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Education is one of the fundamental building blocks of the game. As such, USA Baseball’s educational resources emphasize a culture of development, safety and fun within the sport through free online training courses and programs focused for players, parents, coaches, and umpires. Content is available in both English and Spanish.

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USA Baseball is passionate about protecting the health and safety of all constituents within the game. Through the Pure Baseball, SafeSport, and Pitch Smart, and other health and safety initiatives, USA Baseball is working to make the game of baseball a positive and safe experience at all levels of play.

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USA Baseball strives to be a steward of the amateur game through offering cutting edge sport performance analysis and player development. With a focus on physical literacy, fundamental movement skills and advanced performance metrics, the analysis of athletic abilities can help prepare players for their next level of play, wherever that may be.

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 Foul Pop Up Communication
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Foul Pop Up Communication


Monday Manager
By Skip Schumaker


In this edition of Monday Manager, Skip Schumaker discusses the communication needed between the catcher and corner infielders on a foul pop up.


Schumaker is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is a two-time World Series Champion. Schumaker was drafted in the fifth round of the 2001 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals following his career at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to his two World Series titles, Schumaker was a member of the USA Baseball 2006 Olympic Qualifying team that won a gold medal in Cuba and secured a spot in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.


 Little Things Make for Big Wins
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Little Things Make for Big Wins


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Omaha, Nebraska.

Every June, this quaint Midwestern city becomes the pinnacle of the college baseball world when it hosts the College World Series. Every February, it is the destination for all 298 NCAA Division I baseball teams. It is the goal. But out of those 298 clubs, only eight get to go. Only eight get to play for the National Championship. EIGHT. It is a special place that only a few special teams get to experience.

Last June, in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied, deciding game-three of the Louisville Super Regional, Cal State Fullerton found itself one run away from its season ending when the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals reached base. A sacrifice bunt was in order. Everyone in the ballpark knew it. Everybody watching on television knew it. And Cal State Fullerton’s defense knew it, too… especially their second baseman, Taylor Bryant.

As Louisville’s hitter laid down a textbook sacrifice, Fullerton’s catcher fielded the ball cleanly, and without a play at second, shuffled his feet towards first to take the “sure” out. When the ball left the catcher’s hand, it was apparent that “sure” out would not be recorded; the throw airmailed over the 1st baseman’s head and headed for the right field corner- but the ball never made it there. The ball never even made it into the outfield because Taylor Bryant was backing up the play, in position behind first base, exactly where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be there. Had he not been there, Louisville’s runner from first likely would have scored easily, and a frantic dogpile at home plate would have ensued with the Cardinals’ ticket punched to Omaha.

But Taylor Bryant was there.

Bryant’s simple backup of first base not only saved the game, but it saved Fullerton’s season. Fittingly, both he and the Titans were rewarded, escaping out of that 1st and 2nd, nobody out jam without giving up a run, and an inning or two later, they would push across a run of their own that would punch THEIR ticket to Omaha… all because Taylor Bryant was backing up a base.

Who knows how many times Bryant had made that sprint to back up first base, only to watch his teammates throw and catch the ball without issue and get that “sure” out? Who knows how many times Bryant practiced backing up first base, only to realize his energy to be in position, just in case of a bad throw, went for naught.

What do we (and Taylor Bryant) know? Clearly, that “little thing” is not so little after all.

One of the biggest challenges for coaches in any sport is to get their players to buy in to the small details of the game, the things that seemingly, to them, don’t really matter. While stories like Fullerton’s help in the cause, the reality is that it takes a special culture to get an entire team to embrace those things that barely get noticed. When you have a roster full of players who take pride in doing the little things, a funny thing happens: those big things tend to take care of themselves.

Creating that detail-oriented, little-thing atmosphere begins with the coaching staff. We as coaches cannot expect players to care about something in games if we don’t show how much we care about something by working at it. From there, it’s time for us to get our players to buy in. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when the majority of these little things garner little notice, nor recognition. So take it upon yourself to change that. Take notice of the details. Recognize those who are doing the right thing.

