Below are 10 thoughts I’ve gathered watching a couple of Masterclasses recently. One was from Daniel Pink – best-selling author of Drive and To Sell is Human. The other was from Chris Voss – former FBI hostage negotiator. I’d highly recommend both to anyone interested in learning how to build better arguments. Sales is not limited to just products and services.
While Voss and Pink come from completely different backgrounds, they both had very similar thoughts on how to influence human behavior. Keep this in mind, coaches…
Empathy is NOT sympathy.
This is a big one. To Voss, empathy is not being nice or agreeing with someone. It’s an identification of perspective. Empathy is understanding where someone is coming from. Sympathy might cause you to feel bad for someone, but it’s not effective in negotiations. People don’t want you to feel bad for them. They want to be heard. Making people feel like they’re being heard is where empathy comes into play.
Pink described this process as achieving “attunement.” If you’re not in tune with the person on the other side of the negotiation, you’re never going to get them to budge. You haven’t signaled to them that you’re seeing things through their eyes. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.
The Power of Mirroring
“Interesting people are interested.” – Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator, CEO Black Swan Group
Learning how to “mirror” someone else is something everyone should learn. We crave it, we’re hardwired for it, and we love when it’s happening – but we seldom realize it. Pink mentioned how research shows up to 95% of people don’t realize they’re being mirrored in the middle of a conversation. While we might not notice this subtle trick for influence, it doesn’t make it any less effective. Voss said it best: “Interesting people are interested.” People who want to be interesting know how to mirror their counterparts.
As for tips on how to mirror, Voss had a few:
Shut up. You can’t mirror and talk at the same time
Repeat things the other person says
Voss recommends concentrating on the last three words. When you get better at it, you can pick out any three words they say.
Show genuine curiosity
Tone is very important. You can’t fake curiosity.
Ask insightful questions
Great persuaders are great observers. Mirroring is a great way to learn how to do this.
This was one of the biggest ones I got from Voss. During a negotiation, you want to build trust. A great way to do this is to give people, actions, or emotions specific “labels.” It’s a lot easier to explain this one by providing specific examples of it:
“You seem like a trustworthy person.”
“It seems like this is making you really upset.”
“Doing something like that makes me think that you’re a really good friend.”
Assigning the right labels can help you break barriers that opens up much more meaningful conversation. Mirroring shows interest. Labeling facilitates trust. There’s no influence more powerful than trust-based influence.
“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
This is what Ronald Reagan asked the American people when running for President back in 1980. The question might have seemed obvious considering the tumultuous state of the country. However, asking it was incredibly powerful for his campaign. With the facts on his side (poor economy, recession, Iran hostage crisis), Reagan put the ball in the court of the American people. He didn’t tell them what to decide. He gave them the opportunity to come to his conclusion on their own. This is critical when it comes to sales.
Voss calls this “the illusion of control.” Reagan’s words were deliberately crafted. He knew very well that people were not better off now than they were four years ago when Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President. However, he didn’t need to say that. People crave autonomy. If you’re trying to influence someone, make sure they know they’re in control of the conclusions they come to. Especially, when you already know what they’re going to decide…
Giving people the “illusion” of control is much more powerful than trying to gain control.
“I can do it for $97.43.”
If you want to start closing more deals, stop trying to meet halfway using nice and neat numbers. Get granular. This is something both Voss and Pink talked about. People like odd numbers when it comes to sales ($29.99 vs. $30). There’s a big difference between getting something for $100 or $97.43. One of those prices is going to be much more persuasive than the other because it shows deliberate attention to detail. The other does not.
Even if you pulled that number out of thin air…
Power distorts perspective
Pink talked about a study where two groups of people were asked to draw an imaginary “E” on the top of their forehead. One group was primed with questions that made elicited powerful feelings. The other was not. When both groups were asked to draw the “E,” two different shapes appeared. The group primed with powerful questions tended to draw the E so they could read it themselves. The other group drew the E so others could read it. This is the power of perspective – or, how power distorts perspective.
If you want to understand where someone else is coming from, start by stripping away any power you think you might have. Your ability to empathize is directly related to what you think of yourself. The less you think of yourself, the better you can empathize.
“Compared to what?”
In Pink’s eyes, the most important question in sales is NOT “What’s in it for me?” Instead, it’s something much more powerful:
“Compared to what?”
Not what you were expecting? Just think about it. We process information based on how things compare to something else. How “tall” someone is depends on how “tall” their peers are. How “expensive” one product is depends on how expensive competing products are. People think in relativity. Contrast creates clarity.
If you want to create a clearer picture for the consumer, give them something for comparison. All the good things about your product become much more compelling when compared to the small blemishes. It’s also probably better you share those things before the consumer figures them out on their own…
“Have you ever thought about it this way?”
If you’ve learned nothing to this point, remember this one. One of Pink’s biggest misconceptions growing up was the idea that a good pitch had to end in someone pulling out their checkbook. Instead, he now thinks of an effective pitch completely different. It’s not about getting someone to say yes. It’s about getting someone to say : “Hey, have you ever thought about…”
In other words, the best pitches create conversation. They invite someone in to offer their thoughts on what you just presented to them. When you can do this, you 1) can find ways on how to potentially improve your product/service and 2) increase the likelihood they buy. What started as a sales pitch has now turned into an opportunity to build a relationship. People buy from people they like.
Cutting the price might be a good short-term solution, but it has a ceiling. Building rapport is a better long-term solution.
Marketing to the Masses: Utility & Curiosity
When building out content for email marketing, you need to hit one of two things in your subject line:
Can I offer something useful for someone else?
Can I stimulate someone else’s thinking?
Creating something useful (utility) is a great strategy for the masses. Stimulating thought (curiosity) is a great strategy for smaller audiences. Both are effective strategies, but Pink warns not to get caught in the middle of the road. Focus on the one that would be most effective based on your audience.
