Travel: The Ultimate Demand on Performance
By Dr. Peter Gorman
For the pros, there is a natural course of events: Winter training programs lead to Spring Training; Spring Training leads to Opening Day; and Opening Day marks the beginning of an extensive home and travel schedule. The schedule for the amateur, though maybe not as extreme, is remarkably similar: Winter training programs leads to spring training and play, usually in the form of scholastic play or local leagues. The end of the spring season leads to the start of travel leagues. For many, these travel leagues can be in state, or ultimately regional and beyond.
As anyone in the game knows, travel magnifies demand. This allows stress and fatigue to slowly settle in and affect performance and play. Travel can be as simple as loading the van and going to the next town or city, or it could mean a road trip to the next state and region. For many, travel also includes planes and time zone changes.
For coaches, trainers, and players, this added dimension of travel demand must be closely watched and managed. Specifically, the effects of travel should be monitored with regard to the hidden components of performance: Balance, Timing, Coordination, and Cognition.
Balance is the critical component of all movement.
Timing is the moment-by-moment movement of the body.
Coordination is the symmetrical execution of this movement.
Cognition is the neural switch that controls all movement.
As vulnerable as these factors are during regular training and play, they become even more vulnerable when the dimension of travel is added to the program. There is an old saying – “Out of sight, out of mind” – which means that we tend to forget about things that are not always visible or present. This is especially true for athletes, who often take the aforementioned hidden components for granted. As a player steals second base, we do not usually comment on his balance or coordination, but rather on his speed. Or, when a pitcher reacts and picks a player off first base, we do not usually commend his effective cognition or speed of processing, but rather his quick movement and reaction time.
Underlying every movement of every play of every game is decision-based movement. As we have already pointed out, decision is cognition, and its efficiency is based in speed of processing. Think slowly, and you will play slowly. The same is true with balance, timing, and coordination – when they are working, we see an able and agile athlete and do not think twice as to why that is so. It is only when they are not working – when a player is limping, for example – that any attention is brought to them.
This approach to understanding the hidden factors of performance assumes that the factors are either working, or not; that they are either on, or off. This is far from the truth, however, and must be addressed. None of the hidden factors is an on/off mechanism. Each and every one has a level of efficiency. Each and every one is quietly affected by travel. The problem is that we do not measure them on a frequent, consistent basis. By the time we SEE the problem, the player already has the problem, and it is too late to prevent it. This is unacceptable and must be corrected, especially for all travel teams.
The culprits of travel (vibration, fatigue, time zone change, environment, etc.) must be identified and corrected. The following is a simple recovery program to help combat the effects of travel.
1) Proper breathing: When trying to recover and combat fatigue, every breath the athlete takes is extremely important. Every breath should help to oxygenate the athlete effectively. Increasing tidal volume and tidal capacity of the lung is key. To do this, the athlete must make sure that as they breathe in, they allow their stomach to relax and go out. Many people, however, do the exact opposite, and it must be corrected. It must be noted the diaphragm is the primary muscle of respiration; to exercise it properly, keep your shoulders relaxed as you move your stomach.
2) Hydration: Most of our muscle is water, and proper amounts of water are needed for efficient function. Forget the standards like eight 8-oz. glasses of water per day – every athlete is different and must be addressed accordingly. Check the color of your urine – urine must be clear and plentiful. Any yellowing is a step away from proper hydration.
3) Cross Crawl exercise: Babies thrive by crawling, and athletes must learn to crawl to help with coordination and timing. This exercise can be performed standing or lying on your back. Looking straight ahead, arms at the side, bring your left arm back as you bring your right knee to your chest. Then bring your knee back straight without allowing any external or internal movement. The arm and leg MUST move together. As you become efficient at this maneuver, you can increase your speed.
4) Trigger Point Reduction Therapy: The soleus calf muscle is the second heart of the human body. Start here with a handheld foam roller. Then proceed to quadriceps, hamstrings, arms, etc. Those little bumps and sore spots are trigger points and must be removed by rolling them out.
5) Balance: Practicing your balance will help to restore and improve it. This is essential for effective play. Practicing balance for three minutes after the trip and three minutes before play will help dramatically.
6) Brain speed: When on a long bus or plane ride, train your brain. Remember to effectively see and understand a 90mph ball your brain speed must be 250ms or faster. Training faster brain speed will have profound effects on all aspects of the game.
7) Stretching: A good program is essential, especially when travel demands arise. The hamstring stretches, and pigeon stretch are key to the lower body. The Appley scratch maneuver will help the upper body. These stretches are merely the core, and other stretches can be added as time allows.
Obviously, there are other corrections that can be made, but this simple program covers the bases in order to ensure effective and efficient play by all. The whole idea of this simple check program is to identify any imbalances early, before they have time to manifest as dysfunction and injury. Any inefficiency in these factors can cause a reduction in performance, without the athlete even being aware of it.
Every child/athlete has the right to balanced and symmetrical growth, and it is our job to ensure it. This is a simple screen to help provide that for all, no matter how far your travel brings you.
Wishing everyone healthy and safe play,
The Performance Staff at USA Baseball
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.