Saturday, June 30, 2018

Participating in Sports in the Heat

I actually remember practicing in the middle of the summer in the Ohio Valley area with high levels of humidity and heat and our coaches wouldn't let us drink water during practice as it was common knowledge and practice that it would cause problems such as cramps.  Pretty much the same myth they said in those days you had to sit for an hour before you got in the water to swim.  I hated that rule!  Today, of course, we know both are just myths and the lack of water during practice is extremely risky. 

But, it does make me think.  Why didn't people collapse in those days as much as they do today?  Was it because we didn't have a billion ways to get news today and in "those days" we were just not aware?  That could be it but I have another thought. 

So, back in the days of Babe Ruth and I think even into the 60's, baseball players played games in wool.  Yes.  Hot Wool!  Also, until the first major league game played in the lights in 1935, all games were played in the middle of the day.  These athletes were in the sun and heat of the summer in the middle of the day playing in wool uniforms.  They not only survived but excelled.  Were they stronger than today's players? 

So, I have a theory on all this.  Air Conditioning!  In my childhood it was rare for anyone to have air conditioning.  If they did, it was in the bedroom for sleeping.  So, on hot days, we actually got outside.  It was rare to have a car that had air conditioning and most schools did not have air conditioning.  We existed all the time with the heat. 

Human beings have an amazing ability to adapt and over the years, we just aren't used to the heat since we are in air conditioning almost everywhere.  Then, when we have to go to a ball game as a player or coach or fan, we just can't adapt that quickly so 90 degree's feels unbearable...and actually is dangerous.  Those players of the 30's weren't stronger but was simply used to the heat.  Their bodies were used to 95 degrees temperature and today's athletes aren't.

I will add that the heat doesn't bother me as much as it does a lot of my friends.  I played or coached in some capacity most every summer my whole life.  I like doing things in the middle of the summer and I don't want the heat to stop me so I do as much outside as I can and I try to stay out of air conditioning as much as possible and when I do I try to not have it run cold.  This does make it easier for me, even at my age, to exist in the heat.  So, my first suggestion for you Diamond Athletes, get outside as much as possible.  Stay out of air conditioning as much as possible.  Make your bodies accustomed to the heat. 

Now, with this said.  We aren't in the 1930's and we do have air conditioning everywhere and it is almost impossible to avoid.  So, we have to prepare for playing in the heat in other ways.  Here are some recommendations:
  • Get Acclimated:  As advised by Dr. David Geier, "Take 10-14 days and gradually increase training in the heat to prepare for the first full practice or competition. Likewise, work to improve your cardiovascular fitness in the months prior to the start of the season to better prepare your body for the extreme heat."  Link
  • Drink water in between games and practices.  Your body needs hydrated and if you just wait for the time you are outside it is hydrating your stomach more than it is your body.  
  • Of course, have water with you to drink when you are participating.
  • Drinking a sports drink with electrolytes, especially sodium, to properly rehydrate is a good idea.
  • Avoid caffeine.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion may develop suddenly or over time, especially with prolonged periods of exercise. Possible heat exhaustion signs and symptoms include:
  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
When to see a doctor
If you think you're experiencing heat exhaustion:
  • Stop all activity and rest
  • Move to a cooler place
  • Drink cool water or sports drinks
  • Contact your doctor if your signs or symptoms worsen or if they don't improve within one hour. If you are with someone showing signs of heat exhaustion, seek immediate medical attention if he or she becomes confused or agitated, loses consciousness, or is unable to drink. You will need immediate cooling and urgent medical attention if your core body temperature (measured by a rectal thermometer) reaches 104 F (40 C) or higher.

High Hands in the Stance Can Be Trouble

Yes.  I usually do not focus too much on the stance as truly it matters much less than the "Launch Position".
This hitter's hands are pretty much as high
as they should be.  In fact, this is a really
good Launch Position in all aspects.
The Launch Position is the phrase many use for the "loaded position".  This is the position the hitter is in when she begins her swing.   
There are seven components to the whole swing:

  1. Pre-Stance (some hitters have a little bit of a pre-stance where they are essentially standing and waiting before they get in their stance)
  2. Stance (usually static but sometimes has a little movement)
  3. Load (is a movement to prepare for the approach)
  4. Launch Position (at the end of the load/beginning of the approach - see the photo to the right)
  5. Approach (the forward movement of the hands. 
  6. Contact Point (where our body is positioned at contact)
  7. Followthrough (after contact)

The loaded position is much more important than the stance so I usually don't worry too much about the stance as long as the launch position is good.  However, a hitter that has high hands in her stance. (I would define high hands where the bottom hand is higher than the ears, but ideally, the bottom hand should be about the level of the back shoulder).

