Athletes at Driveline come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like Joe Ryan or Alex Cobb. Some look like 12u Driveline Academy athletes Kai Garrett and Greyson Pahl, who have yet to transition to 90-foot bases.
The plan for the two demographics at Driveline is largely the same, though. The way Driveline Director of Youth Baseball Deven Morgan explains it, both a professional athlete like Gilbert and 12u athletes like Garrett and Pahl use a test-plan-train-retest model.
It’s a tried-and-true method at Driveline. It’s just tweaked with Academy athletes.
“We’re effectively doing the exact same system with the young kids,” Morgan said. “The difference is that we aren’t going to get excessively technical with a kid who, because of their biology, isn’t in a position to need or to successfully execute something that is exceptionally technical.”
Instead of talk of supination or launch angle or spin efficiency, Morgan and the Academy team focus on a skills-that-scale approach. They aren’t concerned about wins and losses at the 12u level, and they aren’t in the business of training athletes to specifically succeed on the little fields.
There are specific ways to optimize skill at the 12u level, like throwing accuracy on the infield, Morgan explained. But that sometimes comes in direct contradiction to what it takes to be a competitive 90-foot baseball player.
Driveline Academy is more interested in setting goals toward where those athletes are headed, not where they are right now.
“We know 90-foot baseball is coming,” Morgan said. “The more we can lay a runway now for the foundation of those necessary skills, the more we can presume we have a foundation for success in the future.”
A large part of that preparation comes through Academy High Performance Coordinator Connor Stratton.
Whereas more mature athletes in Driveline’s HP program do more traditional work like weight training, Stratton is far more concerned with simply building athleticism in the 10-12u athletes. He trains things like change of direction, jumping and faster movements.
“We use the theory of long-term athletic development,” Stratton said. “Taking an athlete from a young age and breaking it into phases, where every year as you get older we’re progressively changing what we’re doing to make it more difficult, more appropriate for your age.”
Stratton’s main focus is just making these workouts fun for the athletes. It’s Morgan’s focus, too. Baseball should be fun, shouldn’t it?
“You don’t get long-term athletic development or long-term engagement in sports without making sure it’s fun,” Stratton said. “No kid wants to come back to play sports if they’re hating it.”
That’s why Jason Garrett brought his son Kai into Driveline. They had done the travel ball circuit, Kai had played in 85 or 90 games over the summer, and the main focus was winning those tournaments.
There wasn’t much development happening, in Jason’s words.
“We were with a program before that was hyper-competitive and focused on winning tournaments,” he said. “They weren’t really focused on the development side of it. From what I was seeing with Kai, his skill progression wasn’t moving up as it should. I felt like he was falling behind.”
Kai has developed since he started training with Driveline. What used to be ground ball singles through the infield in his Little League games are starting to turn into triples into the gaps.
It’s been a lot of fun for him, too.
“All the little games they do that on the surface don’t really look like they have anything to do with playing baseball…it’s all really good functional fitness stuff,” Jason said. “And the kids always seem to be having so much fun. They’re laughing and smiling the whole time.”
Kai and Jason ended up recommending Driveline to Ryan Pahl and his son, Greyson, who were looking for a training facility in the area.
Greyson had played Little League for six years and developed a passion for baseball. He and his dad wanted additional development, but not in the stressful environment of win-at-all-costs travel teams.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to train at Driveline was because when I toured the facility, they didn’t have a tryout,” Greyson said. “They just wanted me on the team.”
Greyson has developed during his time with Driveline, much like his friend Kai. He wanted to hit a home run and get 40 hits during Little League – he was at 41 hits and six home runs by
the time his name was announced for the All-Star team. He also led his team in innings during the season, and started on the mound in the All-Star game.
And as hard as the backward bear crawls are that Stratton has the team do from time to time, he has loved the unique training environment.
Warmups are his favorite part of the workouts, Greyson said. He really likes using the J-Bands and PlyoCare Balls.
That arm care is an athlete’s favorite part of a workout is an added bonus for Stratton and Morgan. A consistent arm care routine is a non-negotiable for Driveline Academy athletes – every time they go to pick up a baseball to throw it, there’s a structure and system in place to make sure they are prepared to do so.
Along with the skills-that-scale model and the emphasis on fun, health and safety are the third pillar of the whole training philosophy.
Use the three hand-in-hand, and development really begins.
“If you can help a kid fall in love with the process of training, they’re going to want to train more and they’re going to be more engaged in the training they participate in,” Morgan said. “The sum total of that is you should get a higher rate of skill acquisition.”