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Philosophizing from Goliath’s Shoulders

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:00pm

Sorry for the delay in getting this one posted, everyone; I just got back from a seminar with Pavel Kolar in Phoenix and my brain is fried (in a good way!).  Luckily, Matt Blake has provided some more excellent content - and it is incredibly appropriate, as I spent the entire weekend with physical therapists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, and strength and conditioning coaches in an awesome learning environment.  Check it out:

Philosophizing from Goliath’s Shoulders

By: Matt Blake

In continuing the theme of discussing some of the basic tenants of the Elite Baseball Development Program here at Cressey Performance, I wanted to follow up on one of the thoughts I had in a previous post. This idea is that the leaders in most fields are polymaths. This is something that I think should be expounded upon and I’m going to take that opportunity in this post.

For those of you who are not sure what a polymath is and do not feel like looking it up, I’ll provide the definition for you here from Wikipedia:

“A polymath (Greek polymathēs, πολυμαθής, “having learned much”)[1] is a person, with superior intelligence, whose expertise spans a significant number of subject areas.”

I think this term can be used on many levels. In the post to which I’m alluding, I used it to describe people who reach outside their own field and acquire knowledge from other disciplines. I also think this is a term that should apply to people who stay within their niche and look to other thought leaders and how they go about their business.

For Eric, this would be like pulling from physical therapists, strength coaches in other sports, manual therapists, athletic trainers, powerlifters, golfers, tennis coaches, Olympic lifters, sprinters, and vision experts. By doing this, he is acknowledging that he doesn’t know everything and is working to fill in some of his own gaps. He is making his personal philosophy and his own school of thought that much more solid.  Look at his latest product, Assess and Correct,as an example: it’s a collaboration of two strength and conditioning coaches and a physical therapist with great soft tissue treatment skills.  It brings together three people who specialize in the shoulder, knee, and lower back.

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Eric doesn’t have to like everything that each of these people teach or preach, but if he blends one new thought into his own training, then he just made himself a better trainer. Applying one piece of someone else’s puzzle doesn’t have to signal a 100% endorsement of an individual. There should always be some level of individuation and originality if you expect to contribute at the highest level.  I’m not even talking about being inventive in nature, but simply blending up the same ingredients, in your own proportions, to create a different concoction that is unique to you.

I think this applies in the very same way in the baseball industry, and particularly with respect to teaching pitching. Both of these fields share similarities in that they have been around a while, and if you’re attempting to reinvent the wheel in these fields, you are failing to acknowledge that people have been able to do some pretty amazing things with what’s already there.

For me, it is looking at what the great pitchers and great pitching coaches before me have done. Obviously, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux are modern day legends who can show us a thing or two about pitching, and, more importantly, pitching healthy.

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To look even further back, take guys like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Whitey Ford (just to name a few). When building what we’ll call post-modern pitchers, wouldn’t it make sense to grab a little bit of each and apply it on a case-by-case basis? A little rhythm here, some little knee lift there, and maybe mix in a type of stride for a particular body type, and top it off with the signature arm action? We have the same components, but a new pitcher - unique to his build.

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The same could be said for all of the pitching coaches and pitching gurus that have preceded me.  Dave Duncan, Lee Mazzone, Tom House, John Bagonzi, Ron Wolforth, Paul Nyman, and dozens more: each one presents something a little different from the next. I don’t have to love everything that Ron Wolforth or Tom House does to appreciate that they are tremendous teachers of pitching and get great results. Wouldn’t I want to know how they’re doing it and see if there is anything I can borrow from their brand of pitching? I would never sell these thoughts as completely my own, but the fact that I understand them and can apply them properly allows me to use them, assuming I make the necessary acknowledgements.

For example, I love Ron Wolforth and Brent Strom’s ideas for developing velocity using specific drills to activate and optimize different pieces of the mechanics (pitchingcentral.com). I like the way Tom House advocates controlling the body with different mechanical cues (tomhouse.com). I like pieces of Alan Jaeger’s arm care and long toss program (jaegersports.com). I even like how Dick Mills breaks down video (pitching.com). All of these guys have pieces I like, and pieces of which I’m not a huge fan. I’d like to think if I blended a little bit of all of them into my own philosophy, I’d have a pretty good starting point to teach people about pitching.

I also think the reason it has to be my own is because I don’t have the same experiences or resources as these people do, so naturally I have to make the most of my own ingredients. What we lack in warm winter throwing sessions outdoors, we make up for by optimizing individual strength training and throwing programs indoors in an attempt to condition pitchers to throw the ball as hard and healthy as anyone in the country. That’s the reality of the situation. We wouldn’t complain about the hand we are dealt in the Northeast, we would just make the most of what we have available to us.

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The real importance in all of this comes down to whether or not Eric and I are able to get the desired results for our players. Your philosophy is only as good as the results it can continuously demonstrate. Can my pitchers throw the ball harder because of what I have showed them? Can they command the ball better than before because of what I explained to them? Will our players stay healthier because of what Eric has provided them in programming? Do our players understand the importance of a diligent work ethic, because of our collective training platform?  At the end of the day, whether or not we get them to perform at the level they decided to commit to is all that it comes down to. If they don’t, then the philosophy needs to be continuously shaped based on the evidence available to us.

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I would like to believe the X factor in all of this is: can we effectively communicate our ideas to the point that the people around us understand how to apply these thoughts into their own world? The ability to command the attention of an individual to a degree that they are willing to open up their mind and acknowledge that there is a different way of doing things to get better is a tremendous skill that needs to be constantly refined. There are a lot of facets to this idea of effective communication that I will touch on in a future post, but one of the foundations is simply having something worth communicating, whether it be one idea from many fields, or many ideas from one field.  Either way, viewing your methodology as limitless in its capacity for development, and embracing all knowledge as a potentially worthy addition is a good starting point.

Matt Blake can be contacted at mablak07@gmail.com.

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