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The Reality of Your Off-Season

Many athletes around the country are wrapping up their finals and finishing up school right around now.  They have locked into their summer playing schedules and have decided on all the relevant camps and showcases they are planning to attend.
The summer for many athletes has become the most important season for many sports.  It is a time when the best athletes around the country can travel and compete against similar athletes in more far reaching areas.
For most athletes, the summer has little to no reward in terms of actual improvement.
Bold statement.
How could an athlete play hundreds of innings, compete against the best travel teams and attend numerous showcases and yet not gain any real world improvement?
Sadly, all of the reasons for improvement there are the reasons very little is made.
Athletes can absolutely improve by competing in their games more often and experience new understanding of their abilities; the reality is that the improvement is only marginal.
Let’s look at the off-season for a couple of different sports and compare the physical improvements of the athletes as well as the subsequent improvement in skill.
Football
There is a reason that Strength and Conditioning is so often thought about with football teams: they are doing it better than any of the other sports.  The reason is in the culture of the sport.  Football players cannot play pickup games or numerous travel teams throughout their year, thus more time is spent either playing additional sports, lifting weights, sprinting, and going to camps to learn real usable skills.
Baseball
Baseball is the poster boy for specialization and year round playing.  Athletes spend almost the entire year in play with little to no actual practice.  Furthermore they spend nearly 0 time in a gym training to make themselves bigger and stronger.  The ability to add size to the body is thought to be best left to allowing the body to grow naturally.  So players don’t learn better movement patterns through separate sports, don’t practice as deeply, and don’t spend much time in the gym.
Basketball
One of the sports that requires a lot of multidirectional work, sprinting, and jumping, basketball ball has probably the greatest variety of movements of any of the sports regardless of position.  More so than baseball, nationally basketball is played at the exclusion of other sports.  Due to the fact that basketball can be played indoors regardless of weather, it is a true year young sport for many athletes.  This leaves little to no time for athletes to practice or work on their games, and traditionally no time for strength training.
What are the results of the 3 different philosophies?
Let’s compare some different stats across sports
·         The best vertical jump at the 2011 NBA combine was 36.5”
·         The best vertical Jump at the 2011 NFL combine was 42.5”
·         Travis D’Arnaud, the top catching prospect in baseball jumped 28.5”
What can we infer from the above?  
So that we have a universal understanding of the this test shows, we are looking at lower/total body power development.  This test shows how efficient an athlete is using their strength, as well it has a carryover to other explosive efforts (throwing, sprinting).  The vertical jump test is arguably the most important test of gross athleticism in all of sports.  
So our best Football jump vs. our best Basketball jump is a staggering +6”
So in a sport the so relies on jumping ability, the best basketball athlete is being dominated by the best football athlete.  To put this in perspective, the above NBA player was a 6’5 220 lb guard, with one of the more muscular bodies in the NBA (Iman Shumpert, Knicks).  
To see the athletic difference, 265 lbs DE Jevon Kearse has a best jump of 40″!  So even the largest athletes in the NFL showcase considerably more power development, while baseball players most likely pale in comparison. 
Baseball is the worst – with a top prospect only managing a 28.5” vertical jump. -14″ from an NFL athlete.
What does this all mean?
So the most competitive sport, that makes the most money, and has athletes capable of stepping in and playing at an extremely high level sooner spends the least amount of time actually playing games, devotes a tremendous amount more time actually practicing and training, and is the biggest proponent of strength and conditioning.  Additionally, they produce athletes with the greatest physical abilities and comparatively less non-violent injuries (Injuries outside of high velocity collisions)
So how can we help the athletes of basketball and baseball reach some of the same levels of performance and game improvement that young football players seem to make so easily, year after year in every state in the country.
1.       Spend less time playing your sport:  I know that people will read that and get all uncomfortable with the idea that playing less will equal more.  The fact is that it is true.  If you don’t work on your weaknesses and maximize your strengths and just play the game the exact same way year after year you WILL be left behind unless you are the best player at your position in the country.  The reality is that you most likely are NOT that player.  That isn’t a knock, it is an opportunity, a chance to make yourself into one of the best players.  That takes time, it takes effort, and it takes getting away from the need to win a game.
2.       Practice more:  Some sports spend an inordinate amount of time playing games and trying to win, but don’t spend enough time teaching the skills of the sport.  How can we use every bit of out athleticism if we have holes in technique?  Get off the field and get with an instructor or coach who can build your game.
3.       Spend more time working on your athleticism:  Let’s look at the baseball and basketball players. 
a.       If we were to increase the 36” vertical on the NBA player and train his body to absorb contact better and produce more efficient movement, that player would run faster, jump higher, resist injury better, and most likely produce more repeatable mechanics on their jump shot.  You cannot increase that solely by practicing the skill portion, nor can you by simply playing more games.
b.      If we were to bring up the catchers jumping ability we most likely would help him generate more power through his hips.  This would lead to greater force production when trying to rise from his stance to throw out a runner.  Additionally, this power production would lead to a harder throw due to improved power production up through the body.  Lastly, that same power development would make this athlete faster; improving batting average on close plays and creates more force with the bat improving extra base hit ability
Most athletes and coaches will read this article and will brush it aside due to their belief that “this is how I did it when I was younger”.  The truth is none of them made it very far with sports.  The best of the best either had elite natural ability or worked their tail off outside of playing to promote advancement.  Let’s look at a few easy examples just to wrap this up:
Ray Lewis LB Baltimore Ravens:  Did you know that Ray was also the State Champion in his weight class for wrestling?  Did taking the time to compete in that sport detract from his ability to tackle people?
Deion Sanders:  Anyone who is reading this who doesn’t know the man go look him up.  He not only is a Hall of Fame NFL football player but he played in the MLB for parts of 9 seasons.  “..during his most productive year in the majors, the 1992 season, he hit .304 for the team, stole 26 bases, and led the NL with 14 triples in 97 games. During the 1989 season, he hit a major league home run and scored a touchdown in the NFL in the same week, the only player ever to do so. Sanders is also the only man to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.”  In the 1997 season he stole 56 bases in 115 games.  Did playing two sports make him a worse athlete?  
Lebron James SF Miami Heat:  If you don’t know who he is I don’t have much I can say to convince you of anything.  Lebron not only is the best basketball player in the world, he also is physically one of the most gifted.  Lebron also was an All-State WR in high school, playing two years before deciding to focus solely on basketball.  So why are you specializing in sports at the age of 12?
The Off-Season is different for everyone, and varies in time depending on a litany of factors, but the fact remains that it is the most vital time to develop your body to reach new levels of performance.  The athletes who grind themselves year round only playing will be the ones who fail to reach their potential.  The key word to off-season is OFF.  Learn to understand it’s meaning.
Billy  
Bill Rom is the top strength and conditioning coach on Long Island.

About the author

Bill Rom

Bill Rom is a strength and conditioning coach on Long Island, New York. Bill has been training both athletes and general population clients since 2006. His clients have ranged from adolescents to 70 year old grandmothers, and from peewee athletes up to former and current D1 athletes. At Prospect Sports, where Bill is the director, he works with a number of professional athletes from the NFL, MLB, MiLB and more. Additionally, Bill has been published on EliteFTS.com, one of the top strength and conditioning websites in the world, as well as Stack.com; a website dedicated to improving athletes and is currently working on stories for LiveStrong.com. He also has done a number of speaking engagements including the NSCA and is continuing to pick up more. Bill is one of the top young strength and conditioning coaches in the country, and arguably the top strength coach on Long Island.

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