Get people to say no
This was one of the biggest things I got from Voss. Getting people to say “yes” during a negotiation might seem like an accomplishment, but Voss warns it might work against you. People want to keep their autonomy. Getting them to say “yes” slowly takes their autonomy away. You’re giving them micro-commitments they have to honor. The more they have to commit to, the less freedom they have. This is not a great strategy for getting someone to come to your conclusion.
Instead, Voss advises people design more questions tailored to the response “no.” Some examples of this are below:
Is it unreasonable for me to be upset that I paid $100 more for the same service I could have gotten somewhere else down the street?
Am I a bad person (also an example of labeling) for trying to get a slightly better deal as a loyal customer for the past five years?
Is it crazy to think that I should be able to find peace and quiet late at night when I’m trying to go to sleep?
Don’t just look for people to agree with you. Try to get people to disagree with you. It will make your argument that much more compelling.
You’ve just finished up your last practice for the fall and you’re building out offseason plans for your pitching staff this winter. Out of all of your players, there’s one in particular that really makes you excited. As a freshman, this kid has a chance to be a really special player. He’s long and lanky at 6’4 and weighs just 160 pounds, but don’t let the scale fool you. This kid can throw. Despite having twigs for arms and legs, this kid can already run it up to 84-87. Just imagine what his velo would look like if he got a steady dose of deadlifts and protein shakes this offseason. You decide to give him a goal: If he shows up at 175 next spring, he’ll touch 90.
When he showed up next spring at 180 lbs., you couldn’t have been happier. His skinny arms and twig legs were now chiseled with muscle thanks to an aggressive bodybuilding-style workout program. All of his compound lifts had doubled, his physicality was night and day, and he was looking exactly how you hoped when you envisioned his 90 mph body. He wasn’t going to be sitting 84-87 anymore when he started throwing off a mound again. He was going to be touching 91-92 with ease.
That’s where it gets interesting.
In his first bullpen of the year, his fastball didn’t even touch 83. Figuring he’s just shaking off some rust, you don’t get worried and decide to see how things play out. This changes when he’s one month into practices, his fastball hasn’t touched 84, and his elbow throbs every time he picks up a ball. You can’t figure it out. This kid did everything you asked him, crushed the weight room, added 20 lbs., and now his velo has fallen off a cliff. You don’t just feel bad. You feel like someone has repeatedly punched you in the gut until you can’t breathe anymore. The guy who was supposed to be one of your top three arms might not be able to throw any meaningful innings at all this year. The best part?
You only have yourself to blame.
Remember when you thought he wasn’t big or strong enough at the end of the fall? Turns out, that young man was actually pretty strong in the first place. He just didn’t fit the mold of what most of us tend to think of as strong. The situation from above wasn’t made up. In fact, it happens a lot more than you would think. Young, eager athletes looking for more velocity often try to find solutions in the weight room and at the dinner table. This is because we currently have a catchy phrase going around in baseball: Mass = Gas. The translation is pretty simple. Players who weigh more are able to throw the ball harder.
The application, however, is not so simple.
Mass equals gas might sound catchy to say, but it’s not totally accurate. The young man from above – along with the many others who have made his same mistake – are great reminders that adding mass can hurt performance as much as it can help it. This article is going to attempt to explain why.
Where did Mass = Gas come from?
Before we get into the pitfalls of adding mass, let’s start with where the idea of mass = gas comes from. We don’t have to go any further than Isaac Newton’s second law of motion: Force equals mass times acceleration (F=M*A).
According to Newton’s findings, the amount of potential force a system can produce is dependent on its mass and how quickly it’s able to overcome inertia. This is pretty straight forward. If it’s heavier and it gets up to speed faster, it’s probably going to do a lot more damage. From a training perspective, this seems to transfer well. Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, and Noah Syndergaard aren’t small dudes. They’re physical specimens with a big motor and a quick trigger.
The average weight for an MLB player has steadily increased over the last several decades. In 1970, the average big leaguer weighed about 184 pounds. Today, that number is north of 200 lbs. As of 2017, the average MLB pitcher weighed in at about 215 pounds – a 25-pound increase from 1970. This past season, the average weight of starting pitchers with the top 10 hardest fastballs was 210.8 lbs. This list included:
Luis Castillo (97.4 mph, 200 lbs.)
Dinelson Lamet (97.0 mph, 228 lbs.)
Gerrit Cole (96.7 mph, 225 lbs.)
Brandon Woodruff (96.6 mph, 215 lbs.)
German Marquez (95.9 mph, 225 lbs.)
Yu Darvish (95.8 mph, 225 lbs.)
As you can see, the majority of the arms on this list exceed 200 lbs. This itself isn’t a bad thing. Additional mass can absolutely have a positive influence on performance. However, it’s not because F=M*A. Newton’s laws give us information about force production in linear systems. They fall short when applied to rotational systems. This is a problem if we’re trying to gauge force output in rotational athletes.
If we want to explain why mass can positively influence pitching velocity, we have to think using a slightly different lens. This is where torque comes into play.
I was fortunate to talk about this topic with Jimmy Buffi – current CEO of Reboot Motion and former analyst with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Torque is something Buffi brought up because it gives Newton’s laws more depth when it comes to force production in rotary athletes. By definition, torque measures the forces that cause an object to rotate about its axis. This is really important for baseball players. Force is plane specific. If we want to gauge how much force a pitcher is able to produce, we need to look at the planes of motion in which that force is being produced. Torque helps us do just that.
Below is the equation for torque:
Torque = Inertia*Angular Acceleration
I know it seems a little complicated at first glance, but it doesn’t have to be. The first part of the equation – inertia – can be calculated as follows:
Inertia = Mass*(Radius^2)
This is the most simplified equation for Inertia. Feel free to read more about this here.
This is pretty straight forward. Inertia simply looks at how heavy something is and how far the mass is being applied in relationship to the center axis of rotation (radius). We’ll dive into this one in just a second. First, let’s break down the second part of the equation: Angular Acceleration.