Everyone knows the hitter who got the game-winning hit, or the pitcher who secured the win with a key strikeout with the bases loaded. Praise the unsung hero. The guy who isn’t in the box score. The player who didn’t get the headline. Point out the guy who moved the runner, or drew the walk to keep the inning going that gave the hero the opportunity to be the hero. Applaud the middle-reliever who pitched those middle innings that kept your club in the game and give the closer that chance to close the game.

In the age of selfies, every kid wants the lens of them. So give them what they want, but do it in their selfless moments. Those moments that aren’t about them individually, but about the team as a whole.

The ultimate compliment a coach can get is that his team plays the game the way it was meant to be played. That compliment, while independent of winning and losing, is a testament to simply caring about doing the right thing- always, and in all ways- because it’s the right thing to do. Caring about the little things shows a love for the game. Caring about the little things shows an attention to detail. Caring about the little things displays character.

Caring about the little things, we promise you, will help make for big wins. Watch this month’s MLB postseason, and you’ll be sure to see for yourself.

Just ask Taylor Bryant…

Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Athlete Overtraining
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Athlete Overtraining


Ways to prevent athlete overtraining


“I can’t take time off! Every minute I’m not working out is a minute my competition has to get ahead of me.”

“I get my confidence from knowing that I work harder than everyone else out there.”

“No pain, no gain.”


Statements like these are all too common in the world of sport, particularly at the elite level, where success versus failure is often measured in the smallest of increments. Yet coaches and athletes today are walking an increasingly fine line between maximizing performance and going over the edge into overtraining. Training loads are increasing, by some estimates, at a rate of ten-20 percent every five years. Mark Spitz, for example, won his seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics by swimming 9,000 meters per day. Within 20 years, however, the average college swimmers were surpassing this mark, and by 1995, Olympic swimmers were putting in over 35,000 meters per day. (Raglin and Wilson, 2000).

These training increases have come with a price tag. Overtraining, defined by the USOC in 1998 as “the syndrome that results when an excessive, usually physical, overload on an athlete occurs without adequate rest, resulting in decreased performance and the inability to train” is on the rise. Differences in how overtraining is defined has made a true estimation difficult, but researchers suggest that on average, 10 percent of athletes are over trained at any given time. Endurance sport athletes are usually harder hit – 60 percent of competitive runners are or have been overtrained, by some estimates (Morgan et al., 1988). Overtraining has permeated the highest levels of sport, with 28 percent of 1996 Summer Olympians and 10 percent of 1998 Winter Olympians reported overtraining as a significant reason for their competitive difficulties (Gould et al., 2001).

More disturbing, however, is the increasing prevalence of overtraining at sports’ developmental levels. The price athlete’s pay for overtraining can be a high one. While most athletes who become stale or over trained miss only a few days of training, for others, the symptoms can last much longer. This outcome is particularly true for the athlete who continues to try to train through his or her early symptoms, ignoring the warning signs.

Given the increasing likelihood that your athletes are going to experience overtraining during the course of their careers, what can you do as coach to mitigate or even prevent this from happening?

STEP 1: KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING

While the sport scientists are still working to determine the exact mechanisms of overtraining, research and anecdotal reporting have combined to produce a list of overtraining symptoms to watch out for in your athletes:
• apathy
• lethargy
• depression
• decreased self-esteem
• emotional instability
• impaired performance
• restlessness
• irritability
• disturbed sleep
• weight loss
• loss of appetite
• increased resting heart rate
• increased vulnerability to injuries
• muscle pain/soreness

Clearly, coaches who know their athletes better are at an advantage in early detection, since many of these symptoms could be signs of other problems entirely, or even “business as usual” for some athletes. One of the detection issues with overtraining is that different athletes respond qualitatively differently to the same training stresses. What is most important, therefore, is not the presence or absence of a particular symptom of overtraining, but a pattern of differences in symptoms for a particular athlete over time.

