Progression of Development & Training a Better Reaction

Progression of Development & Training a Better Reaction

Proper development in young players, especially at amateur levels, is paramount to their careers when they become older. However, in today’s world of amateur ball, true development of a player has become secondary. Knowing and understanding how to develop a player is key. The progression of development will give you a great understanding of how to go about to improve a player’s performance and more yet, give the player even more confidence in his abilities.

Three things a player must have to be a complete player is training, knowledge and experience. Training takes place during individual, group, or team workouts. Knowledge takes place during skull sessions and studying various baseball books, manuals, etc. And finally, experience is the games played. There should be a more focused approach on the training and knowledge areas when it comes to a young baseball player. A young player will not improve much in games because of lack of QUALITY reps in a game, but even more, they do not have the consistency built into them to do things correct in such an unstable environment. The saying, “ You never rise to an occasion, you only fall to your lowest level of training” can’t be any more true when it comes to baseball. Now lets focus on how to go about building a solid developmental process.

A baseball game is such an unstable environment with an enormous amount of variables that you can’t control. Anytime we are in that atmosphere our natural reaction that is en-grained in us will take over. That is not a good recipe to work on a skill since we can’t control the environment we are working in. So to re-train a natural reaction, we want to go down to the lowest level of variables and the most controllable environment to build new muscle memory. Again, we are not only going to be building solid consistency by doing this, but we are building a player’s confidence. And having complete confidence in one’s self is how we get the game to slow down. To explain how we go about breaking it down to the most controllable environment and work our way up, we will relate the progression of development to hitting.

So to re-train a natural reaction, we want to go down to the lowest level of variables and the most controllable environment to build new muscle memory.

- Rob Bowen

Chipper Jones working his swing in a controlled environment (The Tee)

Chipper Jones working his swing in a controlled environment (The Tee).

We start with hitting off a tee. This is the most stable environment to work on our skill. The ball is completely still, not curving, sinking, etc. This is the best platform to develop consistency. We are able to focus on mechanics and not worry about what the pitcher is doing to us. As we find a consistent swing through repetitions, we master hitting the ball up the middle, pulling the ball, going the other way and so forth. The player now has the confidence in his abilities to do whatever he wants to the baseball. When this happens, he is now ready to advance to the next level of progression; front toss.

Front toss, which is soft tossing in front of a hitter with an L-screen, will now add a small variable into the mix. It is nothing drastic like a ball coming in 90mph, or the ball breaking away from us. It’s just a small step to becoming a more unstable environment. From here we start to develop a consistent swing with repetitions, being able to master going the other way, hitting the ball on the ground, pulling it, etc. 

After front toss has been mastered, we know move on to batting practice. Now the throw is overhand with some slight movement every now and then with a little bit of speed. But it is still not out of control with breaking balls, nasty 2 seamers, etc. Focus is adding small variables at a time. Working on hitting the other way, hit and run, etc., we now have developed a consistent swing during batting practice. A player’s confidence level is also very high because they can do just about anything with the baseball.

After the player has mastered those levels is when he will start to see more consistent results during a game. If a player can’t master Front Toss or BP, don’t expect to see him produce consistently in a game. Adding small variables into the progression lets him keep that consistent swing and keep building confidence instead of the “baptism by fire approach.” When a person gets the fight or flight syndrome in baseball, he will either shut down completely or fall to his lowest level of training. If his training level is very low or worse yet hardly anything, the player will find out how the game will become so fast he won’t have a chance to catch up. So we build his confidence and skills up gradually so he will not take such a huge step back during a game.

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Cleveland Indians Spring Training, working on skill building in a very controlled environment.

This analogy and approach can be implemented to anything in baseball. Fielding ground balls start with actually rolling balls to an infielder so we take out variables like choppy fields, bad fungo hitters, etc. Outfield same way with tossing balls in the air by hand to work on footwork and tracking a ball. As they master that level, add small variables until you get to game speed. 

This has been the developmental approach of Major League organizations when drafting and bringing guys into an organization or working on a new skill. Also during every year in spring training, regardless if it is minor or major league camp, you will see hitters start of with tees, fielders roll balls to each other, outfielders get balls thrown to them by hand, pitchers throw flat ground, etc. It is skill building to develop consistency and confidence. Teams don’t just start having scrimmages and games to get better, they put in the necessary work to become a great all around team with solid players who do the simple things very well.

Here is an great video of the Texas Rangers from Spring Training. Ron Washington was the Manager at the time and is known around the Major Leagues to be one of the best infield instructors in the game today. Notice how they break it down to very controlled environments to train new reactions and movements so they engrain it into their muscle memory. This way when it comes time for more uncontrolled environments, like fungo work and games, it is a natural reaction and they don’t have to think about what they are trying to do mechanically.

The toughest thing as a coach or instructor is determining when a player will actually start to show the results from all the work. As Major League teams find out, this is not an exact science because it is up to a player’s natural ability, determination, luck, among other things. Some players only gain a little, some a lot, some not at all. Again, when it comes to adding a human element into things you just never know. But focus on the process over immediate results and you will see more players become successful in the long run.

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