How well do you learn?

Do you remember the first time you learned how to ride a bike? Your riding ‘coach’ was probably your mom or dad or someone else you trusted. They held the back of the seat to keep you balanced as you gained some momentum leading to the eventual ‘AHA!’ moment when something inside of you clicked. You suddenly figured ‘it’ out, got the hang of it, everything was working as it should to keep the bike moving and you on top of the seat safely. The truth leading up that ‘AHA’ moment is worth exploring a little bit, and that is what I will discuss here.

Does anyone pick up a bicycle at the age of 5 and start riding proficiently right away? Absolutely not, right? They fall, almost immediately. After they fall, they fall again, and again, and again. They get frustrated, maybe even shed a few tears, but they are eventually encouraged to get back on and try again. My point is that they fail at first. We all know that failure is part of the learning process, so what do we do next? Do we hire a professional bike riding coach? Perhaps we go through right and left leg isolated pedaling progressions? Maybe it’s the bike!? Let’s go out and buy the best bike money can buy! Of course not, that sounds like insanity! But is it? What if the skill is throwing or hitting? Back on track with the bike storyso, what do we do? We encourage the child, maybe slow things down, or offer a suggestion as to where to put their hands and feet. The truth is, at the end of the day the child figures it out. We did not ‘teach’ the child how to ride the bike, the child learned! The parent created the learning environment; supplied the bike, offered a helping hand and most importantly the parent/teacher encouraged the child. One of the most surprising things to think about is that the newly acquired skill of riding a bicycle can last a lifetime. Once you’ve learned it, ‘it’s like riding a bike’ to figure it out again if you’ve taken some time off.

There is a ton a research and books available about motor learning and skill acquisition that are only a few clicks away on Amazon. They are probably worth every cent if you plan on ‘teaching’ any type of skill. In quick self-reflection, it is absolutely mind blowing to think that I only taught kids a skill in the way that it was taught to me. Sure, every skill has some foundational truths (fundamentals) but and the end of the day, how much did the student learn? How much did he understand? How much did they retain over a long period of time? How much of it transferred into game performance? These are all really important questions that every student and parent need to think about when they embark on the skill acquisition journey. One of our most important core values here at STRIKE is that we believe in creating a great learning environment. We understand that you are going to fall off your bike a lot before you figure it out. We understand that it can be scary sometimes to look like an idiot in front of your friends when you can’t do it right away. Our goal is to help the student and the parent understand what a great learning environment looks like.

This next part is for the parents. Why do you think your child plays video games for hours on end? Forgive me because you’re going to hate this answer… It’s the perfect learning environment! The game has a goal, a desired outcome. The game is intriguing, slightly difficult, and fun. It presents timely challenges suited for the level of skill of the player. More skilled the player = more difficult challenge. The game provides these little challenges over and over until the player figures it out! The game progresses at the players speed. The player can see improvements. The game offers instant feedback; the player does something wrong, he dies or starts over. On the other hand, if the player does something right, a small reward is earned. One of the most important variables in the video game learning environment, and this is the real kicker you’re going to hate… they don’t have anyone telling them what to do! No parent to say ‘stay back Timmy!’ or ‘get your hands up!’ The game offers up a problem, and the gamer is guided to figure it out. The gamer experiences first-hand. The gamer learns. The gamer is NOT taught how to play. Finally, guess what happens if the player can’t figure it out? They look up videos on how to do it on YouTube or something. They ask for help! How many times do we offer up answers without them even asking? We see our children struggling and immediately offer up the solution. I get it, I have 2 children, and I fall prey to the same trap. But what if we became resources instead task masters!? What if we present a challenge and let them figure it out?

Now that the kick in the pants is over. Everything I just mentioned correlates to very basic motor learning principles that set the foundation of our practices, lessons and classes. The point is, there is a method to our madness here at STRIKE. Looking good in practice does not necessarily mean you’ll look good or perform well in the game. We encourage and invite the student that can set aside their fear and fall off the bike a few times in pursuit of something they have fun with and love to do. We encourage and invite the parent to support their child without giving them the answers or telling them what they should be doing. We create and guide an environment where the student is challenged to solve the problem over and over instead of us giving the student the solution over and over. We cultivate our students to love what they are doing and learn to become great learners.