Angular Acceleration = Angular Velocity/Time
Don’t get too lost in physics on this one. Angular vector quantities simply give us information about how something is moving in a circular motion (i.e. rotation). Velocity over an elapsed period of time gives us information on acceleration. As a result, angular acceleration is going to give us information about how something is accelerating during a rotational movement.
So why the hell is any of this important when it comes to mass = gas?
Let’s go back to inertia. If you’re in the mass = gas crowd, you should pay close attention to this part. According to inertia, an increase in mass or an increase in the distance from the axis of rotation is going to result in greater torque. The more torque you can create, the more velocity you can produce. This is important. If the mass you’re adding helps you produce more torque, you’re going to be able to throw the ball harder. Newton’s laws kind of alluded to this, but using torque helps us clarify it. If we’re dealing with rotary athletes, we have to measure how force is being produced rotationally. Linear equations don’t cut it.
Alright, easy enough. Baseball players with more mass should produce more force based on what we know about torque. Therefore, adding more mass should help you throw harder.
Come on, you didn’t think it was going to be that simple. Did you?
Why are some players able to throw gas without mass?
Nathan Garza is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Oral Roberts University baseball team. When I asked him about his thoughts on the topic of mass = gas, he brought up a specific athlete he works with on the baseball team. At 130 lbs., this kid doesn’t really catch your eye at first glance. What makes him stick out is what he does on the field. Despite weighing nearly less than 100 lbs. under the MLB average for a pitcher, this kid has a fastball that touches 91 miles per hour.
If that isn’t enough, Garza tested this kid in a non-countermove vertical jump where he took the stretch shortening cycle away from him. He jumped 39 inches. To give you some perspective on this, Seattle wide receiver DK Metcalf – arguably the most physical athlete in the entire draft – jumped 40 inches with a countermove at the 2019 NFL Combine. Garza’s kid might be skinny, but you can’t convince him he isn’t strong. He just isn’t strong in the way we typically think of strength. We’ll get into this more in a few.
At TCU, Dechant has two specific pitchers who are able to run it up to 95 and 96, respectively. One weighs in at 165 pounds. The other weighs 177 pounds. These kinds of players might seem like outliers, but they’re actually more common than you think. Below is a list of elite MLB pitchers who sit well below 215 lbs:
Josh Hader (95.3 mph, 185 lbs.)
Walker Buehler (96.8 mph, 185 lbs.)
Dustin May (97.7 mph, 180 lbs.)
Chris Sale (94.6 mph, 180 lbs.)
Zack Wheeler (97.0 mph, 195 lbs.)
Marcus Stroman (94.1 mph, 180 lbs.)
Pedro Martinez (95-98 mph, playing weight – 170 lbs.)
Out of the five hardest average fastballs in 2020, two were owned by players who weighed 195 lbs. or less. One of them was Wheeler. The other was this guy:
Jacob deGrom (98.6 mph, 180 lbs.)
In 2020, deGrom’s heater was a full 1.2 mph harder than any other qualifying starter. Thirty-three of his pitches were thrown 100 mph or harder. He weighs less than all but two of Dechant’s baseball players at TCU. If we look beyond the scale, we realize this is no coincidence. There are some things that deGrom does exceptionally well that allow him to throw gas with much less mass.
To Dechant, two things stand out:
Exceptional Movement Quality & Sequencing
If we were to sum up guys like Stroman, deGrom, and Pedro using a single word, one stands out: Efficient. They have an elite movement signature which allows them to produce more force per pound than anyone else in the world. There’s no wasted movement or unnecessary tension. They move to and through strong positions and sync up their body beautifully – in Dechant’s words – so the right segments are speeding up and slowing down at the right times. If they only have 175 pounds to work with, they’re getting all 175 transmitted into the ball at release.
Having mass and leveraging mass to create velocity are not the same thing. Just because you have it doesn’t mean you’re using it well.
Arm Unwinds Beautifully
The best arms in the world might throw from different slots, angles, and postures, but they all share a key characteristic: The arm takes a specific path around the torso where the humerus, forearm, wrist, and hand all work in the same plane around the spine. This is called arm efficiency – and the best all have it.
Mass might play a role in creating velocity, but pitchers like deGrom, Pedro, and May are physical proof it’s only one thing. You don’t have to weigh 200 lbs. to throw a baseball 95 mph, but you do have to move really well. If the mass you put on doesn’t help you do this, we get situations like the one we started with.
This is where putting our faith into mass = gas becomes a big problem.
Why can adding mass hurt performance?
Let’s go back to Garza’s athlete from above. If that young man at 130 lbs. were to walk into most strength rooms across the country, you’d likely get an overwhelming consensus he needs to get stronger and put on some pounds. This might sound great in theory, but there can be some significant consequences to this approach without context. These start with the system controlling motor function: The Central Nervous System (CNS).
Building out a quality training program requires you prepare that athlete holistically for competition. This preparation involves the CNS as much as it does the muscles. If you’re not stimulating the CNS in ways that mirror the demands of throwing a baseball 95 mph, you’re not properly preparing that athlete. Exercises like bilateral squats and and deadlifts might help your legs get stronger, but they don’t even come close to reciprocating the CNS demands of pitching a baseball. If we spend the majority of our time training our CNS to move maximal loads at submaximal speed, our CNS is going to adapt accordingly. Garza said it best: “You’re pulling their CNS in two different directions.”
If we spend the majority of our time training our CNS to move maximal loads at submaximal speed, our CNS is going to adapt accordingly. (Nathan) Garza said it best: “You’re pulling their CNS in two different directions.”
Garza’s athlete from above doesn’t throw 91 because he can deadlift a house. He throws 91 because he has an incredibly efficient CNS. If you don’t train these things, they don’t just hang around. You lose them. This is part of the reason why the young man from above had a sharp decline in performance. Training the CNS to move heavy stuff slow does not teach it how to move light stuff fast. When the training demands don’t match the demands of competition, performance suffers.
