my strengths. In other words, my biggest breakthrough in AP Calculus happened when I stopped focusing on memorizing and started focusing on problem solving. It took an ass kicking early on to really figure that one out – and by the grace of God I was able to make it out of the class with a B. However, the grade I got in that class didn’t reflect the value I got out of it. Great grades don’t mean you learned a great deal. 

Here’s the problem: Kids today think of math – and pretty much all other subjects that have sapped us of creativity – as a checklist of procedures instead of a robust system for problem solving. There is no thought, focus, or concentration when we’re blazing through a checklist and plugging in formulas based on our short term recall. The magic is in building systems – but seldom are kids taught to think and build their own. Memorizing your times tables is great when you’re working through a series of multiplication problems, but it’s not so great when we switch it up and throw division in the mix. When we’re faced with new situations, we don’t rise to our level of current procedures; we fall to the level of our systems. Systems aren’t built through memorization and regurgitation – they’re built through problem solving and slow, deep learning. Most classrooms today are teaching kids how to follow procedure; very few are teaching kids how to grapple with problems and build robust problem solving skills. 

If we want to flip this equation and start building problem solvers that are better prepared to take on the dynamics of life, we have to be careful we don’t get caught up in the result. The journey should be the reward; not the destination. Memorizing procedures might help you get really good grades, but they don’t make you a really good problem solver. If anything, they probably hurt your ability to solve problems because you’re not solving anything new; you’re just regurgitating what you already know. Part of the solution to this, in my opinion, is all about tapping into our inborn childlike curiosity. We are all inherently fascinated with the world and making sense of things that are unfamiliar; no one is born with a closed mind. However – when our education system drills us with procedures and forces us to succeed through memorization and regurgitation of meaningless information, we’re stripped of our curiosity and creativity. When these two areas suffer, our ability to solve problems is crippled. 

If we want to build an education system that will prepare our youth for the unpredictability of the world, we cannot praise those who excel at memorizing and regurgitating. We have to encourage kids to tap into their childlike curiosity, think problems through, experiment with different solutions, find different applications, and help them discover their own optimal way to problem solve. Throw out the formula sheets and instead hand out “how to think” sheets. They’ll forget the formulas – they won’t forget how to think (hopefully, at least). Continue reading “The Paradox of Symmetry & Problem with Education”

The Rules of Everything & Why Falling Behind Can Get You Ahead

Thought for the Week: The Rules of Everything – by Steve Magness

  1. The Hype Cycle: When an idea is new or gains popularity, it follows a cycle of initial overemphasis before eventually leveling off into its rightful place
  2. Research is only as good as its measurement
  3. We overemphasize the importance of what we can measure and already know while ignoring what we cannot measure and know very little about  
  4. We think in absolutes and either/or instead of the spectrum that is really present 
  5. We underestimate the complexity of the human body (and almost everything else)
  6. We look at and analyze things from our perspective, overemphasizing what our knowledge base strength is 
  7. Everything is cyclical

How falling behind can help you get ahead

“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyper specialization.” – David Epstein, from Range 

Tiger Woods was seven months old when he first picked up a golf club. By two, he entered his first tournament and won the 10U division. By three, he was shooting 48 on par nine and practicing in sand traps. Just one year later he was spending his entire days on the golf course without the supervision of his father and hustling grown men. He could beat his father by eight and by 18 he was a standout golf athlete at Stanford University. After two years at Stanford, Woods joined the PGA tour in 1996 and started his professional career. By 21 years old he was the best golfer in the entire world. At 44 years old he is one of the greatest golfers this game has ever seen and has amassed 109 professional victories in 24 years on the tour. Tiger’s destined story to greatness is the epitome of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule: Mastery of any domain requires 10,000 hours of focused practice. Tiger’s dad sure didn’t waste any time getting him started.

