My (Karli’s) journey through softball was not a linear progression by any means. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that my mom opted to send me to a strength coach for individual workouts, which encouraged me to embark down my path in player development. Ultimately, this is what sparked my passion for strength and conditioning; from that moment on I was obsessed with being stronger, faster, and harder to beat.
However, that mindset and approach to be “stronger” did not provide a positive correlation with my on field performance. I believed, and hoped, that because of being “strong” my statistics would improve — unfortunately, being strong is only a small portion of it. My mechanics, in both hitting and throwing were far from perfect, but I didn’t understand why. “How could my swing not be perfect with working out five times a week and attending hitting lessons twice a week?” is what I used to think to myself all the time. Nowadays, I think, “how could that have possibly been it?”
Going into my senior season of college — my last season — I finally figured it out, I had too many blind spots in my training. Everything matters, you can never neglect any one thing in training for softball, but, it is also impossible to excel in your skills if you are not aware of your movement deficiencies. It finally made sense why “simple mechanical fixes” I had been trying to make the previous years in college were not possible for me — my body was not physically capable of moving in the ways those fixes required. After seeking a way to combat these deficiencies through a strength program; changes in skill, and skill acquisition began to happen one by one.
Karli’s story is one that all of our coaches have echoed when we were developing our player development platform – a search for ensuring that our training platform does not have any “blind spots”.
Our Threshold Assessment was developed specifically for softball athletes and is part of a larger process to effectively identify a player’s performance capacity. It is not a measure of athleticism or absolute strength; rather tasks critical for optimal performance: pelvic control, dissociation, and force transfer. It is progressive, establishing the athlete’s ability to perform under stable and low velocity conditions to inform both strength and skills coaches if the athlete possesses movement competency for high velocity, sport-specific skills and verbal instruction cues.
From the athlete’s results on our Threshold Assessment we place her in a Training Level and develop a Performance Plan. This system provides a framework and direction for the athlete and her parents; how much to train, what to train, and what drills to add to compliment her developing movement patterns. The levels ensure our athletes’ training regimen gives them the tools to achieve their full potential.
When an athlete is placed in Level 1, it indicates that she is still mastering fundamental movements and struggles with overall pelvic stability and a hinge pattern. Without the requisite stability, chest-pelvis dissociation is not possible. The primary goal for athletes at this level is to master fundamental movement patterns (push, pull, rolling, landing, etc.) and develop neuromuscular efficiency in these patterns.
A Level 2 athlete demonstrates basic stability and competency in unloaded fundamental movements. Dissociation is still developing, but not mastered quite yet. With the athlete’s baseline ability to perform fundamental movement, training focuses on challenging these movements through appropriate external load. We also focus on the development of coordination but keep tasks low velocity and emphasize postural control.
At Level 3, we have determined from our Threshold Assessment that the athlete can maintain stability and generate dissociation under low velocity conditions; they have awareness of their body in space and can control its movement effectively. Training emphasizes challenging the athlete to generate more complex movements, introduces plyometric exercise in a single plane and low velocity, more traditional compound lifts.
Once an athlete reaches Level 4, mobility under load and the development of velocity in compound lifts compliments challenges to core stability and plyometrics.
We regularly reassess our athletes, based on components of the Threshold Assessment, to determine if they are ready to level up.