Stopped In My TRAQ
I had a different approach as I entered Week Two of my internship here at Driveline.
I’m not feeling like a deer in headlights on a freeway. I now have to navigate my own progression on a daily basis.
At the beginning of the week, I shadowed Hetz during his swing design appointments. As I get more familiar with the swing design protocol, I will be able to write out a beginning process that I would implement at a college (this could evolve or change by the end of the internship).
Shadowing different processes is a big component of the on-boarding process of the internship—it helps ease the interns, specifically me, into the work—and by “ease” I mean drag racing down a quarter-mile into a cement wall.
Unlike the first week, where I mostly read about the processes, week two was a bit different in that it involved observing the processes, which is a key component. The processes tend to flow well, so if you aren’t paying close attention, you will most likely lose an opportunity to learn something valuable.
I’ve learned that my current responsibilities as an intern are simple but also necessary. Let me also point out that learning how to turn on the tech and knowing how to troubleshoot when it fails isn’t as easy as one would think.
This is also a good time for me to learn how to work the Edgertronic cameras since these devices are constantly being used here. Zack Jones was a huge help walking me through the process on how to work these $7,500 cameras.
I’m sure that as I become more familiar with these devices it will become easier and more calming, but in the meantime, I’m on edge when opening up a case to a camera that is twice the price of my first car.
I got my first taste of “TRAQ” and tracking hitters during live at-bats. To better describe my experience, let’s just say that mistakes are inevitable and were made often—I was that guy metaphorically hitting himself in the head and cursing under his breath.
It was the first time in a while where I literally wanted to fight myself. Something so simple, yet important, and fast-paced is a recipe for anxiety, panic, and chaos.
“Anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong.”
The most anticipated event of the week was my first mock assessment. Tanner Stokey acted as a new hitter getting an assessment. I watched an assessment the day before so I had a general idea of what to do, but was I ready? Absolutely not!
Two things to remember when working with tech or setting appointments: 1) “Expect everything to hit the fan”; and 2) always over-prepare because this isn’t your typical assessment. I will explain the process in the After Week Two section.
I started preparing forty-five minutes before the scheduled time. The Edgertronic wouldn’t work, and the hitting trainer who had THE one thing I needed to make K-Vest work was nowhere to be found. At this point, I had never set up K-Vest by myself.
While I was wasting thirty minutes of my forty-five looking for the important piece of K-Vest equipment, I also forgot to set up the cage for hitting, since we share it with pitchers. In the middle of the assessment, HitTrax stopped working (luckily, Andrew Aydt was there to fix it), and the pitching machine didn’t turn on the first two times I tried.
Meanwhile, Tanner has a notepad and jots down notes on what I am doing, both good and bad. To better describe my experience, it was a lot like when you think you’re doing great during a driver’s test, but as soon as you pull out of the DMV, the proctor starts writing non-stop.
You sweat bullets, wanting to look over to see what they are writing. You think to yourself, “Are my hands really at ten and two? Am I too close to the car in front of me? When are they going to ask me to parallel park? Remember to check your mirrors!”
At the end of the assessment, a wave of relief flows through me as we sit down. Tanner starts walking me through everything that I did well and where I need to improve for the next time.
On a positive note, although I was impressed with how fast I am learning and retaining things here, I am also not surprised, mainly because I am surrounded by excellent coaches who know how to evaluate your current state and help in areas where you need improvement with a sound explanation.
Before I started at Driveline Baseball, my assessment process went like this: I ran the FMS, broad jump, 5-10-5 shuttle, 60s (for 4-year coaches when they ask), max pull ups, front squat at 135 lbs max reps, and bench press at 165 lbs or 185 lbs max reps. We would put the Blast sensor on a regular bat, barrel load, handle load and underload, and hit off the tee, 10-12 swings with each bat and record it.
After I got all this information, I would sort of see where each individual needed to improve the most; however, it wasn’t an exact science. Lifting programs were developed to improve strength where it was needed, mobility or stability was implemented according to the FMS scores, and certain drills were added according to swing assessments. Here is a screenshot of our outfielders’ numbers when we tested in the fall.
