Plyometric exercises can improve son's speed on the baseball field

ASK CAL

April 16, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

In baseball, my son does everything well, except run. Can you suggest some drills that would help him get faster?

Diane Stevens, Towson

DEAR DIANE / / While speed has become a very important part of the game -- as it is in almost any sport -- there are plenty of baseball players out there who have been successful without great speed. The first thing I would suggest would be for your son to concentrate on mastering the fundamentals of base running. There are countless stories of players who aren't that fast becoming excellent base runners and really helping their teams just by studying opposing pitchers, working on getting better jumps and really understanding the base-running options that go along with every possible game situation. You don't have to be fast to be a great base runner.

Beyond that, Orioles strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop always has said that the two main areas of concern when it comes to speed on the baseball field are lateral quickness (the ability to move efficiently side to side) and acceleration (the ability to reach your top speed as quickly as possible). Both of these areas can be improved through the use of low-level plyometric exercise programs. These programs consist of a series of forward, backward and side-to-side jumps. That type of program, paired with a supervised strength and conditioning program and improved running technique, can help athletes improve acceleration and lateral quickness.

These types of exercises should only be performed after consultation with and under the direct supervision of a trained fitness professional. Please consult a certified athletic trainer or certified strength and conditioning expert before partaking in any strength or speed program.

As a former Marylander, I was somewhat surprised to hear that the General Assembly was considering a rule that would make it mandatory for Little Leaguers to wear protective face cages on their batting helmets. The cages might be a good idea, but I'm not so sure about it being mandated by politicians. What do you think?

Reg Paynter, Columbus, Ohio

DEAR REG / / I think as many precautions as possible should be taken to provide a safe and enjoyable baseball experience for all youth players.

However, I'm not sure that I agree with politicians attempting to make a blanket determination of what is right for all kids. You want kids to be comfortable on the baseball field, so if a particular child is really scared of the ball and wants to wear a helmet with a face mask, that is fine. But, for the most part, if youth baseball games and practices are supervised properly, if the protective equipment is in good working condition and fits properly, and if there is someone on hand who is trained in basic first aid, kids should be safe playing the game the way that it has been played for as long as I can remember.

The danger with requiring all youth players to wear a protective facemask is that it can create a false sense of security. Young players who realize that their faces are protected are less likely to learn how to move properly to get out of the way of pitches coming toward their heads since there is no danger of them getting hurt. This can cause serious safety issues as the players get older and facemasks are not required.

Kids -- especially teenagers-- are extremely image conscious, so I doubt that you will see one or two kids on a high school team continuing to wear a facemask when no one else is. What happens the first time one of those players who always has worn a facemask sees a fastball coming toward his head? He hasn't trained his body to avoid this type of pitch and has never faced the reality of a ball coming toward his face. This could prove very dangerous if the player freezes up or can't move quickly enough to avoid the pitch.

Whether or not to wear a facemask at the youngest ages should be an individual choice. I prefer playing a modified dodge ball game with the kids using really soft balls to help them learn how to properly avoid getting hit, instead of mandating that all players wear facemasks.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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