The time is here. For a baseball fanatic this is the greatest time of the year, and the only month that will be filled only with promise and positivity.
The regular season, by nature is a roller coaster marathon ride that only the resilient survive, both fan and player.
In my eight seasons of professional baseball, I attended seven spring trainings. In each of them, I had just a bit more knowledge from the previous season to use to my advantage. I relied heavily on my failures to fuel how I would approach each new season.
The first taste of spring practice elicits emotion unlike any other. Players are eager as ever to show off their efforts of the offseason and prove themselves alongside the organization’s elite.
With spring training, however, comes a large window for athletes to misstep. This time of year is also the most riddled with injury, and for reasons beyond offseason preparation (although that’s a huge factor).
Below are three of the biggest mistakes baseball players make in spring training and spring practices. I offer solutions to these issues as always.
Mistake #1 – Too many players try to “be the hero” or make the team on day one
For young players in their first spring training or even veterans trying to secure a job, the first few weeks on the field can take a toll on the body if you’re not careful. If you think about it, athletes are going from the comforts of their own gym, own home, and own field, most likely throwing and practicing in comfortable shorts and t -shirts…to then all of a sudden being thrust into one of the most competitive and cutthroat months of training in professional sports.
Usually, for pitchers, a 30-50 pitch bullpen will be thrown in the first couple of days. I don’t care how much training you do in the offseason, the adrenaline won’t compare to throwing in front of your employer and the decision makers of your career. Too many guys will try to impress the instructors, front office, and fellow peers, which is all normal, but it will set you back if you wind up too sore or fatigued.
The same goes for position players. You, like the pitchers, should have busted your ass in the offseason to be capable of handling the physical demands of the spring, but you still need to be careful to not overdo it on the swings, the throwing, and fielding. Keep a good tempo, don’t blow out your arm, and don’t be someone you’re not. You don’t make the team on day one.
Solution – For pitchers, follow these three tips.
#1 – Don’t do anything more than what your off-season throwing program conditioned you for. For instance, if you have worked up to 200 feet in long toss, don’t move it out to 300 just because it looks impressive or you feel good. Have a plan and stick to it.
#2 – In your bullpens, keep your off-season preparation in mind. If you haven’t spun many breaking balls, don’t go out and show off by trying to rip a bunch of breakers off. Take it easy, take your sweet time, and work on one thing. Get a feel for the dirt, the spikes, and being outside. Focus on throwing a bunch of strikes.
#3 – In conditioning and the weight room, stick to a routine that will keep you fresh. Now is not the time to set personal records. It’s a time to stay explosive, refine what you did in the off-season, and continue getting better, not worse. Too many times, testosterone kicks in, and makes it tempting to show off in front of your teammates and buddies. Now’s not the time, guys. Being sore and tight is the worst thing you can be in spring training besides sidelined from injury. If you try to be the hero, you might just end up sitting on the sidelines or even worse, jobless.
Mistake #2 – Players deviate from their plan because of peer pressure, coaching pressure, or added competitive factors
Often times young or inexperienced players fall into different spring training traps. The biggest one comes from their peers and competition. Every other player at your position is your competition.
It’s only natural to try and out do the other guy in drills, conditioning, and other practice, however staying healthy is the absolute most important thing.
If you’re constantly worried about impressing and showing off, injury is bound to happen. Even though there quite possibly is job security on the line, it’s paramount that you are at your best for game time. While the coaches might be pleased to see the ball jump out of your hand in the bullpen or rocket off your bat in the cages, it doesn’t matter until you get in the game and on the field against opponents.
Solution – Focus hard on suppressing the desire to show off or give more effort than is normal for you. In all the drills, conditioning, and other activities, focus on execution. Don’t be temped to do extra work just for the hell of it.
Do what needs to be done, work on your weaknesses, and have a game plan before you get to the field. Ask yourself, “What can I get better at today?”
Also, take inventory on how you feel. If you’re run down a bit, take the necessary measures to warm-up and recover. Make sure you’re getting your rest, and show up to the field ready to perform.
Mistake #3 – The players physical preparation doesn’t match up to off-season
This is without question the biggest cause of injury in spring training or pre-season practices. Obviously, it is optimal to take complete advantage of every day in the off season to improve your body and game. The team expects you to show up in better condition than the previous season, and expects you to be free of injury.
With this being said, the weight training, conditioning, pre-hab, and recovery strategies should NOT do a complete 180 when you get to camp. If you haven’t squatted in the off-season, don’t go and squat just because your buddies are. Be very clear with the coaches and trainers about what you’ve done in the offseason, and be sure not to push it past the ideal volume point. Remember, it’s about feeling good, not showing off.
The same goes for the training room stuff. Don’t make it habit to hang out in there. If you weren’t doing a bunch of shoulder exercises, don’t start crushing those just because everyone else is. Do what make’s YOU perform at high level, and that’s it. More is the enemy in spring training. Optimal for you is the aim.
Solution – Cover all your bases to make sure you aren’t doing anything that will make your body hate you. Keep it a goal to maintain your mobility, strength, and conditioning levels, but don’t shoot to make gains anywhere unless it’s needed.
For instance, you might need to get your aerobic capacity up a bit, but don’t do it at a cost for on field performance. If running 20 sprints will get your conditioning level up, but hinder your body on the field, don’t do it. I understand that coaches will be in charge of telling you what to do, but auto regulate your own intensity and effort to keep your body feeling as fresh as possible.
Make sure also that you are eating just as well as the offseason, or at least to the best of your ability. Sometimes you’ll be on the field for hours on end, so the time at the hotel or away from the field is crucial for recovery and keeping the calories at the right level.
One of the worst things you can do is drastically change your body weight set point and lose performance. Wherever you feel best bodyweight wise, do whatever it takes to stay there.
These strategies are so crucial to keep in mind as you enter spring training or practice. I hope that you have prepared hard in the offseason, and continue to refine things in the spring.
This is NOT the time to try and get into shape.
It’s time to ramp slowly into game ready, season form. The only thing that matters is that you are healthy, feeling good, and performing at your best. The rest is eyewash. Cut out all the extra nonsense, and do whatever it takes to feel good everyday. For everyone, it’s completely different.
Remember, you don’t make the team on day one.