Ryan Orr is a minor league strength and conditioning coach in the New York Mets organization. He is going into his second season with the Mets and his fourth in professional baseball. Ryan is co-owner of Catalyst Performance, and he has his Master of Science in Exercise Science from the University of Arkansas. He is a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Freelap USA: Strength and conditioning for professional athletes poses many challenges. What challenges do you have to overcome in order to continue adequate training?
Ryan Orr: One challenge that most coaches can probably relate to is the misinformation that so many athletes receive from social media. There’s so much information out there, but it can be difficult for athletes to filter out poor information or to understand that many elite athletes are successful in spite of their training, not because of it.
Another challenge is that there have been stigmas around training in baseball for a long time. Although most of the old-school training philosophies are no longer in the game at the professional level, many players grew up playing for coaches who believed in these old-school practices. Therefore, it can be difficult for a pitcher to unlearn things taught to them at a young age, such as pitchers running poles. Many athletes will buy into every aspect of a training program but still have a hard time letting go of these practices and ways of thinking.
Time is always a challenge that you face during the season. Your available time is always dependent on things such as report time relative to the game, team practice schedules, and individual work. One way to address this challenge is to assess the amount of time each training will take to finish when writing an athlete’s program and try to make it as time efficient as you can while still getting the desired stimulus and adaptation.
Travel is also a constant challenge, as it takes up half of your season’s schedule. Each road trip brings its own challenges, whether its game times, double headers, facilities, or overall accessibility. Being adaptable and having a plan for any and all possibilities will help you be ready to face these.
By the time players reach the High-A level, they’ve had probably a minimum of three other strength coaches, plus usually some sort of experience in high school and/or college—which means they’ve seen that same number of different philosophies. This is usually simply resolved by emphasizing relationships and educating players on the thought processes behind your programming. It’s very common for players to train with other coaches in the off-season as well, since they are spread throughout the country. This, again, most likely adds a different style of training for the athlete, so it can be very important to get this information from the athlete and attempt to build a connection with their off-season coach.
Freelap USA: Pitching rotations in professional baseball can vary. What approach do you take with training your starters, high-inning relievers, and low-inning relievers?
Ryan Orr: Starters are the most individualized based on their previous experiences and routines. For example, some guys prefer to throw their bullpen two days after their start instead of three days after. In my time in pro ball, I’ve seen players who enjoy doing some sort of potentiation lift before their start and others who perform a full lift after their start.
The main focus is pairing their heavy throwing days together and keeping high CNS days high and low CNS days low, so pairing their start and bullpen days with lifting as much as scheduling will allow. However, this can be dependent on factors like what day their bullpen day falls on and how many days between starts they will have. If they have more than five days between starts, that provides more opportunities for stimuli. The goal is to always work backward from their next start and optimize recovery for that day.
With guys who are getting frequent appearances, you need to manage stress and recovery as much as possible. Those are the players who need a high priority on managing their schedule to pair their lifting and outings together with minimal stimuli between outings. Typically, these players have less volume as the years go on and the innings pile up and only need a minimal stimulus on the S&C side. A huge part of managing their schedule is to collaborate with them and the ATC to create a recovery plan.
The fewer appearances a reliever has, the more important it is for them to get proper stimuli both in the weight room and on the conditioning side. It’s also important to maximize their preparation for their appearances, as you want them to be able to perform well when they’re given their opportunity. That goes into any mobility and stability work but also teaching them to prep their body in the warm-up to get hot before getting off a mound.
Probably the biggest piece of the puzzle to optimizing their health and performance is working alongside the ATC and pitching coaches to make sure that they keep their throwing load at a high enough level to be prepared for the game. Overall, communicating with the ATC and pitching coach is the most important piece of maintaining and improving health and performance in a pitching staff.
Freelap USA: Roster transactions can happen at any minute in the minor leagues. What challenges come with players getting moved up/down/traded?
Ryan Orr: The biggest challenge is not being able to see the implementation of your program all the way through. No matter how unified you are as a staff, every coach will have a slightly different eye for the movements or a slightly different approach to development. With the amount of time that we spend with each player, we become very passionate about their success, so it can be difficult to give up control of the long-term plan you have for that player. However, if a player gets moved up or even traded, it’s usually a sign that player has had success, so you must understand that it’s all part of their overall individual development.
A player coming up has its own challenges separate from the other two scenarios. Many of these are players that you have to get to know and build a relationship with. It can take some time to build that relationship while the player is trying to get comfortable with their new surroundings at a new affiliate. You are also coaching a program written by someone else, and as I previously said, you could be coaching it differently than the last coach. For these reasons, it’s very important to have great relationships with the other strength coaches so you have established communication with them and can help each other see one another’s visions.
Freelap USA: Baseball players are creatures of habit and routine. How do you differentiate training for athletes who prefer different styles of training?
Ryan Orr: I think this is where the art of coaching really becomes important. It’s important to be willing to meet players where they’re at and develop and educate them on your philosophies. The better your relationship is with that player, the more trust they will have in your program. A very underrated component of creating buy-in is simply to listen to the player on why they may think differently. Communication is a vital piece of the puzzle.
This is also where having a sound understanding of the mechanics and biomechanics of the exercises plays a factor. Maybe a player doesn’t like the trap bar deadlift and is willing to sub it out for a SSB box squat. He’s happy because he can avoid an undesirable exercise, and I’m happy because I’m still getting the same relative motion of the pelvis and can manipulate the box height to create the same joint angles. This is an easy example, but you can apply it to most exercises by thinking through shapes and joint movements.
Freelap USA: What strategies do you use to help the players in the off-season continue the progress that they made during the year? Do you attempt to collaborate with their private coach if they have one?
Ryan Orr: We’re assigned a list of players, usually guys that we have during the season, and we stay in constant contact with those players throughout the season. We send out off-season programs to them and communicate frequently to make sure that we stay on top of any changes that need to be made to account for their situation and equipment available. We’re able to identify their needs and deficiencies via testing throughout the season enough that it allows us to really individualize each player’s programs. As a coach, it is my responsibility to help them understand that the off-season is the best time for them to develop physically and to help them prioritize their goals.
For players who train with an off-season coach, collaboration and communication are incredibly important. It’s my job to attempt to build a relationship with that coach and align their goals with ours. From there, it is a continuous cycle of communication with both the coach and the player. The key is to put your ego aside and understand that, ultimately, all of us want the same thing: success for the player.
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