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Output Sports have been a great company to work with. Their attention to me as a coach, and desire to grow their product with updates informed from use in the real world has been second to none. As strength and conditioning practitioners and sports scientists, we look for technology solutions that can collect data or house information for us to make our work efficient and quick in terms of workflow. This is where Output Sports provides a useable solution to collecting multiple streams of data such as VBT information, wellness monitoring, jump data, sprint information, and range of motion information, to name but a few of its capabilities.
At the same time I have been using Output Sports, I have been working with a technical coach from a European baseball team. Will Lintern is the Pitching and Catching Coordinator for Great Britain Baseball. In the Bespoke Coaching process I have within Collaborate Sports, we’ve worked together on intentional and specific areas of personal development. This has ranged from communication as a coach, through to building technical models and coaching frameworks for pitching. What also arose from the process was the notion that a lot of technical coaches may feel in preparing players appropriately. Player management.
These reflect the types of questions we were looking to answer. We discussed the ways he could approach this by firstly making decisions on feel or feedback. Coaches will glean this insight from their own personal experiences and information gathered from useful questioning of their athletes. This coach was clearly missing the objective information to help them gain greater clarity on how he could update his coaching processes and decision making as a coach. After all, opinion is based on perception, and perception is shaped by previous experiences, so there is a danger we interpret the same subjective information somewhat differently.
As a solution I suggested using my own output sports units to help support his own curiosity.
I assumed a strength and conditioning coach or sports scientist needed to be the people collecting this information. I hadn’t even contemplated the technical coach collecting information like this. But that’s what Will did. With such a small staff, and S&C and medics focusing on their main roles during the European Competition, I encouraged Will to collect this information himself to develop his own understanding as well as interpret the information more meaningfully as we reviewed it post competition.
I had such faith in the simplicity of use of Output Sports, that I sent him 2 units, and he quickly upskilled himself in the key assessments we set forth as being priorities in a case study we planned to complete at the European Championships. We planned the case study together to assess one main question.
We determined we would look at shoulder internal and external rotation of pitchers to see how the shoulder was responding to pitching load, and compare this to grip strength (a metric the players were used to collecting) as an arm specific performance metric. We also aimed to collect jump data as a global representation of readiness, and positional players (who play daily) performed the CMJ each morning too.
We made two rules together for the small case study. His decisions as a coach should not be impacted by taking on this case study. He was to collect the data, only if it didn’t deter him from his normal preparations as a technical coach. The second was that he shouldn’t be reactive to this information in this competition. It was a means to assess what was typically happening in this type of performance environment, so he could look at the results in an unbiased manner post competition.
In pitchers, the following assessments were recorded daily prior to training:
For those not accustomed with baseball schedules and calendars, pitchers can pitch every day, or every 4-6th day, depending on how they are used in a “rotation” of pitchers within a squad. This makes it hard to look at all players against each other on the same calendar date. As a result, we collected data daily, then characterised the individual data on each date as pitching day -1, -2, -3 (and so on) days out from their next pitching performance. This allowed us to compare pitchers to one another across a long competition schedule.
Results obtained from 9 pitchers:
After the competition, Will reflected on his use of the equipment.
“The Output sensors were extremely easy to set up and collect the data from the players. A process that would normally require jump mats or worse a vertical jump measuring stick was as simple as put the strap on, press go and everything else was automated.”
As mentioned earlier, the reason for this case study was to collect information surrounding normal management of this set of baseball pitchers. At this point, the information was to understand predominantly, how do players respond to the load placed on them in pitching and training. From the results demonstrated above, this was obtained very simply.
Using the information now, and in discussion with the technical coach, we discussed how we could use this information to influence decision making moving forward.
The main thought we had was that knowing now that this typical response was evident in pitchers under “normal” conditions where performance was not mitigated, nor where any injuries occurred, we could create a plan of action from any data that would be collected moving forward that didn’t fit these patterns or trends.
