In part one of this three-part series we discussed some initial considerations to account for when developing an in-season training program for the high school baseball team.
In summary, Part I established the overall purpose of strength-training and performance training in-season, and the importance of keeping it within the context of the game and practice schedule. We also discussed the topic of mitigating injury risk when prescribing exercises and the overall training plan.
Today, in Part II, we will talk discuss a way to simplify the planning process for the training program within the confines of the game and practice schedule.
The first step is to lay out the competitive schedule, and define each phase of the season – Pre-Season, In-Season, and Championship Season – determine the importance of each phase in terms of training and winning, and then understanding the role of flexibility in planning.
For the purposes of this blog post I will utilize the DeLand High School Baseball schedule as an example.
First, I suggest labeling each phase of the season:
Our student’s first full week of school after winter break begins on January 9th, but we do not begin training until the following week (1/16). This allows for two full weeks of training prior to our official tryouts. Games, though do not begin until February 14th, thus we have two additional weeks for training leading up to the first competitions. Let’s call this the pre-season phase.
The pre-season phase should is characterized by training that blends the gains made in the off-season with the training that they will need for the regular season. This also serves as an additional four weeks of training in which the weight room and physical preparation can be the main focus (before it officially shifts into the background in favor of a focus on competing).
Once the games begin, that is when more careful consideration must be made when scheduling training sessions.
The competitive season should be centered around on-field performance. This means that strength-training, conditioning, etc. should take a back seat to actual baseball.
A “back seat” doesn’t mean that they are no longer important. But, it does mean that the game-schedule, which is the ultimate priority, should be laid out, with practice and training built around it. Not every game or game-week carries equal significance, thus laying out the game and practice schedule also allows the focus to shift to and from performance training.
For example, between February 14th and the end of the month, our DHS squad will only oppose one “District” opponent. District games are the only competitions during the regular season in which the outcome truly has an impact – a team’s record after all District play has concluded dictates their seeding in the first phase of the post-season (aka “Championship Season”).
During these first two weeks of play, the outcomes of the games matter much less than the overall development that is seen, including the progress that occurs in the weight room. Also, the athletes are more fresh; less mentally and physically fatigued from the their playing and school workloads.
In comparison, some weeks later in the season carry much more weight. For example, the final week of March and the first week of April both contain two District games a piece (against what we presume will be highly competitive teams). Additionally, these weeks occur later in the season, when accumulated fatigue may become a much more prevalent factor. This is in stark contrast to the previous week exemplified above.
When comparing these two scenarios, we can see that laying out the game schedule and determining the importance of each week can help shift the priority from one focus – on-field performance and weight room performance – to another.
Balancing Practice, Training and Competition
Unfortunately, to say that planning your training sessions for an entire season is as easy to do as picking out your tough or meaningful weeks, and then training less in response (or your less significant weeks and training more).
You also must consider many other factors. For instance:
How important is practice time on the field, in the cage, etc. at any point during the season? Early on we could say that practice time might be most beneficial, as the team has just been assembled and the fundamentals and strategies must be drilled into the players.
What about later in the season when, possibly, a new defensive concept needs to be installed, or after the JV season when select players are called up to the Varsity squad?
What happens when practices are rained out on consecutive days, or when school functions inhibit practice plans?
How about when the players show signs of fatigue?
The point of asking these questions isn’t to suggest that you should find and prepare an answer for each, and then create a plan for every scenario before they occur. The goal is to prove the following point: in-season training plans should be written in pencil, not pen.
Plan as much as you’d like, but ultimately there are too many variables for the high school coach to control for all at once.
That’s why I suggest the following steps be taken to ensure that the training frequency and schedule best meet the needs of team in-season:
- Have one day set aside each week specifically for training – make this be your “staple lifting day”, one which creates a failsafe in case all other training days are lost for whatever reason (games, practices, weather, facilities, etc.). For us, this means training every Saturday morning, as we do not play Saturday high school baseball games in Florida. If you play on Saturdays, make it another day, and simply denote that, if there is no game, you will always lift on that specific day each week. This can still be flexible. For example, we can still “kill” the Saturday training session if, say, we have an extra inning game Friday night. It is important, though, to understand that getting in at least one training session each week isn’t just about making progress in the weight room or maintaining training qualities, but more about preventing excessive soreness from subsequent training sessions. If you take an entire week or more off from training, the next training session will carry a much higher potential for significant soreness, which can inhibit performance on the field.
- Have two to three types of training sessions in your tool-box (e.g. one that is load-intensive, one that is speed-intensive, and one that is recovery-intensive). This can afford you a lot of wiggle-room in terms of training when the program needs to be adaptable. For example, I have been in positions where the players present as fatigued late in the season, and, as we neared the end of a week, our players (for whatever reason) had yet to get in a lift. Thus, we wanted to lift, but did not want to overwork the players. Being able to revert to a “downshifted” training session, such as a “Recovery” lift, can allow you to load the players and go through the movements still, without adding to or accentuating accumulated fatigue.
- View training as a part of practice, rather than a detractor from practice time. In this way, you can determine when and how to train more easily: simply allot your training time as you would any other part of practice. There’s BP and cage-work, there’s individuals/fundys and team defenses, there’s warm-ups, cool-downs, conditioning and lifts. Looking at it this way, you can allot and shift your practice minutes according to your players’ needs.
- Keep your sessions short. When I am with in-season teams, I make it a point to keep the training sessions short. There are plenty of other aspects of baseball training that must be addressed, and volume is most likely going to be low anyways, thus I am sure to keep training sessions 30 minutes or less on any given day. There is no time to be wasted in-season!
With all of this in mind, you are prepared to plan out your in-season training program, and also have mechanisms in place to enable flexibility and adaptability in the program. In this way, the specific needs of the team and the athlete can be addressed at any one point in time during the season.
In our third installment we will discuss the more minute X’s and O’s of the training program in-season, including those pertaining to volume, intensity, frequency, etc.
You can find Part III to this series here.