Now let’s look at a different story. This young man wasn’t really interested in sticking to a specific sport early on. In fact, there aren’t too many sports that he didn’t try – as long as they involved a ball. While his mother coached tennis, she wasn’t really interested in teaching him because his return serves weren’t normal. In fact, the only advice she really gave him was to stop taking it so seriously. When his tennis coaches asked him to move up a level to play with the older boys, he declined because he was more interested in hanging out with his friends afterward and talking about pro wrestling. When he finally gave up the other sports, his competitive peer group had long been working and refining their craft with performance coaches, strength coaches, and nutritionists. However, starting late didn’t really seem to hamper this young man’s long-term development. In fact, Roger Federer managed to develop into a fine tennis player; he’s not too worried his peers got a head start on him. 

The comparison of specialist’s path (Tiger) to the path of a generalist. Don’t think the path below doesn’t work – we see it more often than the one above (from Epstein’s TED talk).

While many know about Tiger’s destined route to greatness, very few known about Federer’s unique path to stardom. When we look at both paths, Woods and Federer represent two opposite poles when it comes to the development of mastery. Woods is the poster boy for early sport specialization; Federer is the example of the benefits of late specialization. Both represent the elite of the elite in their respective sport, but each took a completely different route to the top. While it’s easy to romanticize with Tiger’s story, it doesn’t mean his route is the most optimal path for everyone. In fact, some would argue that Federer’s path to the top is more practical and optimal. One of these guys is David Epstein.

In his recent book Range, Epstein dove into Federer’s unlikely path to excellence by examining the amount of deliberate practice elite performers engaged in growing up as compared to their non elite counterparts. When he looked at the research, he found that elite athletes actually performed less deliberate practice early on. The elites only surpassed them when they reached 15-18 years old.

Deliberate practice of elites compared to near elites (from Epstein’s TED Talk)

Instead of diving into deliberate practice earlier, elite athletes underwent what researchers call a “sampling period.” This sampling period is where kids tried a lot of different sports in an unstructured/lightly structured environment in which they were able to gain a wide range of physical proficiencies, get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses, and use these experiences to eventually narrow in one something later in their life (remember the study on the 2014 German World Cup team?). This sampling period is not just specific to sports; Epstein found it in plenty of other fields too.

When researchers compared the earnings of postgraduate students from England who early specialized in a specific field and students from Scotland who delayed their route to specialization, they found the English students had a short-lasting head start. The English students earned more early on because of the advantages of their specialized knowledge base, but the Scotts surpassed them in the long run as they were more likely to figure out a field that best matched their interests and strengths. When they found an environment they were more likely to succeed in, they showed higher interest levels, were more likely to persist through challenges, and ended up making more money in the long run. The English students who were forced into a career path early on could not sustain their head start – they hadn’t given themselves enough range to figure out what best made sense for them.

The Scottish students and Federer are not the only ones who have had success using the generalist/late specialization model. Vincent van Gogh had gone through five different careers – all unsuccessfully – prior to his 30th birthday. It wasn’t until he picked up a book in his late twenties called The Guide to the ABCs of Drawing that he started to figure out his true career path. Gunpei Yokoi used his passion for various hobbies to develop lateral thinking that lead to the creation of the cutting-edge technology behind the Nintendo Gameboy. When researchers examined what separated the best comic book creators from the rest, they found the amount of comics created, experience, and the resources at their disposal all had no impact at all. The only thing that mattered was how many different genres they worked in. “Where length of experience did not differentiate creators,” said Epstein, “Breadth of experience did.”  

“Parents want their kids doing what the Olympians are doing right now, not what the Olympians were doing when they were twelve or thirteen.” – Ian Yates, British sports scientist and professional sports coach

So if the majority of fields need an early sampling period for success later on, why did Tiger’s route work? Epstein explained this by dividing learning environments into two different categories: kind learning environments and wicked learning environments. Kind learning environments deal with consistent and repeatable patterns where the feedback is immediate, extremely accurate, and rapid. There are defined boundaries, consequences are quickly apparent, and similar challenges occur repeatedly. Examples of kind learning environments include golf and chess. They’re coined as “kind” because learning is pretty straight forward. Improving your short game isn’t too complex – just grab your club, a bucket of balls, and head out to the green. The more you practice it, the better you are going to get at it (assuming the practice is focused). When you combine a generational talent with an insatiable work ethic, a clear route to the top, and thousands of hours of practice, you get Tiger Woods.