Mindfulness, Part 1

According to Yogi Berra, “Ninety percent of baseball is mental the other half is physical.” Just like the physical aspect of baseball, the more you practice your mental game, the better you will perform (and train). Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to train ourselves mentally. Over the next 3 blog posts, we will look at some introductory principles of growing your mental game. Mindfulness. This is one of the foundational concepts to becoming a mental game warrior. It is simply a moment to moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment. You may not have heard this word, but you’re certainly familiar with some of the other words to describe this skill: being in the zone, or locked in. Ironically, we use phrases like “he’s playing out of his head” or “he’s unconscious” to describe players that are in the same state. When we are mindful, performing the movements of baseball are done by the brain like blinking the eyes. It’s an action we are completely aware of without doing anything to make it happen…think about that last sentence for a second. What happens when you “think” about blinking, or swallowing? Once we move from awareness to thinking about either of these autonomic activities, they become more difficult.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why mindfulness is such an important attribute, and it’s importance to becoming a more complete baseball player. When we are mindful we are aware of our activity in such a way that we are not judging what we are doing, just doing it in the present. Sound confusing? Think of it this way: during a bullpen, you are trying to work on your slider. The problem on that day: it won’t break and keeps backing up on you. Being present or in the moment, allows us to focus on the next pitch, not allowing the previous pitch or pitches to cause frustration. Allowing the past “failures” to affect the next shows we are focused on the past…something we can’t control. When we remain in the present, it’s much easier to separate the past “failures” from the ONLY one you can control, the next pitch. We are aware without thinking.

If we are in the right state of mind we are able to provide and receive better feedback. Baseball is a game of adjustments. Sometimes those adjustments are things we feel and can control. Sometimes they require feedback from others. Being in the right state of mind frees us from being overly concerned with a good or bad outcome and enables us to get the “feel” of the act that we are performing. We learn to focus on what we can control versus the myriad of things we cannot control. Being mindful of the process, controls negative emotions and tension. Physically, anxiety wreaks havoc, worst of which is the muscular tension and fatigue it causes (We will look deeper into anxiety in part 2!). Mindfulness has a major impact on our physical performance!

As we mentioned earlier, baseball is a game of adjustments. If we have a plan of attack on a particular pitcher, or hitter, which proves not to be successful, we need to quickly move to plan B. The ability to execute and adjust these strategies is another reason why practicing mindfulness is such a key to becoming a better baseball player. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series and we will dive deeper into how to become mental warriors the baseball field. If you are interested in doing some of your own research on the mental…and we highly recommend you do, we would encourage you to check out the following books: Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson, Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time. H. A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl, The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance. W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis, (yes, you read that correctly If you’re not familiar with this book, put it on your list and READ it!)

Growth Mindset

In our first blog, we unpacked the things we believe make STRIKE a unique training program. The culture we create has a great deal to do with our success. The basis for this culture is developing a growth mindset. Why? Because baseball is a game that requires its’ participants to make adjustments, or handle failure. The mindset we take into the game will determine how well we are able to adjust when things are difficult and still thrive in our on-field performance. Let’s take a deeper look at how mindset shapes what we believe about our performance and our abilities.

In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as a “belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” (Excerpt From: Carol S. Dweck. “Mindset.” Random House, 2006-02-28. iBooks.) The other type of mindset people tend to use to view themselves and the world around them is a fixed mindset.

This type of mindset is characterized by a belief that your your qualities and abilities are what they are. They’re set in stone and cannot be changed. You are either good at something or you are not. Carol Dweck describes a fixed mindset this way: “If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics” (Excerpt From: Carol S. Dweck. “Mindset.” Random House, 2006-02-28. iBooks.) With a fixed mindset, “failure” is perceived as an indicator of ability, rather than as the catalyst we use to adjust. It is not hard to see how the type of mindset we cultivate will determine our ability to handle the game of baseball as we, and our competition, improve.

If you aren’t familiar with, we highly recommend it as a resource for developing a growth mindset. On his website Trevor Ragan uses this chart to illustrate the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset:

From this chart it’s easy to see how detrimental a fixed mindset can be to how well you develop
as a baseball player and why we value a growth mindset as much as we do at STRIKE.