If we go to the connective tissue level, additional mass can negatively impact the amount of force you’re able to produce. This is something Buffi talked about: Not all added mass is created equal. Lean muscle mass can generate force and torque. Fat mass cannot. While adding muscle mass can help, Buffi noted it can also have an adverse impact on the ranges of motion used to throw a ball 95 mph. This, in his experience, can become a problem.
“Sometimes, when players add a lot of muscle mass, they actually reduce range of motion because the muscles are bigger and take up more space,” said Buffi. “Adding more muscle might increase the ability to create force and acceleration… but it might reduce the distance and time over which you can apply that force. So, there could be a trade off here between the magnitude of force production and the amount of time over which you can apply that force.”
This can also have a subsequent impact on movement quality. If the mass you’re putting on doesn’t help you move to and through good positions, you’ve just created a barrier to performance. This barrier becomes tough to break – especially if you try to attack it using the same movement signature. There’s a really good chance our kid from the beginning ran into this problem. The positions and ranges of motion he was once able to access were no longer at his disposal. He thought he was doing a good thing by adding muscle mass, but what he put on ended up getting in his way. If the body changes and the movement solutions don’t, something is going to break until they do. In this case, it was his elbow.
Alright, so let’s recap.
We know where mass equals gas comes from and the pitfalls of looking at linear equations when it comes to rotational athletes. We have a pretty good idea why adding mass can help or hurt a player’s performance. We also know about some things that make athletes with less mass able to throw gas. However, we still have a poor kid with a barking elbow and in need of some help. Where exactly do we go from here?
Well, it depends – but there is one thing we do not want to do.
Designing the Program
There are several different things Dechant focuses on with his athletes at TCU. Chasing mass is not one of them. He uses the scale as feedback and has ranges he likes his players to fall under, but he never makes adding mass an objective. For him, any kind of mass his players need should be the byproduct of a plan that addresses:
Consistent and quality training habits
If his players can take care of these things, the numbers on the scale should take care of themselves.
As for the training itself, we need to first be able to assess and categorize the players in front of us so we can make good training decisions. For the sake of this article, we’re going to break down two different populations of athletes that fall on opposite ends of the spectrum: “Muscle bound” players and “string beans.”
When it comes to muscle bound guys, there are a few common themes that tend to stick out:
Very strong under a barbell, lots of concentric power
Limited Rate of Force Development (RFD), tough time overcoming inertia
Aches, pains, chronic ailments
Movement inefficiencies created through compensatory patterns
Huge engines, bad brakes
If we were plot these guys on the force velocity curve, they would be all the way to the left. They can produce a ton of force but can’t express it very quickly. This is a problem when it comes to baseball. Our ability to produce elite velocity does not come down to our ability to deadlift or squat a certain amount of weight. The baseball weighs just five ounces. Increasing the amount of potential force we can produce does not mean it’s all getting into the baseball.
For Garza, the easiest way to connect with muscle bound athletes is to start with where they’re hurting. In his experience, nearly all of these athletes have some sort of aches, pains, or chronic discomfort. This typically happens because at some point in time moving more weight became more important than moving well. This is exactly why Dechant titled his book Movement over Maxes. If you sacrifice how you move for how much you max, you’re throwing the whole purpose of the weight room out the window.
In order to get to the bottom of these inefficiencies, Garza assesses how the move on the mound and in the weight room. He looks for compensations and gets to the root of what is causing them. Improving he pattern will improve the pain they’re experiencing. When they can start to build some better solutions, Garza wants to teach these guys how to move stuff fast. These guys don’t need to add another 15 pounds to their front squat max. They need to learn how to express the force they already have. This starts with improving their rate of force development (RFD).
Some exercises to improve this include:
Jumping & Landing
Change of Direction work
Garza also modifies compound lifts where the objective is to move lighter loads at faster speeds. This might not create the same level of satisfaction as a set of heavy deadlifts, but it’s a lot closer to something they actually need. Remember: The baseball only weighs five ounces. Training to move heavy stuff slow does not help you move light stuff fast.
Now let’s go to the other side of the spectrum.
In order to determine the lowest hanging fruit for “string beans,” Garza explained how he utilizes his four Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the weight room:
Bilateral compound lift
Garza doesn’t have specific metrics athletes need to hit for bilateral compound lifts (very individualized), but he does like to shift the focus away from them when athletes can get into the 2X BW range for deadlift and 1.75X for a front squat pattern.
Single leg lunge variation
Single leg variations (e.g. barbell reverse lunge) give Garza a lot of information on how well an athlete is able to stabilize their spine, produce, and accept force on one leg. As a general rule of thumb, he likes to see his guys be able to lunge their bodyweight for six to 10 quality reps.
Garza will test all of his athletes to see what their vertical jump looks like with and without a countermove. This gives him information on how well – or not so well – the athlete is able to leverage the stretch shortening cycle to produce force. Garza likes to see about a 10% difference between the two, but he’ll often see greater than 10% with his elastic driven athletes and less with his muscle driven athletes. The “twitchier” you are, the more skilled you are at using the SSC to overcome inertia. Muscle driven athletes tend to struggle with this.
30 yard sprint with 10 yard split
Using the 30 yard sprint with 10 yard splits gives Garza a lot of information on how well athletes can accelerate and get up to top speed. Muscle driven athletes tend to win in the first 10 as acceleration largely depends on strength and technique. Elastic athletes tend to win in the last 20 as they are much better at creating stiffness throughout the system and rapidly contracting/relaxing. Muscle driven athletes might know how to turn things on, but they’re not so great at knowing when to turn them off. Comparing the 30 yard time and the 10 yard split gives Garza a pretty good picture for where they fit on that spectrum.