Wicked learning environments are the opposite; the rules are unclear, there aren’t repetitive patterns performers can consistently rely on, feedback isn’t always obvious, can be delayed, or is inaccurate as a whole. Entrepreneurship is a great example of this – there aren’t any rules or boundaries you need to work within, your efforts early on won’t always yield subsequent results, and you don’t have any previous patterns to rely on to guide your future decisions. It’s demanding, it’s chaotic, and it’s anything but kind. It’s also what most learning environments actually look like. Golf and chess don’t turn out to be the majority; they are the exceptions.

Very seldom do we engage in activities where there is a clear and defined route to the top. Most learning environments are very challenging (not saying golf or chess aren’t), unpredictable, unforgiving, and they require more than just deliberate practice to figure out. Some of the greatest discoveries we’ve ever seen happened in the absence of prior knowledge, patterns, and thoughts. Kepler didn’t have any previous research to help guide his theory that planets further away from the sun moved slower. He had a hunch that he brought to life using empirical observation, logic, thinking across different disciplines, and connecting the gaps in his understanding through the use of analogies. If your understanding isn’t robust enough to withstand the rigors of a wicked environment, it will be exposed when you’re placed into a situation that is unfamiliar. The best chess players in the world perform no better than novices when they’re placed in situations they don’t recognize from previous experience. Learning isn’t about going through a checklist of procedures; learning is what happens when those procedures get thrown out the window.

While learning in wicked environments is difficult and can be frustrating early on, it provides great long term returns. To understand this, let’s think about the differences between learning math in a blocked/repetitive environment (kind) and in a variable/unpredictable environment (wicked). When learning in kind/predictable environments, you’re able to lean on previous experience through pattern recognition. It’s easy to figure out 6×6 using previous recall when all you’ve been doing lately is hammering down on your multiplication tables. When learning in variable and unpredictable environments, you can’t rely on previous recall. Going from addition to division to multiplication is a hair trickier than just honing in on your times tables. Instead of just spitting out information from your short term memory, you need to actually create a strategy where you differentiate types of problems and design actionable strategies to attack them individually. Instead of memorizing procedures, you have to build long term strategies. The returns on these strategies are significant; especially when the conditions for the problem inevitably change.

So what’s the point of all this?

The point is this: Deep learning is slow. It takes time to build a robust skill set and a thorough base of knowledge required to become an effective problem solver. We praise the Tiger Woods of the world who get off to an early head start, but what we don’t realize is how rare these cases actually work out. Imagine if you forced Roger Federer to just play tennis as a kid and stripped him of his ability to play other sports and spend his free time hanging with his buddies after practice. He’d probably grow to hate tennis so much that he’d quit before he even got into high school (hint: parent-induced burnout is real). The generalists and the late specializers who take their time to dabble in different fields early on are the ones who usually find the best fit in the long run. 

If we think about it, our greatest advantage as a species over machine learning is not the ability to narrowly specialize; it’s the ability to integrate broadly. When we’re dealing with open-ended real world problems, we crush machines. Machines can specialize in ways that we cannot but they also cannot browse through a wide range of fields, draw parallels between them, and find ways to solve problems by using experiences from other domains. Our ability to navigate various disciplines and make connections between them is a large part of what makes our learning systems incredibly unique – you’d be wise if you took advantage of it.