We talked about setting decision making “rules”. For example:
“Having the data to inform a few simple rules we can follow to adjust recovery days would mean the coaches and I can make necessary interventions to have our best arms available and at full capacity as soon as possible”.
“My hope is that at future tournaments we have the ability to make earlier interventions if the pitcher’s current recovery strategy isn’t returning them to full strength as quickly as we’d expect. It will also help us decide if a reliever is capable of pitching on back-to-back days or if they need an off day. As coaches we often go with what we feel is right based on prior experience and trusting that the player is being honest about their readiness. This data gives us an objective measure to compare to what our gut tells us”.
The same could be applied for the restoration of ROM at the shoulder too. Although this appeared to take a longer amount of time to recover in pitchers across the 5days, it still allows the pitching coach and staff to intervene if these numbers aren’t recovering as expected against this normative data. Having the ability to track these changes quickly and day to day really allow for speed of discussion between practitioners, and decisions made about interventions to help restore this ROM required at the shoulder, as opposed to just throwing through it.
“If I can identify that ROM is not returning as we would expect and/or the CMJ is down, we can then action appropriate work with the physio and adjust workloads at the field in their throwing, sprint and technical sessions”.
Jump performance data was also collected for 3 positional players who committed to the case study. Positional players have a different pattern of competition. They hit, as opposed to pitch, and therefore compete most days, with less need (or perceived need) for recovery. Although the pitching/bullpen coach was collecting this information originally and exclusively for pitchers, the ability to add 3 players to track their performance using Output Sports was easy, and seemed like an obvious opportunity to understand how players who play daily, respond to training and competition load.
“Adding position players to a process that had already been streamlined because of the automations of the Output system was really straightforward.”
Simple jump data was collected daily for these positional players, evident below from the case study:
Looking at the evidence, accumulation of load that outweighs any management of recovery, seems to impact these players in terms of neuromuscular performance in this jump task. The addition of a simple recovery day had positive effects on restoring this performance, which could help coaches determine the need at any point for more recovery days leading in to competition.
Baseball is such a skill orientated sport that sometimes, the impact of physical load and performance often gets overlooked. Being able to detect simple and quick downward trends like this daily, using a tool like Output Sports could help inform the need for additional recovery time, or modalities surrounding training. In discussing the practicalities of recovery with Will, these seemed to be delivered on a “needs basis”, based on players requesting massage or additional time with the physio/S&C staff.
“It would be ideal to be more strategic in our assessment of the recovery needs of position players, using the CMJ and grip strength tests and even Active ROM to identify players who require increased focus on simple recovery modalities like nutrition, sleep, active recovery, massage, and more. What is great to see, and was evident across all 3 players, was that a simple removal of a stimulus (training/game) resulted in the most obvious restoration of performance”
In summary, in working with Will, he showed curiosity in his coaching and player management, that if he could help answer those questions, would effectively impact performance more positively through more informed decisions. Output was the simple solution to help him put answers to these questions. Moving forward, there is so much opportunity for this technology to be used in baseball and I am excited to see the uptake in the products use in the future. Being able to collect such quick information like this for throwing athletes, without deterring from their normal routines seems a no brainer to me. If trainers and strength and conditioning coaches can embed this technology within their processes and systems, and pitching coaches can appreciate the information that can help them make informed decisions about modifying player plans, the possibilities are really exciting around performance and injury mitigation.
Photography by Paul Stodart
Dan Howells is a Performance Consultant with experience in Olympic, Paralympic and Professional sports. Having spent time in the UK in rugby and the English Institute of Sport, he worked with the Houston Astros in the MLB for just under 3 seasons. Dan also provided coach development and mentorship opportunities through Collaborate Sports.
Will Lintern is the Pitching and Catching Coordinator for Great Britain Baseball. Prior to coaching Will played for Great Britain at the 2009 Baseball World Cup and at Menlo College in California. Will is also a fielding and throwing specialist cricket coach, serving as a consultant to Leicestershire CCC, South East Stars and with Ireland at the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
Visit the Great Britain Baseball team socials linked below