Garza will collect information from the KPIs, do a thorough assessment of the skill, and prioritize his findings to determine where he’ll start his training interventions. For the sake of simplicity, let’s look at two different examples and how each requires a slightly different approach:
Athlete A: Performs well on field, not in weight room
This kind of athlete can be challenging from the perspective of a strength coach because they might have zero interest in strength training at all. If they can throw significantly harder than the rest of their teammates who lift significantly more, why should they care about getting “stronger?” If the weight room was really that important, shouldn’t the kids who lift more be able to throw harder?
In this kind of a situation, Garza tries to relate the weight room to the field as much as possible. He’ll start his sessions with specific exercises that target movement movement qualities all baseball players need. Of these include pelvic stability, rotation, and motor control. When teaching these movements, he’ll use language and analogies that relate it back to their swing or delivery. This helps build buy in. Instead of just force-feeding bilateral lifts down their throats, Garza starts with the thing that’s most important, invites engagement, and back chains from here.
By taking something that’s unfamiliar and teaching it in a way that is familiar, you increase the chances they’ll learn and retain it.
When it comes to the less specific work, Garza doesn’t look at it as just lifting weights. He views it as a big skill acquisition process. Patterning a good front squat is just like patterning out an efficient delivery: You’re teaching a skill. It’s going to go through a phase where it stinks (unconscious/conscious incompetence), it’s going to require deliberate work and practice to improve (conscious competence), and the goal is to get it to a point where it can be executed without conscious thought (unconscious competence). By taking something that’s unfamiliar and teaching it in a way that is familiar, you increase the chances they’ll learn and retain it.
When it comes to the KPI’s, Garza doesn’t lose sleep if they aren’t deadlifting twice their bodyweight in two months. The KPI’s are information – not predictors of performance. Throwing 90 mph is a lot more than how much you can squat, lunge, or how fast you can run. The objective is to build quality training habits that positively influence performance. Whatever they add to the bar should be a byproduct of this – not the other way around.
Athlete B: Doesn’t perform well on field or in weight room
This athlete isn’t as delicate of a project. Their lowest hanging fruit is often going to be a combination of strength and increased movement efficiency. Improving general strength will get you a pretty good return on your investment because these guys need some sort of foundation to produce force from. However, this doesn’t mean you just start lifting like a bodybuilder and crushing bilateral lifts four times per week. There needs to be an on ramping process where athletes master the patterns prior to loading them. Dechant describes this process as “slow-cooking” the athlete. Skipping to level 10 right out of the gate might sound exciting, but it’s a great way to expose your athletes to demands they aren’t prepared for. Play the long game. Strength added to dysfunction only magnifies dysfunction.
Something to also be cognizant of with this type of population is how their body changes. Putting detrained athletes on a good program will have an impact on body composition, lean muscle mass, and joint range of motion. These changes, as mentioned above, will have a subsequent impact on their delivery. Don’t get caught trying to fit a square peg into a round role. Use your knowledge of the skill and their new body to reposition them into positions of best leverage. It’s often bad news if one thing changes and the other doesn’t…
The weight room can be a huge asset to the detrained and unskilled population of athletes. Just keep the main objective in mind when you go about it…
Doing this the right way
Let’s finally go back to the situation we started with.
This athlete falls under the first type of athlete we broke down – Athlete A who excels on the field but struggles with the weights. If we were to redo his training program, we need to get some background:
Assess the delivery
What are the things he does well?
What kind of inefficiencies does he present with?
What are his greatest opportunities for improvement?
Define his training age
What is his experience in the weight room?
Can he execute movements under the bar with proficiency?
Where does he potentially compensate?
Determine when he needs to be game ready
Work backwards from game one.
How much undivided time do you have with him in the weight room prior to the start of practices?
When does the focus need to shift to more skill specific activities?
From here, we can start to build out the basics. The backbone of his training will address his targeted movement inefficiencies. Correcting them will involve time deliberately crafting fundamental movement patterns (e.g. hinge, push, lunge) and eventually synchronizing more dynamic movements (e.g. sprinting, landing, throwing). The progression to build these patterns will mirror the skill acquisition process: Build the pattern, challenge it to progress it, and regress it when it’s not proficient.
It might not be as fun to “slow cook” your athlete, but it’s going to keep them on the field in the long run. Performance and health need to be the priority. Chasing numbers right out of the gate jeopardizes both.
You might feel the urge to start loading the patterns right away when you start to see some improvements. Here’s my advice: Don’t. Be patient with this process early on. It might not be as fun to “slow cook” your athlete, but it’s going to keep them on the field in the long run. Performance and health need to be the priority. Chasing numbers right out of the gate jeopardizes both.
The more dynamic the movement, the more taxing it’s going to be on the CNS. As a result, activities like throwing and sprinting should be done at the beginning of sessions when the athlete is most fresh. Throwing is most important. Whatever is done in the weight room should supplement the throwing. After all, we remember what happened when lifting became more important than throwing…
Intensity, frequency, and duration of sessions should be balanced based on the demands of throwing and lifting. Each athlete only has so much training economy they can exert throughout the course of the day. If the throwing is more intense, the lifting has to be less intense to prevent overtraining. A great way to monitor this is to use a RPE (rare of perceived exertion) scale. Ask the athlete after each session how difficult it was on a scale of 1-10. This will help you understand what they can handle, what they’re struggling with, and how much you need to program so you can get the desired training effect. Your assumptions don’t often match up to what they’re actually experiencing. Don’t assume – just ask.
If the training is executed consistently and correctly, the athlete should start to progressively see improvements in pain, movement efficiency, and performance. If they’re not, the program needs to be re-evaluated. While some things may see tremendous improvement early on (e.g. general strength), other things might take more time (e.g. pitching velocity). This is where the role of a coach comes into play. If your program is creating positive movement adaptations that are creating transfer, don’t abandon ship when you don’t see instant velo jumps. If you take care of the big rocks the details will fall into place. That is, if you focus on the right things in the first place…
If these things are done consistently and effectively, this athlete very well has a chance to show up next spring up 2-3 mph. He might even put on a couple pounds, but it’s not because he tried to. It’s because he focused on the things that allowed him to.