“Some tools work fantastically in certain situations, advancing technology in smaller but important ways, and those tools are well known and practiced. Those same tools will also pull you away from a breakthrough innovation into an incremental one.” – Andy Ouderkirk, material engineer at Oculus Research

While some activities like golf and chess have more direct routes to success, the majority of careers do not. Our ability to navigate wicked learning environments comes back to our ability to effectively solve problems. Building a wide range of knowledge from multiple domains gives you the framework you need to see the big picture, break things down, and defer to other domains who can provide you with more detailed expertise. Specializing in one area early on may delude you into thinking you have a head start, but in reality it blinds you from other areas of benefit and ultimately prevents you from getting out of your own way. Charles Darwin’s greatest breakthroughs represented “interpretative compilations of facts first gathered by others.” He was, in Epstein’s words, “A lateral-thinking integrator.” When the path is no longer clear, the same routines will no longer suffice. This is where the generalists reign king.   

Epstein’s greatest piece of advice can be summed up in three words: “Don’t feel behind.” He said, “Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you. Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don’t let anyone else make you feel behind. You probably don’t even know where you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help.

“Approach your own personal voyage and projects like Michelangelo approached a block of marble, willing to learn and adjust as you go, and even to abandon a previous goal and change directions entirely should the need arise. Research on creators in domains from technological innovation to comic books shows that a diverse group of specialists cannot fully replace the contributions of broad individuals. Even when you move on from an area of work or an entire domain, that experience is not wasted.”  

The Pitfalls of Separation & Relying on Research

Thought for the Week: Parallax: “The effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions.” 

Why teaching “Separation” can do more harm than good 

Separation is something Eugene talks about all the time when it comes to pitching and hitting – but not for the reasons you’d think. In his current opinion, the majority of teaching around “hip shoulder separation” is butchered – and athletes are paying for it. If you’ve read his book Old School vs. New School, you’d know how important this was to him because he dedicated an entire chapter to describing fallacies when it comes to hip shoulder separation. Before we get into that, let’s start on some common ground.

We know that really good hitters and pitchers create some degree of separation between segments that are required for the production and dissipation of force. We understand that athletes are going to create some sort of stretch (i.e. separation) that pulls slack out of the system before a swing or throw. We know that the pelvis should probably reach its peak speed before the arms do – there is going to be a slight delay, or separation, between certain segments as they pick up speed. However, this doesn’t explain hip shoulder separation in a vacuum. For one, how much separation do we really need? Why do some guys create a lot of separation but others get away with smaller amounts of separation? If someone doesn’t present with an “optimal” amount of separation, is it a mobility problem or is it a movement solution problem? How much mobility do we even need in the first place? 

Mike Trout has had a lot of success without creating a great degree of separation

When we think about creating a lot of separation, the goal becomes creating the biggest stretch you can possibly make. This is usually done from a position where the hips are opened up while the shoulders are working back against them in the opposite direction. By creating more distance between the pelvis and the shoulders, the athlete has appeared to have created more “separation” and might get some more juice in the process, but it doesn’t mean it is an effective or efficient movement solution.

To explain this, let’s pretend you have a raft tied to a boat 15 yards away and the boat takes off full speed. Now let’s pretend you take that same raft and add 30 yards of slack to it. If that same boat takes off full speed with the extra slack of rope, it’s probably going to be bad news for the raft. When we try to artificially add more separation to a player’s movement solutions, we are adding more slack in the rope. The raft then becomes lumbar spine – and it doesn’t usually end well. The trick then becomes understanding how long each player’s rope actually is; then learning when and how to take out unnecessary slack. 

So how do we create separation that is efficient and effective? 

Let’s start the conversation here: Elite players have an exceptional ability to create a large amount of force in a small window of time. The ability to do this depends on their rate of force development (RFD). Your ability to create a lot of force in a small window is crucial when working under time constraints. Both pitchers and hitters have to operate under time constraints (hitting is obviously a little more difficult because of its reactive nature). If your delivery or swing can’t operate within this constraint, it’s not going to play in a game environment. Creating an insane amount of separation might work in a long drive competition, but it’s not going to work when you have to worry about barreling a 95 mph fastball. It’s not about how fast the Ferrari can go at top speed – it’s about how quickly it can get off the line. 