Fixed Mindset Mindset Characteristics Growth Mindset

  • Set-You have what you have Skills+Intelligence Can be grown and developed=
  • How they look- Performance
  • Focus
  • Main Concern Learning/Getting better-Process
  • Focus
  • Something you do when you’re not good
  • An important part of learning
  • Give up/Check out Challenges Persevere/Work through it—
  • Show more grit\
  • Take it personal/Get defensive Feedback Like it/Use it to learn
  • Hate them/Try to avoid making them
  • Mistakes Treat them as a learning opportunity

So here is where the rubber meets the road, we are not set in one of these mindsets or the other. In fact, if you’ve been internalizing this, you’re probably asking yourself which mindset you see yourself as characterizing. The answer is both and the problem is, if we are not aware of which we are, when the crap hits the fan, we will slip into the fixed mindset…defensive and afraid that we will be embarrassed. That’s the bad news. The good news is; the more we train ourselves to be in the right mindset, the easier it will be!

So the challenge to STRIKENation is this: how can YOU develop a growth mindset? To answer that, you have to be aware of two things. First, what do you value most as a baseball player? Is it how you look to others, especially your dad? if so, guess what mindset you are in. Or, are you more committed to the process of becoming the best baseball player you can be? If that’s the case, as we’ve seen through what the experts have written, you’re upside is unlimited.

STRIKENation is a brotherhood of the growth mindset. If you haven’t already, come join The

Welcome to STRIKE Nation

The great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” This quote encapsulates why we do what we do at STRIKE Performance. You see, each of us had coaches who impacted our lives in such a way, that the natural way to show our appreciation has been to “pay it forward.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with us, and for those old friends who always wondered why we spend the long hours we do pouring into players, we thought we would dedicate our first blog to the heart of STRiKE Nation. For the past 5 years the STRIKE Performance programs have been partnered with amateur and professional baseball players to help them actualize their potential. We have seen a great deal of success over these seasons helping players increase running speed, develop better throwing patterns and improve swing mechanics. Each of our instructors has significant training in their field of discipline, and each of us played the game professionally. You see, STRIKE exists to help create the ultimate on field competitor and it is our baseball backgrounds that not only give us an edge in seeing correct and incorrect patterns, but it was at this high level where we had coaches who taught us to pass on what we learned to future generations. Not resting on these laurels, we utilize an innovative training program, taking what we have learned (as players, instructors, coach and through independent research) and transformed it into program promoting long term athletic development through a combination of 5 unique training disciplines: physical conditioning, mental conditioning, leadership, vision training and life skills. So now that you are a little more familiar with who we are and what makes us tick let’s dive in to what we value.

One of our favorite compliments of the players we train is when we hear college coaches or pro scouts say, “your players play the game the right way.” One reason why that observation is so appreciated is there is really is a correct way to play the game of baseball. Running out ground balls, fly outs and line outs, running to and from your position, hitting your target when you throw (especially outfielders hitting the cutoff man!) and catching the ball. These are all things that require ZERO talent, just commitment. We believe that grit is a key factor in baseball success so we endeavor to help players discover their own sense of grit and determination through the expectations we place on players beginning day 1 of their time with STRIKE. Why?, because the ability to handle “failure”, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and try again is an invaluable trait in a game where a .300 batting average is considered above average and .400 hasn’t been attained in 75 years! If your math is a little rusty that means failing 60-70 times out of 100 is considered excellent in the professional ranks. The ability to withstand the downs of baseball comes with practice. Grit is the key ingredient! As a result, we make our drills and competitions difficult because we believe it is in the struggle that the best baseball players are developed. If you don’t know how to overcome “failures,” if you don’t have grit, you will never reach your potential.