If Mass doesn’t equal Gas, what does?
I don’t think it’s fair to put together an equation for creating velocity. There are too many different variables that influence whether someone is able to throw 95 mph. However, there is one thing I’m pretty sure of: Mass does not equal gas. Mass plays a role in throwing gas, but it’s only one thing. Let’s keep it that way.
To conclude, I think we should make a slight revision to mass = gas. I got this one from Lantz Wheeler:
Analogies are a powerful form of language all coaches can utilize. They work by combining a specific objective (e.g. rotate better) with a familiar association (e.g. phone booth) in order to create a vivid image for execution (e.g. rotate in a phone booth).
Instead of asking our athletes to:
Start in an athletic position
we can ask them to:
Turn their body into a jet taking off
Pretend they’re guarding LeBron James
Turn their legs into pogo sticks
In both examples, we’re asking our athletes to do the same exact thing. However, using analogies gives our athletes a much better picture for how to do it. Turning your body into a jet is going to create the posture and angles required to get your body to overcome inertia. Imagining you’re guarding LeBron James is going to get you into a strong base with your feet outside your shoulders and chest over your toes. Thinking about turning your legs into pogo sticks is going to create stiffness in the lower extremities that is beneficial for creating vertical force.
When we can create a vivid picture in the minds of our athletes, we increase the likelihood that our message will produce a desired movement outcome. There’s no gray area for misinterpretation. Just telling someone to “use their legs more” or “run faster” might address the objective, but it is very vague when it comes to execution. The vaguer it is, the less likely it will be done the way you want.
Analogies, on the other hand, are much more specific. All you need to do is find something that athlete can relate to (other sports, hobbies, video games, etc.). Once you find something, you have the keys to their interest. All that’s left is creatively crafting your message in a way that will best get their attention.
Below are 10 analogies you can use with your baseball athletes at practice.
Throw around the runner on a double play
Too often coaches take linear solutions to a rotational problem. Cues like “finish your pitch” or “stay on top of the ball” can create linear adaptations that bring the arm inside and out of the plane of rotation. This can create pushy and disconnected arm paths.
Instead, kids need to learn how to get their arms away from them. They’re not throwing darts. They’re throwing baseballs. In order to throw a baseball well, the arm needs to unwind around the body and the hand needs to work away from the midline into release. Giving them the imaginary constraint of an incoming baserunner can help them do just that.
Don’t fall off the cliff
Humans are primed with instincts for survival. Tapping into them can create some vivid pictures and sensations you can use to your advantage. One of these is the thought of “not falling off the cliff.” This is great for pitchers who don’t have great brakes and continue to fall forward after ball release. Have them pretend they’re landing on the edge of a cliff when they throw. The “consequences” for falling forward after release can teach them how to stop and rotate in a tighter window.
Another thought you can use for this is “don’t get punched in the face.” Have athletes pretend there is a fist right in front of their face when their front foot lands. If they fold forward instead of rotate, they’re going to get punched in the face. This might be a hair of an exaggeration, but the thought can influence a better pattern that’s less linear and more rotational.
Pitch like you’re throwing a punch
Relating movements from other sports to baseball is a great way to share the same message using a slightly different lens. A popular one we like to refer to is throwing a punch. In order to throw a punch, you have to do a lot things that baseball players also need to do:
Get into a strong and centered base
Stay closed with the pelvis and torso into foot plant
Strike by rotating the torso around a stable lower half
Brace and decelerate into impact
Produce a lot of force in a small window
If you’re working on any of the above, using the thought of “throwing your best punch” can be incredibly impactful. We commonly tell pitchers to “throw their punch from deep” to keep them from opening up too soon. Telling a kid to “stay closed longer” addresses the same thing, but the thought of a punch creates a much more specific picture. Better visuals create better adaptations.
Pretend like you’re hitting a ball that weighs 500 lbs.
This analogy is one of the best ones Eugene has ever come up with. He got the inspiration when he was doing research into martial arts and stumbled on the word “kime.” In Japanese, the word means “focus.” In martial arts, it references the bracing moment you feel right before you deliver a punch. For Bruce Lee to get off his famous one-inch punch, he needed to metaphorically turn his body into a brick wall. It might have looked like he was just punching with one finger, but he was actually using his entire body because of his ability to rapidly brace into impact. This helped him deliver a pretty forceful punch despite having to navigate a small window of time and space.
If you’re working with a hitter who’s flying open, peeling off baseballs, lacks stability, and can’t transmit a ton of force into the ball, smack them in the stomach a couple of times and ask them what they feel. They’ll probably respond with something along the lines of “tight” or “braced.” Have them use that sensation when they go to hit the ball. When you do this, you’ve successfully taught someone how to hit the ball like it weighs 500 lbs.
The thought alone of hitting the ball like it weighs 500 lbs. can create an immediate adaptation. You can also try “turn your body into a brick wall at impact” and “try to smash open a watermelon.” If the image still isn’t clear, just have the hitter strike a basketball. What they feel doing that is what they should be doing when they hit a baseball.
If you use any of these thoughts, this is one you need to try out.
Move forward like someone is on your back
One of the most common energy leaks we see with hitters and pitchers is pushing out of the ground (oddly enough, often caused by trying to use the ground more). A great analogy you can use to counter this is to create the sensation of having someone on your back. If you’re working with a couple of kids, you can have them demo it out and hop on each other’s backs. Ask them what they felt and tell them to take it into their swing. You’ll often see immediate improvements in posture, connection to the ground, and space.
Crack a whip
The whip analogy can be used in a couple of ways. For one, it can give a really good visual for how the arm should work to transmit force. Former MLB All-Star Ricky Romero talked about how his dad growing up taught him to use his arm like a whip. This helps create sensations for when to create tension as too much too soon eliminates your ability to create the “crack” at the end.
