Improving the development of baseball players was one of the primary goals I had when I started my business a year ago and is something that I am very passionate about. Being born and raised in Fort Wayne, I have been frustrated seeing players go out of town or out state for their development and I believe that players in the Fort Wayne area should have access to elite services. As a physical therapist and strength coach I offer strength and conditioning and rehabilitation programs for baseball players, but this is just one piece of the puzzle and it is incomplete by itself. My goals for improving the current systems for baseball development in Fort Wayne went beyond this. My goal was to change how players and coaches in the Fort Wayne area look at baseball development. I believe that there is a better alternative out there that the best organizations in baseball are doing and that the players in the Fort Wayne should have access to that as well. We refer to this model as the Team Approach.
How does this differ from has traditionally been offered in Fort Wayne? Traditionally baseball development in Fort Wayne and most other areas across the country has operated in what we refer to as silos versus a team. What do we mean by silos? It is common to see a baseball player work with a variety of different professionals such as a travel team/high school coach, a hitting/pitching coach, a strength coach/personal trainer and medical professionals (physical therapists, chiropractors, athletic trainers, etc). However, each of these professionals often operates in isolation relative to the other professions, instead of collaborating and working together. Rarely do these professionals communicate, in some cases they disagree with each other and sometimes feels like they are even competing against each other, instead of working together. This often leads to frustration and confusion for players and parents, not to mention less than ideal results for player development and performance on the field. This doesn't have to be the case.
I believe that there is a better alternative out there and during my career I have had the opportunity to attend conferences and shadow at different organizations and see how some of the best in the world are doing this. The best organizations are centered on the Team Approach and having everyone work together for the betterment of the athlete. This approach offers several benefits for the athlete, and coaches as well.
Sounds good, but what should this approach actually look like?
I like the analogy of a NASCAR/Formula 1 racing team (credit to OnBase University for this analogy) to understand the team approach and the roles of each team member. In this analogy the car is referring to the athlete/player. The coach is the 'driver' of the car. This means they are leader of the team and the primary influence on the athlete and responsible for getting the car around the track and to the finish line. They have to read the dashboard on the car and decide how to best get the most out of the car (athlete). On that dashboard there are several dials the coach can be checking to see if it could be effecting the performance of the athlete such as 1) hitting/pitching/fielding technique and skills, 2) the athlete's body (physical limitations), 3) the mental side of the game and also 4) equipment (bat, shoes, etc.).
This can be a lot of information, but the good news is that the coach/driver doesn't have to do this alone and they shouldn't try to. This is what the pit crew is for. In this analogy the pit crew consists of fitness and medical professionals. During a race the pit chief is communicating with the driver about any issues with the car so when driver makes a pit stop the pit crew knows exactly what to work on. The same thing should ideally happen in baseball performance and development programs where the coach might notice a physical limitation that could be affecting performance. They would then relay this information to a fitness/medical professional on the team who can perform further examination and treat the issue and help the athlete function better so the coach can maximize their performance.
As a member of the pit crew (fitness and medical) my job is to have an understanding of what the coach is talking about and speak the same language to get make sure we are on the same page. Having an understanding of the sport and what the coach is trying to achieve also allows me to be much more effective in my exercises and treatments. If you drove a Lamborghini would you take your vehicle to just any mechanic? No, you would take it to someone who is an expert on Lamborghinis or other super cars. As a baseball player you should make sure your pit crew has this same expertise of your sport to fulfill their role on the team.
*Beside the coach to pit-crew communication, it's also important to note that pit crew members need to be in communication as well as each one has a different area of expertise and role.
Unfortunately in many cases this communication between the team members is lacking or worse yet, doesn't occur at all. The pit crew cannot function optimally if the driver is not participating or getting them involved.
Here's a common example that I'm talking about in regards to the lack of a team approach: I received the message on the left from a player on social media recently and it describes a scenario many players and coaches are encountering and aren't aware of it. This player went to many coaches to work on a particular swing characteristic with little improvement. The player understood what was being asked of him and what he wanted his body to do, but still wasn't able to do it. Was it just bad coaching or did he need a different drill? I highly doubt it. I'm sure these are good coaches and probably gave very appropriate drills for this issue. So why didn't it work? The player had several physical limitations that were likely the underlying reason preventing him from loading properly into his back leg and forcing him to sway. Getting the pit crew involved in this scenario would have been extremely beneficial for both the player and the coach and saved both from a lot of frustration.
My role in the pit crew is to help make your job as a coach easier by giving the athlete the physical abilities (if needed) to fully benefit from the expertise instruction and knowledge that you have.
When the team functions with everyone in communication and working together toward a common goal this will help the athlete reach their potential. This is already being adopted by some of the most successful organizations and businesses in baseball and I believe that it will be the direction for the future of baseball development in Fort Wayne in the very near future. Players and parents you should be looking for this when making decisions in regards to travel teams and college decisions.