The Art of Mind-Body Integration

By Dr. Peter Gorman

As winter trainings slowly come to an end, athletes eagerly await the start of a new season. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sport of baseball. The boys of summer are once again ready to set new records, and hopefully replace any previous disappointments with cheers and thrills. This goal of achievement relies heavily on the fact that the winter training program was fundamentally sound and efficient in correcting weaknesses and forging new strengths.

The winter training program has to realize that, like most sports, baseball is a “True Agility” sport. Every movement on the field is decision-based, which in essence is the definition of True Agility. This requires not just great physical ability, but also great cognitive ability. This decision-based movement requires:

1) RECOGNITION of the stimulus. If the ball was hit left, the athlete must recognize that. Or, if the pitch is coming, recognition again starts the process.

2) Once the stimulus is recognized, the athlete must ATTEND to it. This is the THINK part of the game and ability to do so is just as important, if not more important, than any physical attribute.

3) Once the athlete attends to the stimulus, they must now suppress any distractors (there is no room to start right and then go left; too many moments would be wasted), and DECIDE on the stimulus: yes, the ball is left, or yes, the pitch is coming.

4) Once the stimulus is ACCEPTED, the athlete must now REACT to it. Yes, reaction is physical, but it is based in a cognitive process. The efficiency of the athlete’s cognitive process is known as their Speed of Processing (SOP).

How many coaches or trainers know the actual SOP of their players? It is amazing that terms like bat speed, or exit velocity, or 60-yard time, are thrown around with “oohs” and “ahhs.” If we do not know the athlete’s SOP, then the fastest bat speed or 60-yard time might just be other wasted statistics. Remember that SOP is the time between recognition and reaction. If SOP is slow, then reaction is slow. If reaction is slow, then the athlete plays slow. If you have the fastest bat speed, but you are slow in pulling the trigger, you are out. If you have the fastest 60-yard time but you are slow to react to the pitcher lifting their foot, you are out.

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) states this very clearly:

“First move well, then move often. Moving well speaks to quality of movement and speed of processing (cognitive function), while moving often is not simply quantity, but rather the capacity and adaptation that allow brain and body to function cohesively and optimally for life and sport.”

An efficient winter training program must understand the importance of cognition and must be able to evaluate and correct any physical imbalances. It is well understood that all position players must be able and agile in all directions. Speed of the left leg must equal speed of the right leg. Left-to-right acceleration must equal right-to-left acceleration. Anything less than this would create a favorite side, and the need to compensate. How erroneous would it be to tell a player he has better range in a given direction, without giving him the reason and the way to fix it?

This past winter I had the privilege of working with a baseball team of nine-year-old’s from my hometown of Mahopac, N.Y. I say privilege because in my 37 years of sport science, I have had many professionals, Olympians and World Champions come through my doors, but the dedication these nine-year-old’s showed to learning and developing was second to none. At our first team meeting, we discussed three important concepts:

1) Correct Imbalances. Physical evaluations would be aimed at correcting weaknesses and imbalances. Knowing the athlete is only as strong as their weakest link, fix weaknesses before developing strengths. This eliminates the need for the athlete to compensate. Train the TRUE athlete, not the compensatory process.

2) Train SOP. A fastball could reach the plate in 400 milliseconds, and the time to swing is approximately 175 milliseconds. This leaves only 225 milliseconds to recognize, understand, and react to the pitch. It was decided to train every athlete’s SOP to faster than 200 milliseconds… quite a statement at any age.

3) TEAM First. Every athlete has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Help your teammate first and create bonds that would last forever.

Once the rules were set, a TEAM statement was made. “Maybe no one on the TEAM would make it to MLB, but one thing was for certain: every athlete would graduate one day from the minor leagues of childhood, to the major leagues of adulthood – let’s help each other be the best at this.”

Each athlete was evaluated and trained according to the incredible Gold Standard USA Baseball Sport Development Evaluation. This included game speed accelerations to determine the leg speed of each athlete, and the athletes’ accelerations to both right and left. Broad jump was performed, not merely along a tape measure, but in a modular testing system so that contact time could be measured. This gave us a reactive strength index so that we could ensure that, with training, each athlete’s flight time was improving, while contact time was going down. The power, contact time, and – most importantly – dynamic control of each leg of the athlete were also recorded in a series of five unilateral jumps. Physical reaction time was recorded by a countdown system that produced results accurate to the nearest millisecond. Each athlete had their gait tested, both with shoes and barefoot. This gave the examiners the ability to make sure that each athlete’s sneakers were actually helping to reduce or eliminate any asymmetries in their movement cycle.