STEP 2: INCREASE ATHLETES’ SELF-AWARENESS

“When you don’t feel right, back off. [In marathon training] it is all too easy to fall victim to the idea that you must run a certain number of 20-milers. When you’re tired, it’s better to run less.” -Joan Benoit Samuelson, USA, 1984 Olympic Marathon Champion (Samuelson and Averbuch, pp. 106 - 107).

Easy for Joan to say, hard for most athletes to do. How can you as coach help your athletes increase their self-awareness, to differentiate between pushing through a needed hard work out, and knowing when enough is really enough and more recovery is really the answer?

• Make it a habit to ask your athletes how they are feeling and listen to their answers. Simple as this may sound, many athletes simply have not given much thought to how they feel until the feeling cannot be ignored. Helping your athletes to focus more regularly on their physical and emotional symptoms will hone their self-awareness and their ability to detect symptoms more quickly.
• Encourage your athletes to keep a regular training log. Elite athletes across sports agree that regular use of logbooks can greatly increase self-awareness and smarter training. Dietary intake, sleep quality, resting heart rate, physical and emotional well-being, as well as workout quality can all be useful information when assessing for the possibility of overtraining. For more information on putting together logbooks, refer to the USOC Sport Psychology’s Mental Training Manual.
• Systematically evaluate athlete performances. For many athletes, their competitive performance analysis consists of the knowledge of whether they won or lost. Helping them to understand the process that went into the outcome, including fatigue, emotions, execution of strategy can be helpful in its own right to give athletes an increased sense of control over their performances, as well as connect training quality with performance. It can also help them answer the important question of whether they were adequately recovered, or optimally trained for the competition in question.

STEP 3: MODEL AND TEACH THE VALUE OF RECOVERY

A key for coaches and athletes in the battle against overtraining starts simply with how we define the issue of overtraining. As the comments at the beginning of this article reflect, it is incredibly difficult from a psychological standpoint for a high-achieving athlete to willingly do less of something in order to get better. But if we turn the problem on its head, going from Overtraining to UNDER recovery, we can help athletes understand that their job doesn’t have to be all about backing off from training, but training smarter and doing more recovery activities. How do you approach the concept of recovery with your athletes? Are recovery periods built into your training cycles? Do you refer to them in the same tone of voice and with the same sense of reverence you reserve for your athletes’ most difficult workouts? Do you yourself model good recovery strategies in the context of your own lifestyle?

In addition to being a good role model, coaches must be good teachers of the concept of recovery to their athletes. An active rest day at the swimming pool shouldn’t, for example, turn into a water polo game if rest was really the goal. Particularly at the elite level of sport, athletes need to learn that recovery is as much a part of their job as is the rest of their training regimen, their diets, or their sleep.

STEP 4: KEEP TRAINING FUN AND SPORT IN PERSPECTIVE

One of the main correlates of overtraining has proven to be the levels of stress the athlete associates with his or her sport. Gould and Dieffenbach (2001) suggest that coaches should work to dispel the myth that intense training cannot also be fun and to incorporate innovations to training programs to reduce stress and make sport more enjoyable for their athletes. Athletes should also be encouraged to maintain balance in their own lives and develop their identities in other realms of interest, be it family, school, non-sport careers or outside interests.

REFERENCES

Gould, D., Greenleaf, C., Guinan, D., Dieffenbach, K., & McCann, S. (2001Pursuing performance excellence: Lessons learned from Olympic athletes and coaches. Journal of Performance Excellence, 4, 21-43.

Morgan, W.P., O'Connor, P.B., Ellickson, K.A., & Bradley, P.W. (1988). Personality structure, mood states, and performance in elite distance runners.

Raglin J.S. & Wilson, G.S. (2000). Overtraining in athletes. In Y.L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 191 - 207). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Samuelson, J. and Averbuch, G. (1995). Joan Samuelson’s running for women. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

Courtesy of the United States Olympic Committee


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