Although the concepts of grit, hustle, focus, and attention to detail require zero talent, baseball is a unique game, with unique movements. Success is dependent upon moving well and the complicated movements unique to baseball are what make the game such a challenge. More importantly, adjustments to current movement patterns require focus and patience during practice. They require balance, rhythm/timing, strength, flexibility, etc.,. They also require one of the other major traits we value: a growth mindset. Whether it’s in the throwing, hitting, or weight room station, the goal is to create good movements. The better we move and the better we understand our movements, the easier it is to make adjustments. If you can’t make adjustments, as the competition gets better, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to execute. Reason: the game gets easier, when the movements are done correctly. More importantly, for those of you at the amateur levels, if the movement looks right, college coaches and pro scouts will be drawn to the your baseball movements. As STRIKE instructors, we are constantly working on our ability to identify and teach these movements.

Another trait we highly value is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a simple concept to understand, but may be one of the most difficult to implement into game situations. Mindfulness is simply a moment to moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment. Perhaps, the most important attribute of mindfulness, and it’s importance to becoming a more complete baseball player, is that our awareness is done in such a way that we are not judging what we are doing, just doing it in the present. Sound confusing? Think of it this way: during a bullpen, you are trying to work on slider. Problem on that day, it won’t break and keeps backing up on you. Being present or in the moment, allows us to focus on the next pitch, not allowing the previous pitch or pitches to cause frustration. When this happens, we are focused on the past…something we can’t control. When we remain in the present, it’s much easier to separate the past “failures” from the next pitch…the ONLY one you can control. Hopefully, that makes better sense and makes it easy to see why this practice is crucial for the baseball player. It also allows our mind to provide and receive better feedback because we aren’t concerned with a good or bad outcome, merely the experience of the act that we are performing. We learn to focus on what we can control versus the myriad of things we cannot control. We believe this may be the most important skill for a baseball player to develop. Negative emotions, which come when we ARE judgmental, affect our ability to play the game. Anxiety creates muscular tension and fatigue. We believe creating a safe place to “fail” and learn are crucial to developing “mental warriors”…baseball players prepared for any situation they will face on the field.

So to conclude, at STRIKE, we strive to partner with players to make them move better, work harder and think more productively. This is the simple key to our success. It stems from great coaching that we have had in the past and a commitment to pass it on to others. If you have the opportunity we encourage you to join us in one of our programs to become a member of STRIKE Nation. We promise you will receive the best training and instruction we are capable of providing. It is the passion of every member of the STRIKE team. If you aren’t able to attend, we invite you to keep checking out our blog, since the goal of our blog is to give those of you who can’t join STRIKE Nation the benefit from the same teachings that we use during our programs. If you have questions or there are pics you want us to cover, don’t hesitate to reach out.

The Two Headed Beast

The Two Headed Beast: Your Goals and My Goals for You

Everyone sees the hundreds of feet a baseball travels after connecting with Giancarlo Stanton’s bat, or the pitch that just left Aroldis Chapman’s hand and clocked in at 105mph. Every athlete who wants to start training has hopes to be the next guy that fills those shoes, but how do you get there? The first step is realizing that it’s a process and a journey. Having that mentality that we get 1% better every day is crucial, but realizing that those improvements might not show immediately is part of the journey. Being able to listen to what an athlete wants out of their training, and then helping them understand what they need to get there is a challenge that requires listening on both ends. I’ve heard this situation phrased a few different ways, one of them being “your goals vs. my goals for you.” I love this phrase but I can’t think of a better way to say it than calling it the two headed beast.

Technology and social media provide young baseball players with a constant stream of videos and articles about their idols on how their swing or what their pitching motion should look like. This is all great information, and can be utilized to help us steer players in the right direction, but there are elements behind the scenes that those idols do that helped make them what they are today. This is where the two headed beast comes in. I want to deal with the first head, being able to listen to everything an athlete wants out of their program.

At the beginning of this past Strike high school program, we took a poll to see what areas our athletes want to improve in. Out of the seven options they were given (Strength, Flexibility, Endurance, Stability, Power, Speed, and Agility), the three that were picked the most were power, strength, and speed. This comes as no surprise as everyone wants to be bigger, faster, and stronger, and these terms allow athletes to perform at very high levels. The statistics from this poll also bring me to the second head of the beast. Those three big terms are crucial for our development as baseball players, but they also bring me back to the question of how do we get there?

