(I’m using male pronouns in this article because it’s simpler, but the advice can apply equally to softball players.)
So your player has decided to take a break from baseball during the winter. That’s a good thing, right? You’ve read so many articles about how pitching arms need a few months’ rest. Kids need to play other sports. Plus they need time to be kids. But, what if come spring, your kid isn’t able to compete with those year-round ball players who’ve been adding velocity to their fast balls and precision to their swings while your kid was playing rec soccer or working on a scouting badge?
Well, fear not, fretful parents! Remember, you’ve got valid reasons for this short baseball hiatus. And there are plenty of things your player can do to keep his skills sharp and stay up to speed with his buddies. Things that thankfully won’t injure your wallet.
1.Play a Different Sport. There are so many reasons a kid should play more than one sport, I won’t attempt to cover them all. But here are a couple. Staying active in some sport other than baseball, be it soccer, football, basketball, lacrosse, swimming or hockey helps kids maintain their athletic endurance and strengthens different muscle groups that aren’t used in baseball.
Certified personal trainer, Dustin Sollars, who is also a coach and hitting/fielding instructor for RISE Baseball Academy in Richmond, VA, explains why. “Baseball works one side of the body more than the other. If you’re playing only baseball and doing the same movements on the same side of the body, you’re going to eventually get injured. That’s why it’s so important to do other sports that help balance out the body’s strength and coordination.”
2. Play Catch. There’s been so much conflicting advice written over the past few years about taking care of pitchers’ arms that it’s hard to know what to believe. While it’s highly recommended to give the arm a few months off, more and more experts are specifying that it’s time off from high intensity pitching…not time off from throwing.
“The reason so many kids have arm problems isn’t because they’re throwing too much,” says Chris Martin, director of RISE Baseball Academy. “It’s because they’re not throwing enough when they’re off the mound. Giving the arm time off from high intensity pitching is important. But completely shutting down the arm with no playing catch or anything? That’s going to put a player behind. They need to be in the backyard several times a week, playing catch, long tossing, etc.”
The Arm, by Jeff Passan, is a must-read for parents of pitchers, and it validates Martin’s advice.
3. Hit the Batting Cages. Even if you’re taking the season off from playing baseball, it’s a bad idea to put the bat down until next spring. “When we hold tryouts for a new season, it’s pretty obvious which kids haven’t hit in a while,” says Martin. “We’re like ‘Man, when’s the last time you’ve swung a bat?'”
“You can lose your momentum pretty quickly if you’re not practicing,” says Sollars who played both baseball and football throughout high school. “Several times a week, after football practice, a buddy and I would head to the batting cages. And it paid off big time when baseball season came around.”
4. Run. But Not Too Far. Trainers say that long distance running doesn’t offer much benefit for baseball players. However, sprinting, especially uphill sprints, can significantly increase physical preparedness and work capacity. Baseball is a sport of explosive movements – bursts of power. That’s why short, full throttle sprints are better training than cross-country running.
5. Do Yoga. This popular form of exercise isn’t just for adults in search of inner peace and chakra alignment. Sollars, who looks as if he could easily curl the same weight that most men squat, says “I do yoga every night and
incorporate it into workouts with my players! Not only does it help lower stress and anxiety, but it also increases the elasticity and flexibility of muscles, which is huge in terms of reducing the risk of injury.”
6. Do Daily Push-Ups, Pull-Ups or Planks. The strongest kid on the RBA 12u Ropes is catcher, Austin Sharp. Behind the plate, he’s The Great Wall of Austin. With a bat in his hands, he’s a mini Paul Bunyan. This strength doesn’t come from what he does on the field or in practice. It’s what he does at home. For the past couple years, Austin has done 50 push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups every single day. Want to be a baseball powerhouse come spring? Do what Austin does.
7. Go Outside and Be a Kid. Chris Martin, (quoted above), emphasizes the importance of getting outside and doing something active. “Run around. Play wall ball! Ride a bike. Heck, throw the ball up in the air and catch it over and over. Just do something other than sitting around, playing video games. Rest is atrophy. If you do nothing for any length of time, it’s going to be that much harder when you start up again. I’ve had to tell parents before that I can’t give their kid lessons anymore because it’s obvious that he’s not practicing or doing anything active between lessons. If he’s not doing his part at home, they’re kind of wasting their money on the instruction.”
So, enjoy your time away from the baseball field. Play football, go camping, build a rocket, fight a mummy, climb the Eiffel tower, discover something that doesn’t exist, give a monkey a shower…(who knows what TV show theme song I’m quoting?) Whatever you do, keep your bat, ball and glove handy. It’ll pay off largely come springtime.