006: What Should Your Off-Season Look Like?
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Playing year ‘round baseball is a rather new phenomenon. I’m 36 years old, and 20 years ago playing outside of Spring and Summer was not mainstream.
Now, you’d be challenged to find a “travel” team that doesn’t play a fall season and workout during the winter months.
If we consider playing a fall season is a given for most “competitive” teams and players, what should the off-season look like? And by off-season, I mean November through February.
Take Some Time Off
First, it’s really important to take some time off. Don’t take a week off. Take two months off!
Let your body rest, relax, and heal
While younger athletes’ bodies don’t necessarily need as much time to recover than older players, it’s still important to let our bodies heal.
Baseball is particularly tough on joints like shoulders and elbows. Playing March through October can really put a strain on these joints. Take some time (months!) completely off from throwing.
Give your family a break from the grind
We all LOVE spending time on the baseball field. Our family loves the other families we play with. They’re really our big extended family.
But we still need a break from the multi-day baseball commitment each week. Spend some time outside, doing different things, hanging out with different people, and catching up on everything you got behind on since baseball season started.
Work on other sports, and being a better athlete
Besides resting your body, this one is the next most important reason to take time off from baseball.
Young players especially need to do different activities. Play flag football, play basketball, do a non-sports activity, just do something.
Kids need to learn how to compete in other activities. Being exposed to new and different challenges, learning how to compete in a different environment, and experiencing new coaches and teammates will ultimately make them a better baseball player in the long run.
Put in the Work to Get Better
For players under 13 (and maybe even older), I’m a big fan of taking November and December completely off. Once the holidays are over, it’s time to get back to work.
Establish goals and focus on YOU
When the time does come to start back, focus on YOU.
Listen, if you plan to chase the best players at a young age, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Work on what YOU need to work on.
Create specific realistic goals, and then work towards accomplishing those goals.
If you’re 9 years old and in the bottom third of the pitchers on your team, it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to come back in March as the number one guy.
Focus on throwing strikes, getting comfortable on the mound, learning how to pitch. As your body catches up, you’ll work your way up that ladder. Plus, as you’ll begin to find out quickly, the best pitchers won’t always be the ones that throw the hardest.
Have the right equipment and facility
This is one of those things that really depends on your situation. If you have access to an indoor facility, then great! If not, that’s okay. Make do with what you have.
Don’t use your $400 bat in cold weather. Get an inexpensive wood bat and use it for off-season BP.
Don’t throw outside in the freezing cold in short sleeves. If you don’t have use of an indoor facility, put on layers, go for a jog to warm up, and be smart not to overdo it when throwing.
Don’t let limited resources hold you back. Is having a mound better than not? Sure, but it’s not required. Is having a batting cage better than not? Sure, but who cares if you don’t.
There are plenty of ways to get the work in without all the fancy equipment and facilities.
Tony Gwynn, one of the game’s all time greatest hitters, learned to hit at a young age with his brothers using balled-up socks and wads of tape.
There are guys playing in the big leagues today that didn’t even have gloves when they were younger.
Use the resources you have, and make the most of them!
Ease back into it - especially throwing
I can remember when my brother played professionally for the Chicago Cubs. Before Spring Training and as a pitcher, he would have to get started on his off-season throwing program.
Keep in mind, most players didn’t play fall ball in the minor leagues. He was done in September, and they didn’t want him throwing the rest of September, October, and November.
Here’s a blurb from his MLB program that started the second week in December:
Week 1, only 2 days: 10-12 minutes of throwing - distance should range between 45 and 90 feet. Take short breaks when needed.
And that’s for a PROFESSIONAL in incredible physical shape! The program gradually worked them back into playing shape with the goal of having them ready by Spring Training - that’s 3 months of prep!
Now how do you expect your 10 year old to be ready in 2 weeks?
The point is, start easy and take it slow. It’s a lot like lifting weights. You don’t go from out of shape to power lifter overnight. It takes starting small, staying consistent, and sticking to the plan.
Off-Season Team Practice
Everything above is really geared towards individual improvement and preparation. That being said, younger teams may want to get together during the off-season to work as a team.
I totally support this, however there’s a few things to keep in mind.
Don’t overdo it. I don’t recommend getting together more than once per week. Kids may be playing other sports, and families have other commitments.
Keep it short, but take advantage of the time. I suggest keeping the time spent at these practices to no more than an hour. Have a plan, get the work done, and get out.
Encourage self-study. Make use of the hour practices, and then encourage self-guided work during the week (as noted above). This time together is really more of a touch point to work on team learning and hold everyone accountable.
Now Go Do It!
Listen, this is just like everything else, it’s not an exact science. Just remember to take some time off, establish goals for the off-season, and ease back into it with a plan!
Have a great week!
Kevin Burke is a dad and coach, having coached baseball at all ages tee ball through varsity high school over the last 18 years . He currently coaches his younger son’s 9U “travel” team, Tennessee Prime, based out of Chattanooga, TN.