In hitting, the goal is to compress as much force as possible into the baseball in the smallest window of time. The bat should be reaching its peak speed into contact – not well before it. Creating a lot of separation and delaying your barrel into contact to pick up bat speed might create a bigger stretch that helps with force production, but it works against you when you’re trying to barrel up game velocity. This is a big reason why Eugene believes bat speed reaches a point of diminishing returns – we don’t have a large window of time to accelerate the barrel. If the middle is moving and the barrel isn’t, your barrel is dragging. By focusing on separating your hands from your hips, you’ve sacrificed your ability to efficiently strike the ball, made it tougher to barrel up any kind of game (emphasis on game) velocity, and sapped yourself of any adjustability. While pitchers don’t have to operate under the time constraint of a hitter, the sequence to produce velocity is no different – the only thing that changes is the implement. The separation in the sequence doesn’t happen early – it happens late. Separation is not about creating gaps – it’s about learning how to close those gaps as quickly as possible.

When the middle starts to move, the barrel moves in unison.

A really good analogy about separation is to think about how you would rotate a cable or a flywheel (see video below). It becomes very difficult to move the load if you open up your hips, close off your shoulders, and try to create a lot of separation early in the sequence. It becomes much easier to move the load when you stack your shoulders over your hips and move it as one interconnected unit. While you may not appear to have a lot of separation, you’re creating a better sequence by putting your body in better positions (pelvis closed and anchored, midsection braced) so the separation can happen later. Separation should not be viewed as an active move early in the sequence; it should be viewed as a passive move as the result of a good sequence. 

Separation is important, but how we create that separation is just as important. If creating separation prevents us from delivering a large amount of force in a small window of time, it’s not beneficial – it’s a barrier to performance.

Let the Research catch up to us

“When you don’t have any data, you have to use sense.” – Richard Feynman, physicist and Nobel laureate

This topic has been fascinating to dive into because of the current state of player development. I think we have developed a tendency to gravitate towards peer reviewed research. Since we can measure it and write a conclusion about it, it comes off as factual and as something we can trust – but that’s not always the case. Reading and understanding the research is very important, but taking it as absolute truth is a huge mistake. There are plenty of coaches that do things that aren’t validated by research, but it doesn’t mean they don’t work. Every day in the trenches is a research project. Using a lack of research as a barrier to actually coaching is a problem because the best coaches are doing research every single day. They just don’t need to know it’s peer reviewed to know it works. 

There are plenty of coaches that do things that aren’t validated by research, but it doesn’t mean they don’t work. Every day in the trenches is a research project. 

If we look to the strength and conditioning field, Michael Boyle – owner of Boyle Strength & Conditioning – explained the fallacies of research in the Muscles and Management podcast by bringing up how much it’s changed. When research came out arguing against static stretching, Boyle jumped on the trend and eliminated all of the static stretching in his programs – until he started to see more injuries. When he discovered a lot of the physical therapy work being prescribed to injured clients included a lot of stretching, he rethought his stance and decided to incorporate static stretching again. Sure enough, injuries started to go down.

Boyle does plenty of stuff in his gym that doesn’t have any “evidence” behind it, but he argues he actually has plenty of evidence: The people he actually trains. He doesn’t really care there isn’t any peer reviewed research that supports foam rolling because he has plenty of clients who feel better after foam rolling. He’s not interested in rethinking his stance against bilateral back squatting just because some study used it to test for lower body strength; a deadlift, split squat, or front squat could have proved the same point without throwing the L5 under the bus. Invalidating someone’s experience because there isn’t any “research” to support it is not only stupid; it’s a lazy way to poke holes in someone else’s training.

“A wise man once said research is sports history. The researchers study what we’ve already done to figure out why we did it.” – Michael Boyle, from Muscles and Management podcast episode 57

Eugene didn’t need a research study to figure out the arm recoil and kick back were good ideas. He used common sense. If basically all guys who throw fuel recoil, why would recoiling be a bad thing? If some of the best hitters in the world kick back with their back leg, why wouldn’t we try to teach it? Better yet, why would we take it away from someone who naturally does it?