The problem with high hands in the stance is that they must "load" downward and this is counter-productive to power as we would rather load backward (toward the umpire).  Even more of a problem is if the hitter load is late, this will cause the hands to move faster than it should and faster than it usually does and the momentum will take the hands really low and creating a huge arc or uppercut in the swing.

So, if you are hitting well with high hands in your stance, then don't change where your hands are but if you feel you are late to contact or you are rolling over more than you should or popping up too much...consider changing your hands to a lower position.  Changing your hand position is really an easy fix and can actually fix a lot of things. So, if you aren't hitting well and not sure what the cause is and you have high hands...start with lowering your hands in your stance.  It might help a lot more than you think!

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Some Crazy Things about the Diamond Game

THE Game...The Diamond Game.  Softball and Baseball....some differences but most things are similar.  Some of the crazy similarities of the Diamond Game...

  • The pole down the left and right field lines are called the Foul Poles but when the ball hits a foul pole it is fair?
  • The same as the foul lines.  Hit a foul line and the ball is fair?
  • A hitter can hit the ball really hard with a near perfect swing but get out.
  • A hitter can have a horrible swing and barely hit the ball and get a hit.
  • It is possible, and does happen, to strike out three hitters in an inning and then give up a run after the third strike out.
  • It is possible, and does happen, for a hitter to strike out in the at bat and not be out and then score.
  • A pitcher can throw a no hitter and lose the game.
  • A pitcher can give up a ton of runs and still win the game.
  • The softball isn't really very soft.
  • Is a left handed glove or a right handed it what hand you wear it on or what hand you throw the ball with?   
  • A left handed hitter hits the ball on the same side of the field as the right fielder.

This is all I have for today.  You have any?

Coaches Tip: During Game Instruction

Years ago a friend of mine was telling me something that he heard after a game one day.  My friend was a former college coach but moved into scouting for the San Diego Padre's. He was scouting a game in Iowa and just happened to hear the losing coach talk to the team after the tough loss.  Instead of "getting on" his team he simply said something like, "we just need to work on these things in practice".

This made an impact on me early in my coaching career.  I was, probably like most, a lecturer after the game.  Especially after a loss.  I would get mad and tell the team what they did wrong.  This story I heard made me realize that simply telling them after a game is really just a waste of time and can be a bit damaging to your team.  I adopted the philosophy to only confront things like a lack of effort or some behavior issue that CAN be solved in a "lecture".  I would probably say some things like, "beginning this Monday we really need to work harder on fly ball communication...for example.  

This made a big difference in my coaching.  I will give you another example.  I was a head college coach for a total of 19 years and I was blessed to have outstanding catchers in most of those 19 years.  To me, your catcher is the most important single player on your team other than the pitcher, of course.  In those early years, I bet I yelled at my catchers every day to block the ball.  Then the light went on.  I knew they wanted to block so it wasn't a matter of desire so yelling at them was not going to help at all.  

I realized that day that it wasn't a matter of effort but a matter of habit.  So, I stopped yelling at them and, instead, designed a routine for my catchers to work on blocking every day.  They just had to spend about 5-10 minutes working on blocking by throwing each other balls "in the dirt".  Soon, our catchers became much better at blocking balls in the dirt.

These are just a few examples.  I think this approach can work on almost every single aspect of the game.  Our job as coaches is to teach our athletes good habits and good habits are rarely developed by just saying some words.    

In fact, talking to your athletes during competition can even be harmful to their success.  Let's take the hitter.  Giving advice to the hitter during her or his at-bat that involves a mechanical change is usually not going to work out very well.  To succeed in a game as a hitter we must be able to focus on the ball 100% and, unless the pitcher isn't very good, we can't think about where our hands are or what we are doing with our stride AND focus on the ball.  

Giving instruction while the hitter is hitting is usually best when giving encouragement and, at most, saying "see the ball".  If your hitter needs to make some changes, make a note and work on that with your hitter at practice or ask your hitter to work on it on her own.  

The teaching aspect of our coaching is best when we approach teaching as developing good habits instead of just telling them.  I don't know how many times I have heard a coach say, "I have told her over and over again and she still ___________ (fill in the blank)".  Telling or yelling or lecturing isn't going to get the job done.  They need repetition on a regular basis to create good habits so they will just automatically do it "right" in the game.