As we move into the the final weeks of the calendar year, it isn’t just the holidays that are fast approaching. High school baseball season, too, is almost here.
Many high schools in the south will begin holding tryouts in the middle of January, and those in the north tend to start their seasons later as the harsh winter conditions keep them inside for a greater length of time. Regardless, baseball looms close, and training must begin to accommodate the transition out of the off-season and into the competitive season.
Even the most appropriate of training programs in the off-season still must take into considerations the competitive season’s demands. That is because the priority of the competitive season is ultimately to win on the field, whereas the goal of the off-season is to win the developmental process.
But, for the heady and forward-thinking high school coach, this paradigm isn’t exactly true. Rather than competition vs. development, it should be developing during competition.
We cannot simply abandon the off-season program and begin an entirely new training regimen abruptly. Rather, we must strive to transition smoothly between the two.
Luckily, this transition doesn’t have to be difficult; the high school level is in fact developmental in nature, thus even the competitive season leaves room for physical growth.
The goal of this discussion is to delve into the ways in which we can still safely and effectively strive for development while still putting an emphasis on competition during the competitive season.
Remember Your Age Group
It is often easy to forget just why we work with high school-aged athletes. We are there to develop them, both as athletes and individuals.
As soon as the competitive season rolls around, though, many lose sight of this, focusing instead on collecting wins and large numbers on the stat sheet.
I am certainly not naive – I know that wins matter. Livelihood’s of the coaches and staff oftentimes depend on success on the field, even at the high school level. Players work hard and compete in order to win. And, team wins foster personal success and a greater potential to play at the next level.
But, a pre-season or even early regular season win may not mean as much as we often think it does. In fact, losses early in the season may indicate that a team and its collective of players are still developing, growing, and learning – both in terms of skill and physical qualities.
What matters more, your record after the first month of games, or the rate at which your club develops over the course of a season? Can a 5-5 team after 10 games still compete for a championship at the high school level, especially if they maintain a steady progression, physically and skill-wise, over the course of the season.
Performance Training – Part Practice Time?
It is in my experience that those coaches who focus too hard on inconsequential wins will tend to view strength-training and performance training as detractors of practice time. They feel the pressure to win now, as opposed letting patience guide the developmental process at the high school level, even in season.
The weight room, though, should be considered an inclusive part of practice time. It may not be the most important piece of the competitive equation in-season, but it is certainly a variable that carries significant weight in that equation.
The main goal may be to win. But, when working with high school athletes we must not forget that winning later may actually be better than now. And consistent winning over the course of many years as a result of proper year-round development may be the best.
But, before we pit winning now against strength-training, let’s not forget that the adaptability and resiliency of the novice trainee.
Adaptability and Recovery for the Novice Athlete
Let us not forget that novice athletes adapt quicker than advanced athletes, as do they possess the ability to recover more quickly. For this reason, “maintenance” work doesn’t need to be the entire focus of in-season training. Rather, it can be reserved for select stages of the season that matter most.
Training during the season can and should still see progress in the weight room for the high school athlete. If a novice athlete is not making strides still once the season begins, then they are most likely not receiving enough stimulus or loading.
And, let’s not forget this point as well: if an adequate off-season program was undertaken leading up to the competitive season, the athlete will have established a solid base of volume, tolerance, and strength to carry them through their in-season training. So, we don’t need to be overly concerned about excessive soreness or fatigue as long as we don’t go off script with a ton of new exercises or off-the-wall volumes.
Preparedness and Readiness
Of course, as the season progresses there may need to be a shift in focus. As games become more important (e.g. District games, playoffs, etc) training may need to take a back seat. For these games, a player’s readiness is will matter exponentially more than those early in the season. Thankfully, a tapering period or reduction in training volume will be just what the athlete needs to peak for these times.
Having been given a strong base of off-season training, followed by appropriate early/mid-season training, the young athlete can back their training volume or frequency off later in the season and not worry about detraining or deconditioning.
But, if that same novice athlete begins reducing training volume, intensity, and/or frequency right from the beginning of the competitive season, there may not actually be anywhere to taper down to, as their training levels and capabilities are already substantially lower than their more advanced counterparts.
In other words, the more prepared an athlete is, the more we can actually take advantage of their state of readiness each day.
Ultimately though, it is up to the coach to prioritize development in the grand scheme of the competition season. If a player is fully “ready” for each individual competition, it is probably because they have not been stressed enough to make any physical development progress during the season. The athlete that is being taxed and pushed to develop during the season though, and can still be prepared enough to perform well for all games, and most prepared when it matters most.