True agility was tested at two different levels of cognitive load. Total times were recorded and compared under each cognitive load. Any slowing of physical movement due to increased cognitive load was then base lined. By employing validated, published tests, actual brain Speed of Processing was recorded for each athlete to show double decision, eye for detail and single decision ability. It is here that we recorded the greatest changes in athletic ability.

At the beginning of the program, average SOP was approximately 600 milliseconds for each athlete. At the end of 12 weeks of training, average SOP improved to a super-fast 86 milliseconds. Remember what we said before, that you have 200 milliseconds or fewer to see and attend to the fastball. By improving to 86 milliseconds for SOP, it was determined by the hitting coaches that the athletes were understanding and picking up the ball sooner, and their “sense of game” was becoming clearer. This was a big advantage when called on to bat. Of great importance was the fact that the SOP tests allowed us to track each athlete’s cognitive ability. If, at any time, an athlete’s SOP slowed, questions on rest and fatigue were immediately asked. This same understanding of SOP could be applied to contact sports where terms like “CTE” and “concussion return to play” still prevail at an alarmingly high rate. Monitoring SOP has to be standard procedure for all.

A balance protocol was performed and monitored for each athlete. A slant board was used to make determinations on strength and weaknesses for each position of the foot strike. Proprioceptive ability was monitored, to ensure improvements in Ground Contact Time (GCT). Any athlete displaying any inefficiency was fitted with non-orthotic inserts. It was agreed that this product did help with the balance ability of each athlete in an amazingly short amount of time. This led to improved performance that was objectively measured.

As strengths and weaknesses were determined, proper training interventions were employed for their correction. Knowing that you are only as strong as your weakest link, each athlete had a burning desire to understand their results and to improve upon them. There is no sense in building strength on an unstable foundation; identifying and fixing weaknesses became the mantra of the program.

I was very proud of our TEAM when the parents started to come to me and say things like: “It is no longer a struggle to get homework done; he seems to understand and get it better,” or “behavior and bedtime are no longer a commotion,” or “he is setting a better example for his younger siblings. These comments struck home to the idea that we are preparing the children for the game of life. Baseball is just the vehicle we are using to do so.

I think Head Coach Sacco summed it up the best when he said:

“You know you’re doing something right when your boys would rather come to do cognitive training than go to a birthday party or something else. They want to be here, they see the improvements they’ve made, and they compete against each other here so intensely, while always understanding TEAM first. I see the level of quickness when we go the batting cages and the tremendous agility when reacting to ground balls and other drills. I’ve talked to parents who tell me how much better their child is doing in the classroom and at home. With what I’ve seen in the short few months, I firmly believe every sports program at any level (boys and girls) should include cognitive training. Just the brain training alone speaks volumes and is great for knowing when an athlete can or is able to return to play after an injury. I can’t say enough how great I think this program is.”

In summary, 12 nine-year-old youth baseball players were trained for 12 weeks this winter. Seeing how their sport of baseball is a True Agility sport, it was decided that a comprehensive cognitive and physical training program had to be employed. Understanding cognition and speed of processing was very important to a successful program. Remember, what the mind perceives, the body eventually achieves. This delay between perception and achievement is the athlete’s reaction time. Yes, the athlete needs great explosive ability to react, but if SOP is slow, reaction will be slow, no matter how well trained the explosive part is.

Being able to evaluate and train at game speed was also very important for a successful program. The game should never be the trainer. Training at high demand must be closely monitored. Objectively understanding the movement ability of each athlete, and correcting as needed, helps significantly in injury prevention and movement efficiency.

“This is the best mind-body program out there currently, and we recommend that all athletes looking to improve their game or themselves overall go through a program this thorough. We look forward to impacting athletes of all ages across the country and the world with this Gold Standard Program.”

Sincerely, the USA Baseball Sport Development Department

For more information on this program, please contact the USA Baseball Sport Development Department at [email protected]

Dr. Peter Gorman is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is widely referred to as the developer of heart rate monitor technology and owns seven major patents in the United States and Canada. He was named President of Microgate USA in 2010 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport Chiropractic College in 2012. He later joined CourtSense, developing innovative and logical progression that helps athletes attain symmetry and better coordination. Dr. Gorman has previous experience working with the United States Military, as well as sports leagues and franchises around the world including those associated with Major League Baseball, FIFA, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and the United States Olympic Committee.