Here is what our bat swing assessments looked like:
Every year these assessments would evolve and change as I kept refining this process. However, the process was extremely hard to individualize for every player.
After Week Two
Athletes are given waivers to fill out before they get to Driveline via email. They are also emailed from K-Motion to confirm registration. After all the registration data is complete, the athlete is then taken through the following:
- Movement screening
- Medicine ball and rope medicine ball warm-up
- Power test with a Keiser machine
- Grip test
Next, the athlete goes to the cage to hit:
- First they do a warm-up round with front toss
- The coach explains Axe Bat Speed Trainers and has them hit with those
- The athlete hits with hitting plyos and explanation follows
- They hit with a long and short bat and a coach explains those as well
- We turn on the machine and have athletes hit a couple of balls
THEN we collect data.
The hitter is shown a Blast sensor, which is then put on their bat. Then we put a K-Vest on them. Mind you, the Edgertronic camera is set up to take footage and the HitTrax has been on this whole time, but once they’re fully equipped with the sensors, the hitter gets to hit a bit more.
After that is done, the coach sits with the hitter and helps them navigate TRAQ, then sets up a strength assessment the next day with our strength coaches (who are legit!), sets up an appointment with our physical therapist, and signs the player up for the next four days of hitting (called “continuation”).
On the final day, the coach and player have a swing design session. I am leaving out some minor details because I don’t want to bore you (don’t grade me on this list Tanner, what’s your deal?!).
Did I mention this should all be done in an hour? I didn’t know how to do any of this before this week, but I know how to do it now. Next week will be another assessment test to see if I am sharper, more efficient and better prepared!
Assessments are a key component of player development—they are what tells us if players are actually developing.
Now, most colleges won’t have all of the tools I’ve been introducing at their disposal, but I think finding a way to assess your players while staying within your means is crucial.
My hope is that every college baseball coach has a strength coach who understands what baseball players need, but in the meantime if you don’t have a strength coach it’s important to know what coaches need to assess. Players need to be assessed on strength.
Do they need to be super strong day one? Well, we can only hope, but what we need to do is see improvement from semester to semester. We would also want to see if they are developing power as a hitter.
As a coach, you would also want to evaluate the swings of hitters and the velocities of pitchers. If you have those four Blast sensors I mentioned in week one, then assess their swing bi-weekly.
Focus on bat speed and attack angle first; those develop and play quickly. Dedicate a whole day once every two weeks to collecting data on all of your hitters. Incorporate PFPs, base running and bunting on this day so you don’t waste any time developing the in-game aspect of baseball.
If you don’t have sensors, find time to go over a lot of videos with your players and keep track of their fall spray chart. You will want to know if what you see on video is actually playing out according to their spray chart.
It also helps for coaches to have “feel.” When I was coaching at Hesston College, my main concern was bat speed and the players’ ability to hit velocity. I did an assessment every day on the machine with velo set to the upper 80’s to see if players were getting better at hitting the speeds we would see in-game.
Here’s the chart players saw every day:
This sheet is an assessment sheet. It gives great feedback so that you as a coach know where you need to focus to get your players better.
If I had a team right now, this is how I would assess them in the fall:
- Movement assessment (you can teach yourself FMS, TPI, OnBaseU or create your own based on the information you read)
- Strength assessment (3 RM Bench from the pins, 3RM from the pins, pull up max)
- Power assessment (medicine ball power sit up toss, broad jump, Heiden jump, rotational medicine ball toss for distance)
- Bat sensors (track bat speed, time to contact and attack angle) This could be off a tee, front toss or machine. Whatever you test, just be consistent.
- Weigh your athletes and invite the college’s nutrition professor to come in and set up meal plans and educate your athletes.
Assessing players could mean more work in the first week or so, but in the end, it gives you a baseline from which to measure how quickly your players are developing in your program.
Swing assessments happen often here at Driveline Baseball and they are called “Swing Designs.” I will talk more about those in another article. They are essential checkpoints the trainer uses to make sure that their hitters are progressing at the right pace. They also help evaluate how well the drills are working, or whether there needs to be a sit down with the player about accountability. An assessment is a key that opens a door to multiple player development opportunities.
You can read the previous week’s blog here.
By Chase Glaum