“We have to consider the research process and what it entails to even get things out,” said Eugene. “While they are busy trying to get large enough samples for their work and making sure they eliminate variables, boots on the ground are figuring out stuff considerably faster. After seeing exit velocities improve 10+ mph in as little as 20 minutes by adding a kick back, and seeing similar improvements in others, I knew it needed to be tested. After testing it with like 30 players and seeing ridiculous differences, I didn’t need to wait for some bullshit study to tell me it’s good.

“I’m trying to get results today, not wait for someone to give me the okay. We should always be 20 years ahead of the research. Let them catch up to us; not the other way around.”  

Before we pull out the research card, let’s start by using common sense card. New information is going to come out that will shape our beliefs and change how we train, but it cannot be used to confirm agendas, discredit experience, or ignore empirical observation. Research is used to enhance our understanding of why things work and why they don’t work; it should not be a barrier to actually coaching. It you want to be right rather than be helpful, do us a favor and don’t research.

Finding Common Ground & Sprinting is… Rotational?

Thought for the Week: We’ve all been dealt some pretty crappy groceries over the past month. How can we use these groceries to make a five star meal? 

Finding Common Ground

Back at the ABCA in January, Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin spoke about the importance of staying centered. From winning national championships to experiencing the death of current players, Corbin’s groups have seen it all. They’ve been at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows as a program – but they’ve never lived in those moments for long. Emotions such as jubilation and devastation are a part of life, but they are not sustainable. In other words, no one can survive at the peaks or valleys of life; they must find a middle ground where they can navigate the emotional highs and lows of life.

This idea of staying centered could not be more applicable to player development. Andy McKay – Director of Player Development with the Seattle Mariners – spoke about this at the Bridge the Gap seminar saying how we tend to gravitate towards one end of the spectrum when it comes to training players. We’re either old school or new school, launch angle or swing down, self organization or internal cueing, and intent or slow is fast. Instead of seeing both sides of the argument, we tend to jump to one side of the teeter totter and plant our roots there. We become so sure of what we’re doing that we become blind to what’s on the other side. 

One of Eugene’s biggest breakthroughs as a coach was when he stopped jumping to one end of the spectrum and decided to see both ends of it. Instead of just rolling with the new school trends of swinging up, throwing hard, and using external cueing, he decided to dive into the old school and see why cues like “swing down” or “be easy” worked for guys. This is how he came to the realization that everything works and everything sucks. When you boil it down, there is a time and place for everything in player development. It’s all about application. 

If we spend all out time on one end of the spectrum, we lose the ability to influence players that need the other end of it.

If we gravitate towards one end of the spectrum, we lose feel for the importance of what’s on the other side of the spectrum. Some guys might need to think easy, other guys might need to think about throwing the piss out of it. Some players need to think to swing down, others might need to think the opposite. If we spend all out time on one end of the spectrum, we lose the ability to influence players that need the other end of it.

As coaches, we need to find common ground when it comes to player development. If you want to influence as many players as you can, you need to keep an open mind and see things from both sides. Instead of jumping on new trends and clinging to the latest research, let’s see things for what they are and try to stay centered.

Sprinting is … rotational?

Both Altuve and OBJ step closed and kick back with their back foot – and it’s not by coincidence.

Pitching and hitting a baseball requires requires movement from multiple planes of motion – most notably the transverse plane which deals with rotation. Elite baseball athletes are really good in this plane of motion because they are training in it all the time. As a result, it should be no surprise when we see guys like Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout launch golf balls into orbit.Good rotation is good rotation.  

However, it is a little different when we see someone like Odell Beckham Jr. – who has no recent or notable background in baseball – pick up a bat and launch baseballs in batting practice. As a wide receiver, you’re doing a lot of cutting, leaping, bounding, and sprinting – but not a lot of rotating. Since we know power is plane specific and is quick to go if it’s not trained, how in the world is OBJ able to barrel balls over 350 feet with little to no baseball training? How can he get really good at rotating without ever really needing it on the football field?