It can also be used to explain the importance of deceleration in applying directional force. To crack a whip, the arm and hand need to come to stop in order to get the whip to go forward. This gets energy out to the tip and creates that cracking sound. If the arm and the hand continue to drag through and never come to a stop, you lose the ability to crack the whip.
Pitch like you play shortstop
This is a good one if you have a kid that slings it across the diamond and looks like a robot when he toes the rubber. Pitchers are often taught in a way where positions and aesthetics become more important than learning how to move dynamically. When this happens, you’ve “pitchered” a kid: You’ve taken someone who knows how to move well and put him into a box where he can’t move well anymore.
An easy way to get them out of this box is to teach them how to be an athlete again. In other words, give them the freedom to pitch like they play shortstop. Allowing them to do this often creates an immediate impact on their delivery.
This can also work for lefties. Since they probably didn’t play infield or catcher growing, they probably didn’t spend a lot of time making dynamic and athletic throws. This makes it even more important that they do.
Pretend your front foot just landed in cement
Giving athletes the thought of “sticking” their front foot in cement can create sensations that influence a more stable lower half. The more stable you are down low, the better you can rotate up top. If the front foot is sliding or not accepting force early enough, something in the chain is unstable (e.g. pushy, quad dominant lower half). Using the thought of landing in cement can clean some of this up.
Something similar to this is thinking about the feet as “anchors” or “pegs” in the ground. Energy is created proximally to distally. What’s furthest away from us (e.g. arms, legs) should be controlled by what is most central to us (e.g. pelvis, trunk). Overactive extremities flip this on its head. By killing the feet and thinking of them as anchors/pegs, you give the middle the ability to control the movement and prevent the feet/legs from creating inefficient patterns.
Rotate in a phone booth
Most players stink at rotating. This is because how rotation is often taught (e.g. get extension, chest to glove) is largely ineffective. Good rotation happens where the trunk and pelvis work around our spine and through a small window of space. Using the thought of “rotating in a phone booth” can help give kids a pretty effective visual for this. A similar thought you can use is “rotate your head around a cement pole.” This gives kids the same visual for how to rotate around their spine without wasting a ton of movement.
Spread the floor like you’re riding a horse
Eugene picked up on this one in a conversation with Hunter Bledsoe. A great visual for the forward move is to give kids the thought of “straddling a horse.” This can help give them a better feel for how to spread their legs apart, control their center of mass, and keep their nose over their belly button.
BONUS: Player Imitations
A great way to stimulate creativity and athleticism in kids is to have them try and imitate their favorite players. Have them pick out two or three they really like or pick out a couple that have a similar movement profile. This can be a huge unlock for kids who are struggling to feel athletic in the box. We know that kids are great at imitating. Use this to your advantage when you’re trying to teach them something new.
These are only 10 suggestions. The ceiling for the analogies you can create is limitless. The more you use them, the better you’ll be able to communicate with kids.
Don’t just talk to your players. Use analogies and talk to them in color.
To round out the weekend we were able to put together an MLB players panel which featured Marc Rzepczynski,Cesar Ramos,Tyson Ross,Patrick Mazeika, and Ricky Romero. The five talked about their experiences in player development over the years and what’s had been really impactful on their careers.
For Cesar Ramos, one of his biggest unlocks was realizing he needed to throw his slider more. Ramos featured a four-pitch mix as a player and used his slider the least out of all four. When Ramos played for the Rays, the coaches sat him down and explained to him how the metrics on his slider actually profiled out as one of the best pitches in his arsenal. While it took some time to make this adjustment, Ramos eventually bought in and saw a significant improvement in game performance. This helped him solidify a spot at the big league level and ended up being a huge turning point in his career.
In order to have more positive interventions like these, coaches must be able to share the same information in multiple different ways. This is something Tyson Ross felt was very important when it comes to great coaches. They don’t just describe how to do something one way. They find as many ways as possible to create the same exact movements because they understand the interpretation of information is just as important as the information itself. Him and one of his teammates might be trying to create the same exact movement pattern, but what they need to think about might be completely different. It all works, but not all of it works for everyone.
Knowing what each athlete needs is important, but it’s even more important to know exactly what they don’t need. While Tyson is an athlete that feels very comfortable handling a lot of information and video, Marc Rzepczynski has learned he needs just the opposite. From his experience, Marc realized how looking at too much video or trying to juggle too much information became a crutch because he started to overanalyze his movements on the mound. This caused him to get in his own way and prevented himself from being the best version of himself on the mound. As a result, he’s learned to only focus on one or two things at a time and use what he feels to guide his throwing. When he finds a feel that resonates with him, he tries to recreate it and keep things simple without getting too cerebral. This keeps him athletic and helps him create positive movement adaptations because he’s focused on things that help him have the most success.
“When contact is made, pitchers are in the driver’s seat.” Jerry Weinstein, Colorado Rockies
Outside of the panel, we were very fortunate to have Jerry Weinstein join us for Bridge and share wisdom he’s gained from over 60 years as a coach in the game of baseball. For his presentation, Jerry ran the audience through a simulated inning and broke down each pitch thrown, the result, and what he would have done differently in certain situations. To start, Jerry shared some of rules he uses when he builds out game plans for pitchers and catchers. One of these is the rule of 68: At the MLB level, 68% of all balls put in play are outs. Jerry doesn’t want his pitchers to nibble around the strike zone. He wants his guys to aggressively attack it because the odds are in their favor. Pitchers shouldn’t be afraid of contact. Instead, they should be afraid of falling behind in the count because they’re trying to avoid contact.