I believe that young athletes aren’t fully aware of what the other concepts from our poll bring to the table in terms of helping us make improvements. Stability had the least amount of votes from our poll, and I think that it could be one of the most misunderstood by our athletes. Another concept that wasn’t in our poll, but I think is equally important, is mobility. These two terms combined allow athletes to get into certain positions and start getting stronger in those positions. Therefore, without mobility and stability, our strength and power improvements go out the window. I say this because if we start adding weight through certain movements during our strength/power phases, and we can’t stabilize the weight through full ranges of motion or we have mobility issues and can’t get through full ranges of motion, then the whole process falls apart.

This is one of the many reasons we incorporate yoga into our Strike programs. On top of the correctives and mobility work that we do during our time in the weight room, our yoga program has allowed our athletes to become more mobile, learn how to stabilize the body while getting into different positions, and become more flexible as a whole. Baseball is such a unique sport that the training side of things needs to incorporate every one of these terms and more. The strength, size, and power are vital, as everyone knows the bigger and stronger guys stand out, but strength with the loss of mobility defeats the purpose. For example, getting bigger and stronger, but losing the ability to retract the scapula can be detrimental in both our ability to get in the right positions either hitting or throwing a baseball.

As a trainer, helping our athletes understand the need to maintain and increase our mobility or to make sure that our stabilizer muscles in our shoulder can withstand the amount of force put on them during the throwing motion can be crucial to athletes’ buying into our program. Our strength gains are going to happen, and our power and explosiveness is going to increase. That is another thing for us to remind our players, but there is a why behind every exercise and movement that we do. I truly believe that the more we can give athletes a better understanding of what they need, the more they can buy into our program, and the more success they enjoy.

Aaron Corwin



Answering the Why?

For baseball players, maximizing your potential in baseball is important. As a sports performance trainer, understanding and communicating the “why” for strength training exercises or baseball drills is equally vital.

At Strike Baseball Sports Performance, each one of our trainer’s values the time taken to decide what training exercises to put our athletes through and why.
When I was still finishing my undergraduate degree in kinesiology and training for my second year of professional baseball, I worked out with an old high school friend, John Roy. He asked about my chosen career field after I finished college and my playing days. Indeed, my passion for competing at the highest levels of baseball dictated that sports specific training would be a strong component of my future career in baseball.

John’s response, “You have to be able to answer the why? If you can’t answer why you are prescribing a certain exercise or baseball drill, there is no reason to be doing it.” I will never forget his response, as those words have continued to resonate throughout my time training players to become better pitchers, hitters, and overall athletes.

At Strike Performance, we are committed to staying on the cutting edge of how to train baseball players in every aspect of the game. All of our trainers start a first lesson saying, “we teach some things differently than most”, but, in everything we teach, there is an answer to why we are performing each movement.
On the hitting side, teaching specific movements within the swing that allow players to be in a more balanced and athletic position throughout the swing. Understanding why every hitter from the recreational athlete to the pro must have pillars to their swing that are constant, yet can still be modified into their own individual piece of art.

On the pitching side, we coach athletes through patterning and drills to allow them to get into safer and more efficient positions throughout their deliveries. Understanding where there are mechanical breakdowns, and being able to fix those issues to help with fastball velocity and injury prevention. As trainers, we can address some of the controversial discussions about using plyocare/weighted balls during our warm-ups, velocity, and recovery work. Our trainers are exhaustive in our research and developing sound rationales toward proper pitching mechanics, while still increasing a pitcher’s velocity.

In our weight training routines, we start with assessments and corrective exercises to help baseball players move better throughout a full range of motion. From there, our focus turns towards getting stronger in those ranges of motion and being able to get more explosive in baseball specific movements.
It is a must to understand the body and how it works during the violent movements of hitting or throwing a baseball. We make sure that athletes are able to control weight before we allow them to increase weight during an exercise. We even detail the risk/reward of why we don’t do specific lifts with weight training routines for baseball players.

There is always a “why” to be answered in baseball training and the corresponding weight programs that complement them. The best part I have found about working with our Strike Performance group of coaches is we are determined to research, understand, and be able to explain the why to any of our athletes. This is our mindset at Strike.

In future baseball and weight training discussions, we will provide more depth in our training regimens and provide more strength training information toward making you a better baseball player.

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Written by Aaron Corwin – Strike Performance Strength and Conditioning Coach