Well, he does train rotation – and he trains it A LOT.

To understand this, let’s go back to reciprocal movement. All human beings are pre-programmed for reciprocal cross-body movement. The easiest way to explain this is to think about how all humans walk. When we step forward with our left leg, our upper body counterrotates around our pelvis and moves the right arm forward. When the right leg goes forward, the upper body counterrotates and sends the left arm forward. This counterrotation creates optimal length-tension relationships that store potential energy which is used to create movement through assistance from the fascial system. The constant counterrotation of the torso around the pelvis is reciprocal cross-body movement. We also don’t just see it when we walk – we see it in all human movement. 

As the bowler extends his right arm forward to bowl the ball, his right leg kicks back to give his pelvis a stable base for his torso to rotate around (source).
Jack Eichel uses reciprocal movement (see back leg kick back as stick moves across his body) to get off a wrist shot (source). This kick back move is very common in hockey – and it’s the same exact move Altuve uses to get his swing off. 

When our upper body works one way, our lower body anchors us down by moving reciprocally in the opposite direction. The lower half stabilizes and gives our upper half the ability to mobilize around it. This helps create efficiency, force, and direction required for human movement. If we want to rinse out a wash cloth, we can’t move both of our hands in the same direction. One hand needs to twist in one direction while the other counterrotates and twists in the other direction. Our upper half represents one hand and the lower half represents the other hand. To efficiently remove water from the wash cloth, both sides need to work in opposition of each other. This is exactly what our body does to create reciprocal cross-body movement.

If we look at baseball players, we are going to see reciprocal movement as they rotate to swing or throw. When the upper half mobilizes and works to get across the body to deliver the bat or ball, the pelvis anchors down and stabilizes. This move does not need to be taught – it’s already inside of us. Altuve and OBJ don’t both step closed and kick back by coincidence; we’re all pre-programmed for cross-body reciprocal movement. If anything, we coach most kids out of it. Don’t believe me? Check out how the lower half of an uncoached kid compares to one of the best hitters in the game. 

Lower half looks pretty similar, huh?

It’s also not just a hitting thing, either. 

Notice how Max Scherzer’s back foot kicks back and re-anchors after ball release so he can get across his body (source).
Darren O’Day is also able to create an anchor point using his back leg – even though it is not connected to the ground. Think about the action a bowler uses to get across his body (source).

So since we have an understanding of what reciprocal movement is and the importance of it when it comes to rotation, let’s go back to sprinting. Just like walking, when we sprint our pelvis and torso are constantly counterrotating against each other with every stride we take. When the left leg drives forward, the pelvis rotates so the left side is slightly in front of the right side. The torso counterrotates by driving the right shoulder slightly in front of the left shoulder. In essence, both the trunk and pelvis must ROTATE around the spine and against each other to produce force, direction, and efficiency. This is exactly what happens throughout the course of a baseball swing or throw. When a hitter or pitcher makes their move out of balance, the torso slightly counterrotates against the pelvis as it moves forward to remove slack going into foot strike.  After foot strike, the pelvis counterrotates against the torso as athletes work to get across their body.  

Notice how in elite sprinters how the pelvis and the trunk are counterrotating against each other with every single stride they take. The pelvis and torso do not drive forward in a straight line – they are rotating towards the midline of the body. This is our body’s reciprocal engine at work (source).

Sprinters might not look like they’re rotating, but when we break it down it becomes more and more clear they’re actually rotating in tight windows around their spine with every single stride. Without even thinking about it, OBJ become really good at rotating by sprinting. We just happened to see how good he was at it when he picked up a bat and took some cuts. 

Training Videos

Will Marshall – Why Training Barefoot and Blindfolded works! 

Troubleshooting Quarantine Training Problems – Throwing too far out in front 

Eugene Bleecker – What does training with “intent” even mean?

Eugene Bleecker – The pitfalls of letting kids become their own best coach 

If you’re interested in more training videos like the ones above, make sure to check out the 108 Membership page for training content, player GIFs, and more!