As I came up through the ranks of high school and college baseball, one luxury that I quickly learned to do without as soon as my freshman year of high school was a little something called “Spring Break.” While all of my friends were packing their suitcases for Panama City, Myrtle Beach and Cancun I was getting ready to perform at my peak potential. Spring Break in high school meant early morning indoor practices and in college at john Carroll University it was a week-long bus trip down to Florida to play our first ten games of the season. So what was it that drove me to sacrifice Spring Break after Spring Break while everyone else was out partying and traveling? Well, for a student-athlete, that answer is easy. I had been working tirelessly day in and day out for the past 9 months to get ready for my season and that was most important to me. I wanted to show off the speed, strength and skills I had sharpened in the off-season because in all reality, there is no such thing as an “off season” for the serious student-athlete.
As a baseball player, I technically had four seasons, not one of which could be considered the off-season. In the fall when I arrived on campus, I would immediately begin on-field workouts and scrimmages so that the coaching staff could evaluate the progress I’d made over the summer. Taking the summer lightly is not an option for those who are serious about playing at the next level.
Marc Thibeault, head coach at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, a perennial contender in the Ohio Athletic Conference, emphasizes the importance of a strong training regiment, especially for players early on in their career.
“My feeling is that proper training is vital to making an impact at an early stage of your career. Freshmen are competing with highly skilled veteran athletes at the college level. Having a solid training base upon arrival to campus in the fall can separate you from other freshmen and allow you the physical presence to compete with established players… Bottom line, we tell our freshman to come to camp in shape to compete for a starting position.”
Come October I started full-time lifting and conditioning, 5 days a week, in order to build up strength and endurance for the long grind of the baseball season. When it comes to these workouts, make sure that you are staying within yourself in terms of frame and ability. For you skinny guys, don’t be intimidated by the football guys you may be sharing a weight room with. Not only are your sports different, but you need to focus on being as strong as you can be, not emulating someone else who is beyond your capabilities. Safety is key, especially in the wake of the recent injury to University of Southern California running back (Stafon Johnson).
During these lifting and conditioning sessions you also want to pepper in some sport-specific training as well to stay fresh once it comes time to get back in the swing of practices. Your first practice should not be the first time you’re swinging a bat, throwing the baseball or softball or running routes. Again, remembering Coach Thibeault’s words, be ready to compete for that starting job.
Once your official practices begin is when you can relax and show off your new strength and skills. We always began our indoor practices in February and couldn’t wait to step off that bus into the warm South Florida air to start our season. The regular season is the time to focus all of your hard work and dedication on winning and playing your best. Out-of-season workouts are meant to be difficult, painful and challenging so that when game time arrives, you are free to relax and have fun.
If you plan a strict regiment of off-season training that will help you not only build muscle and strength but also speed, quickness and stamina, there is no limit to how high your game can soar. Whether you are a fall, winter or spring athlete, there is always the “off-season” for you to build your athletic skills. The summer season is a great time for a healthy mix of sport specific workouts, lifting, conditioning and actual participation in your sport.
Brian Flanagan, a senior outfielder for Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina, had this to say about his dedication to off-season workouts.
“Off season workouts help maintain what you’ve built up and will undoubtedly make you stronger… the will to prepare goes hand and hand with the will to win in whatever you are trying to succeed in.”
The next time your friends are packing their suitcases to party and take trips, don’t hesitate to tell them what you’ll be doing while they’re away. They might laugh and some of them might even poke fun, but none of them know of the dedication and commitment it takes to play sports at the collegiate level and beyond. For that, you are already one step ahead.