Think the Game

Preparing For The Season Ahead

This week, we put an off-season twist on Think The Game and a address a common problem you can prevent by planning and putting in work now! Check it out below:

The Situation:

JJ is a college freshman who just completed his first semester. The fall semester was a lot to take in. There was getting used to living on his own, early morning weights, a busy class and study hall schedule, practice, and lots of baseball adjustments. Luckily he made it through in one piece and is in a position to compete to be a mid-week starting pitcher for his team. He has been shut down from throwing for almost the full month of November. His coaches have mapped out his throwing schedule and given him a throwing program to complete on his own. His coaches want him to start throwing in early December to have 5-6 full weeks of throwing to build up his arm and be ready for bullpens when things pick up back on campus in January. He is heading home for the winter break in the middle of December.

The Play:

JJ heads home and hasn’t started throwing yet. He has never started throwing this early before and figures since he’s never had any issues, he should stick with what works. He decides that he wants to be “fresh” for his big opportunity in the spring and will start throwing the week before Christmas. Christmas rolls around and he has only been throwing sparingly. His arm feels great and fresh, but when he gets back to campus he has been throwing for 2 weeks consistently. The first practice back he is asked to throw a 15-20 pitch bullpen. He feels great during the pen and gets after it. His build up for the season sees him throwing a 25 pitch bullpen, then quickly progressing to get ready for the season opener on February 15. Before he knows it, they are throwing to batters and expanding pitch counts. It all happens fast, but that “fresh” feeling has worn off and JJ’s arm feels dead. The ball just isn’t coming out.

The Outcome:

The week before the opener, JJ’s arm feels worn out. JJ has already fallen out of favor for a starting role to a returner and things get worse. In his last schedule outing before the season opener, his dead arm turns to pain. His velocity is way down and he has to be shut down after throwing to just a few hitters. He goes to see the team doctor. He’s convinced he has torn something, but tests indicate it’s tendinitis in his shoulder and bicep. He’ll have to spend 2-3 weeks resting and rehabbing before being re-evaluated. The first half of his freshman season is good as gone. It’s not the way he wanted to start his college career.

What Went Wrong:

The idea of coming in feeling fresh and rested is a mistake that many college freshmen make. They get worn out from the fall and instead of listening to the warnings, they want to rest and feel good going into the season. Freshmen year is a lot to take in, physically and emotionally. The fall season is usually very tough for freshmen who are often getting used to serious lifting and playing simultaneously for the first time. Every school does it slightly different, but there is usually a built in period of active baseball rest for players as they transition out of practicing and into academic finals. They are left to ramp back up for the season on their own as schools go on winter break and then things move very quickly once the New Year rolls around. Usually, players continue to lift during the slower period, but for 4-6 weeks, they are on their own for finals and the holidays and must take charge of their pre-season preparation.

When players like JJ extend their period of rest from throwing too long because they want to feel more “fresh”, it cuts into their preparation time and often comes with great consequence. JJ has failed to give his body the proper preparation for the demands of the spring season. As a result, the workload is too much, too soon and he suffers a common injury. While tendinitis is considered an overuse injury, it often comes from under-preparedness. Whether you are in high school or college, giving yourself enough time to build up your arm and transition from off-season to in-season mode is critical. That time is now. Come up with a plan to have your arm and body in shape for the season and avoid senseless injuries. Alan Jaeger, author of The Year round Throwing Manual, suggests a minimum of 1 week of bands and 3 weeks of long toss progression before the first bullpen.  These are minimums and we would suggest taking 4-6 weeks to build up for getting on a mound or being ready for position player practice.

Learn from JJ and the mistake of countless freshmen before him. Think the game and prepare appropriately for the season.