During a recent conversation with a baseball player client of mine he used the terms bat path, exit velocity, spin rate, and launch angle to describe various aspects of his training program. He went on to further discuss not only how these measurements were important to a baseball player, but how there are new technologies that allow players to break these elements down, study them, and improve upon them to become better baseball players. Former baseball player Matt Antonelli discusses some of these new measurements in this video, and while he does a great job explaining things (i.e. bat path and launch angle), it still leaves me with questions about the true validity of these measurements and the degree in which they impact athletic performance? Or, more specifically, would players improve their talents just as fast (or faster) by employing time-tested strategies of simply picking up a bat and putting in the work? And for those athletes that say that advanced technology is the reason for their success, are the improvements actually due to the technology, or simply a product of the placebo effect?
The ingredients of success
The model I have always used when helping athletes reach their full potential is to closely examine the physical, technical, and mental aspects of their sport. These inter-related pieces take into account physical aspects, including nutrition, rest, and exercise; technical elements including the “X’s and O’s” of sport; and mental aspects relating to confidence, anxiety reduction, and focus. Using this approach, the technical part of sport is 1/3rd of the puzzle (in theory, not necessarily in proportion), meaning that at best new technologies will only help so much in relation to overall athletic development. Drilling deeper, this means you will still need to train hard and put in the work.
When evaluating new scientific technologies that relate to sport success, it is important to critically weigh the evidence, and this includes the practical application of knowledge from the technology. So for example, even if a device can accurately capture something like “spin rate,” what is the practical takeaway from having that knowledge? Is it important for a baseball player to understand “spin rate,” or to instead take more at bats in practice and feel more comfortable at the plate (and using that confidence gained to become a better hitter)? To be clear — information can be good to have, but it can also be overwhelming at times and steal from the energy, focus, and natural rhythm that comes from putting in the work through practice and repetition.
Technology is great, especially when it makes our lives easier. For athletes, there are countless technological advancements occurring right now, but it is important to remain guarded and inquisitive when weighing the evidence of the latest gadget. Simply because something produces cool looking graphics and images doesn’t necessarily mean it will help you hit a ball harder and farther. I have witnessed and increasing number of athletes I work with directly get caught up in gadgets and products, often creating even more chaos and confusion trying to make sense of it all. From my experience, there is no substitution for confidence development and belief in one’s abilities, as these are the qualities great athletes possess by simply putting in the work.