Training expectations and the lack of certainty

Pulldown

In this week’s post, I want to go in a direction that’s a little bit more philosophical than previous posts, and talk about training, what is reasonable to expect, and why it is impossible to ever be certain of results. A lot of what I’m about to say is based off an excellent speech by former first round draft pick Casey Weathers that I mentioned in my last blog post (and that I actually saw in person when I was at Driveline last summer), along with my own thoughts and ideas. A lot of guys approach training with the (flawed) mindset that they are expected to obtain some kind of result with certainty. For example, a weightlifter might expect to add 50 lbs. to his squat over the course of a 3 month period, or (as a more relevant example) a college or high school pitcher might expect to go from 85 mph to 90 mph if he comes and trains at Driveline (or insert your favorite facility here) for a summer.

In reality, however, this just…isn’t how the world works. There are so many variables outside of your control when it comes to training (e.g., you could be suffer some kind of freak injury one day, or your body might not be able to adjust to some particular mechanical cue for whatever reason), and at the end of the day the results of a particular period of training are inherently probabilistic. Sure, if you’re a 6’3’’, 160 lb. high school junior sitting 72-75, and you decide to start an integrated strength/velocity/mobility/etc. program, you will with very high probability gain velocity, but it’s not a guarantee! A major point of Casey’s speech was that nothing is certain from a results perspective when it comes to training, no matter how hard you work or how well you account for all of the variables in your control.

This would have probably been a bit of a shock to me if I had heard the speech when I was in high school (or younger), because I thought that the hardest workers always prevailed over those who were lazy, regardless of natural talent. It just seemed fair to me at the time, and I thought this was how the world had to work. In reality though, sometimes natural talent, good genetics, and good luck just…win. As unfortunate and unfair as this may sound, it’s the truth! It is possible to do everything right from a training perspective (e.g., follow an integrated strength, throwing, and mobility program, sleep 8+ hours/night, consume more calories than you burn, etc.) and still be passed up by another pitcher who doesn’t do any of these things, but has superior genetics and “freak” athleticism. If this is true, then what is the point of training, and how can you rationalize it to yourself?

Casey weathers 107.8

Further into Casey’s speech, he brings up how all of the work he put in to becoming the best player he could be gave him “the most honest evaluation of himself that he could possibly get.” Even though Casey never made it to the big leagues, he’ll never look back later on in life and wonder “what if” when it comes to his baseball career, as he did everything in his power to put himself in the best possible position to succeed. This was probably the biggest takeaway for me, and is how I like to think about training. Because there is so much that is out of your control, all you can do is optimize all of the variables within your control, and hope that this results in you becoming an elite player. In other words, success and hard work are not as directly related as we would all like them to be, and indeed certain players can do everything in their power to become the best player that they can be and still fall short of their goals. But the point of training to your maximum capacity is that this is the only way to know what you’re truly capable of. Even if you fall flat on your face and come nowhere near the big leagues after many years of training, at least you will know that you couldn’t have done anything more, and will never have regrets or “what if” moments about your career later on in life.

This idea is echoed in one of my favorite podcasts by Ben Brewster, who I’ve mentioned in several of my previous posts. Ben talks about how important it is for him to be able to “rest easy” at the end of his career (which will hopefully be later rather than sooner), knowing that he will have exhausted all of his resources and optimized all of the training variables in his control. This to me is the best way to look at training, and really at life in general, as there are so many other applications of this mindset. Success is never really guaranteed in any area of life, but by working to your maximum capacity at a given pursuit, you will not only maximize your chance for success, but also achieve certainty even if you fail. As Casey puts it in his speech, hard work guarantees you honesty, and is the only way to truly answer the question of “how good am I?” once and for all, in baseball and in life.

 

My week of training

There wasn’t really a whole lot that was noteworthy for me this week, as I didn’t pitch at all in our final series against Chapman last weekend. It’s been awhile since I last showed any video of my mechanics, but I’ve essentially just been maintaining a similar focus as the last time that I talked about them. The only one change I’ve been working on a bit is staying looser with my arm and allowing for a longer arm action, as opposed to forcing a shorter one. I’ve noticed that I’m able to throw harder with less effort on days that I’m able to do this well, although on days that it out of sync I end up down a few mph. This looser arm action feel will definitely be something to work on going into this offseason. I was a bit shocked when I looked at this throw on video actually, as my arm action isn’t as long as I thought it was going to be based on feel, but sometimes things look a lot different on video compared to how they feel live.

 

End of season review

redlands.jpg

I thought the topic of training uncertainty was appropriate for this post given how this past season went for me. I’m sure there were many athletes out there who worked harder than me this past offseason, but I definitely put in a lot more hours and took training a lot more seriously than I have in previous years. I changed my eating habits to make sure that I was actually gaining weight and putting on muscle mass, I made sure that I was getting 8+ hours of sleep (almost) every night, and I spent a lot more time reading and learning about various aspects of training than I ever have before. And despite all this, I probably had the worst season of my life this past year. As I talked about in my last post, success is never guaranteed, and even though I trained harder than I ever have before, I knew that this type of a season was always a possibility, regardless of how much I wanted to avoid it. Anyways, here’s what my final line was:

Final stats: 9.0 IP, 8 H, 21 R, 19 ER, 23 BB, 14 K, 13 HBP, 19.00 ERA, .242 BAA

This is obviously a season I would like to put behind me, but even so I think there are a lot of things to learn from and improve upon for next year. I think the reason why I struggled so much was that I was unable to get myself into a consistent physical and mental state every time I took the ball. As the season went on, I had to make a few mechanical adjustments (in order to stay healthy) and mental adjustments (as a result of poor performances), as opposed to keeping everything as consistent as possible. I had a conversation with my Driveline online trainer Dean Jackson about exactly this topic last week, and he essentially told me about what he did prior to a game in order to get into a consistent physical and mental state. He not only established certain mechanical “checkpoints” as he went through his warmup, he also established the same mental state every time (for Dean, it was the mentality of the underdog, but for different guys this mental state might be different, and the mechanical checkpoints also might be different). This allowed him to produce more consistent results on a game-to-game basis.

A part of me thinks that this season’s struggles were rooted in the previous offseason as well. I spent the entire offseason dealing with elbow and bicep pain, and I really couldn’t get through very many high-intent days without this acting up somehow. This led to me trying a lot of different mechanical cues in an effort to fix things, and even though some of them stuck, it felt like my body tended to revert to old habits a lot of the time, which made progress slow. What I’m excited about this offseason is the fact that I finished the year healthy (for the first time in college!), and am hopeful that I’ll be able to nail down a specific set of mechanical cues and checkpoints that can keep me healthy and lead to greater consistency in the long run.

So what’s the plan moving forward? In the beginning of the season, I was hoping to get into a summer league, but based on how this season went I don’t think I’m going to go that route anymore. Instead, I’m planning on throwing live AB’s back home at Prime Athletics this summer, and working on finding consistency in a more controlled environment. While this isn’t what I originally wanted to do, I think there is a lot of potential for development this summer in terms of being an all-around pitcher, not just a thrower (although I do plan on doing some kind of velo work as well), and there will still be opportunities going forward to be seen by scouts once I have a better handle on my mechanics and mentality. Either way, I’m really excited for this offseason, and I think that I’m in a really good position to improve and shock some people in 2020.

Image credits:

https://www.mlb.com/news/indians-casey-weathers-can-throw-108-mph/c-167882016

https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2013/05/frustrations-with-fastball-velocity-gains-understanding-the-long-run/

2 thoughts on “Training expectations and the lack of certainty

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