During the inning, Jerry brought up a specific pitch during a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals. Reliever Archie Bradley was defending a 9-5 Arizona lead in the top of the ninth with runners on first and third and Rangel Ravelo at the plate for St. Louis. With a 1-1 count, Bradley decided to throw a curveball in the dirt that Ravelo took for ball two. In Weinstein’s opinion, this pitch was a mistake because 1-1 is a big count to win (MLB BA swings around .200 based on result of pitch). Pitchers need to throw their highest percentage strike pitch to their highest percentage strike location. Instead of throwing his best pitch (fastball), Bradley throws his curveball which only lands in the zone 23% of the time. This becomes an easy take for Ravelo and sets him up in a hitters count with runners in scoring position. If Weinstein was calling pitches, he would have had Bradley challenge Ravelo with his best fastball considering Bradley’s strengths, weaknesses, and the current situation (four run lead).
“I’m here to tell you asymmetries are okay until you can’t function or reciprocate.” Ken Crenshaw, Director of Sports Medicine & Performance Arizona Diamondbacks
Ken Crenshaw – Director of Sports Medicine and Performance Arizona Diamondbacks – was also able to join us and deliver a presentation on his thoughts around training the core. One of the big points he drove home in his presentation was the myth around asymmetries. While we typically think of asymmetries as a barrier to performance, Ken argued that asymmetries are actually very normal. Internally, our bodies are not symmetrical at all. Our liver, colon, and appendix are all on the right side of our body and our stomach, heart, and spleen are on the left. This internal imbalance causes us to naturally fall into asymmetrical patterns, as seen below. These patterns are completely okay and shouldn’t raise red flags – as long as we can check a couple of boxes.
Instead of looking at symmetry, Ken looks to see if his athletes are able to function. If they can execute basic motor tasks and swing or throw without pain, he doesn’t place too much stock in the asymmetries they present with. After all, baseball is largely an asymmetrical sport. The majority of us only swing or throw from one side. This doesn’t mean we should completely negate asymmetries and the role they play in influencing movement, but it does mean we need to look at them through a different lens. Asymmetries by themselves are not a problem. How those asymmetries influence motor function is what we really need to look at.
Lastly, we were able to have Darin Everson – Hitting Coordinator Colorado Rockies – hop on and share his thoughts on developing efficiency in hitters. For him, three things stand out:
Are they anchored into the ground?
Hitters who move really well are able to use their feet as “anchor points” to create stability for the pelvis. This gives the trunk the platform it needs to rotate around and reciprocate against the lower body. If hitters aren’t able to create a stable connection to the ground, their pelvis becomes unstable and energy leaks are created. A big part of hitting is being able to move a weight through space as efficiently as possible by moving to and through strong positions. Paying close attention to how guys interact with the ground gives you a lot of information on their ability to do this.
Can they stop and produce force in small windows?
Hitters have a small window of time and space to produce force given the constraint of the incoming pitch. As a result, just producing a lot of force isn’t as important as how quickly it can be transferred and applied up the chain. Whether we can do this or not depends on our ability to put on the brakes. The next segment cannot accelerate until the previous one has decelerated. Thus, an inability to stop hurts your ability to go.
Do they have space to work? Are they compensating to create this space?
All hitters need space and room to work so they can get their best swing off consistently. Some common ways hitters do this include hinging, staying closed, or clearing the lead arm as the hands make moves to the ball. However, all space is not created equal. There are numerous compensatory patterns hitters will pull off to make up for the space they lost earlier in the sequence. An example of this would be a hitter who opens up with their pelvis too soon and has to pin their hands up against their body to prevent them from peeling off the baseball. They might be able to create enough space so their swing can work, but how they create it isn’t optimal.
It’s like TCU strength coach Zach Dechant talked about in Part II: The best athletes are often the best compensators. The solutions they come up with work, but it doesn’t mean they’re the best solutions.
Interested in more? You can get full access to all of the BTG20 presentations here.
As we conclude 2020 and begin 2021, below are 12 thoughts that have resonated with me throughout the course of the year, three questions to ponder, and one word I will try to live by.
The Fine Print. People who you once trusted will turn their back on you. Your best efforts won’t always be rewarded. The best version of yourself won’t always show up. You will be negatively impacted by things you cannot control. The good news is overcoming and embracing the fine print of your dreams will give you the character you need to sustain your dream when you achieve it.
Be Present. The only thing we have is the present. Focus on the things in front of you and only the things in front of you. Others should not pay the price because you lack the discipline to be where you need to be and when you need to be there.
Seek people different than you. Don’t sit in the comfort of your own habits and thoughts. It is narcissistic to expect people to think, act, and find productivity exactly the way that you do. The thoughts, routines, and methods of people unlike you will challenge your perspective on how you do things. This is where growth occurs.
Perspective: The art of being objective. Things are never as bad or as good as what they seem. Don’t think of what it should be or what it ought to be. See it for what it is and figure out how you can use it to make you better.
Know when to stop. Do not mistake activity for achievement. There is a time to go on and a time to slow down. Recognize when you are not producing meaningful work and find ways to recharge so you can get back to it.
Ask questions. Find gaps in your understanding and craft questions so you can resolve them. If you haven’t found something you don’t quite understand, you’re not actively listening and grappling with the ideas of someone else. Interesting people are interested. We all have something to learn from everyone.
Learn to self-evaluate. Not recognizing your weaknesses will prevent you from improving on them. Great coaches are great self-evaluators. They know who they are, where they fall short, and what they’re willing to stand for. A career of service must start with awareness.
If you work, inspiration will come. If you wait, inspiration will wait. Show up. Do the work.
Provide value to get value. Don’t just be a taker. Leverage your strengths, create something useful, or help someone else solve a problem. In the words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Keep shooting. Everyone’s first drafts stink. The more you create, the better your work will become. What you see as an overnight success was really the accumulation of years of work that compounded over time. Perfect is the enemy of good. Get things on paper before you worry about them being perfect.
The things that are most obvious are often the most elusive. Bring to life what most people do not notice. Everything you need is already here right in front of you.
Seek meaningful work with meaningful people. Work never feels like work when both of these are met. Careers need purpose. This starts with the people you surround yourself with and the depth of the mission you seek to achieve.