Assistants Anonymous: Early-season grind

It’s time to give assistant coaches some love. From compiling scouting reports, sleeping in terrible hotels on the recruiting trail, tossing batting practice and making sure camps with hundreds of kids run without a hitch, the job of the assistant coach never ends. With the duties the job entails and time and effort put in, the insight an assistant coach can provide is second to none, Assistants Anonymous is an opportunity for assistants to bring us closer to the game.

The first assistant to step to the microphone is a pitching coach, who gives insight on what it’s like during the early season with weekend after weekend of travel, limitations on practice and how he prepares a staff to be ready for the season.

Assistants Anonymous #1

We’re two weeks into the season. For Big Ten programs, that means two weeks on the road. What steps are taken to make sure players able to handle the travel, manage their academics with missed class time and still be able to perform at their best?

Before the first week of school has even finished for our guys, we have our academic advisor compile a missed class time sheet for each player to give to their professors. This helps inform them as early as possible about time missed and puts the responsibility of scheduling tests, quizzes, etc. early if need be so they continue to do their job in the classroom.

In the Big Ten and at our school we are only allowed so many missed days, which in turn means that you may be flying out late on Thursday nights so that you do not miss an extra day of class. This is taxing on all parties, but it is part of the gig here in the Big Ten.

Just how tough is it to leave on Thursday, get back late Sunday, then get ready to do it again three days later, for up to five consecutive weeks?

It is definitely tough at times, especially when are flying to the west coast as so many teams in our league have done over the last couple years. If you are a program that is flying private, it certainly helps you get to your destination quicker….however we are not a program with that luxury, so it means that we are getting home many times between 1-3 a.m., but the players are still going to class the next morning at 8 or 9 a.m.

Do you think the overall wellness of the student-athlete is compromised with the current baseball calendar?

I do think that the calendar being so condensed is certainly tough on the student-athlete, especially in our league with all of the travel. But I do think that the more your schedule takes place with students in school, the better for college baseball. I understand that in the Big Ten that can be tough with the weather.

I don’t know the solution at this point in time, or could I give a detailed answer in one paragraph, however, I think some subtle changes could be made improve things overall.

Has the NCAA’s new rule that a travel day cannot be considered a day off change how you practice?

At this point in time, this rule is not going to really affect us, because that is a change that can be managed over the course of a full year. However, I think that some of the rules in terms of adding extra mandated days off and such are something that makes the job of coaches very difficult.

In my opinion, many players are wanting the ability to be coached and assisted all of the time, and when you limit the ability of coaches to be able to “coach”, then I feel that is a problem. Many rules are put in place because of the 2-3% who abuse them.

When it comes to arm care, do you implement strict guidelines on pitch counts early in the season? What is the process for building up an arm?

The process for building up an arm is not just a start-of-season plan, but rather something that takes place on a 12-month cycle. You have to get these guys into a position where they are ready to roll when the season begins, but one bad move (100 pitches day one, or three straight days of live games early) can set them back over the course of the season.

We progress our guys and pull them early in the year because we want them to be peaking in May and June when everything is on the line. The key to me is to keep daily arm care protocols in place during the season, as well as making sure you monitor how often they hit the mound during each and every week. The more you hit the mound without reason, the higher your chances become for injury during a season.

While you may have a general idea going into the season, at what point in the season do you know what a player is capable of, that he can or cannot succeed in a role on the mound?

The early part of the season for our program is about putting certain guys in a position to purely succeed because we want to build their confidence. Other guys you may put in some circumstances that are difficult and may be more troublesome for simple success.

Although you would like to go into conference knowing exactly what you have in a pitching staff, it is ever-evolving, making it impossible to know how the end of the season will look compared to the beginning. One thing that we really try to continue is to coach the heck out of our arms so that when they are thrust into a new role or position, they are as ready as possible to answer the bell. 

However, when you look at your staff as a whole we would love to have nine guys you fully trust, two wild cards, and one surprise. If you are fortunate to have this collection of arms, then we believe that you have a chance to make a real run in June. 

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