Remember when off-season athletic training was left strictly to professionals? When the first day of 8th grade baseball practice was probably the first time a player picked up his mitt? Now sports training and conditioning is available and often encouraged nearly year-round for many young athletes, due to more intense competition as well as a love of the game and a desire to be the very best he or she can be.
Why train in the winter?
"Parents will bring their kids in to train in the off-season because they believe their child has some skill and they want to hone it year-round, much like playing an instrument where you have to practice to get better," says Doug Cinnella, founder and president of Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. To be able to compete, children need to work on speed, agility, flexibility and endurance.
Matt Natale, an integrative personal trainer who works with athletes in northern New Jersey, strongly believes that any kind of training must also include nutritional evaluations. "Energy comes from nutrition, so you have to look at how an athlete is eating all of the time, not just during the season. At the end of the game, who has the most energy?"
BASEBALL/SOFTBALL: Doug Cinnella of Professional Baseball Instruction has one piece of advice for the off-season baseball and softball player: Throw the ball. "There is no position on the baseball field where you don't have to throw, so developing arm strength is key. And the way to do that is to throw the ball. Throw against a wall, a pitch-back, in the garage. But throw." And, he says, it doesn't always have to be a baseball; a wiffle or tennis ball will do.
LACROSSE: The best lacrosse drill in the off-season? Two words: wall ball. "It's the gold standard. Just find a wall and bang the ball against it, back and forth, back and forth," says Pete Koeniges, certified athletic trainer for Northern Highlands High School in Allendale. Mike Pounds, Ridgewood High School boys varsity lacrosse coach, agrees, but he also recommends movement in the drill. "Lacrosse is such a fast-moving sport that you need to move. Run up and down the wall while throwing and catching," he says.
Strengthening the Core: Planks
For core stability, there isn't a better workout than planks, says Northern Highlands trainer Pete Koeniges. "It works for every age athlete, from young kids on up."
•Lie on your stomach. Get up on your elbows and on your toes, knees off the ground and straight, feel the tension in your belly.
•Make sure there is a straight line between your head, your upper back and your bottom. (If you lie a stick on top of your back it should hit all three points)
•Up on your elbows and toes, hold this position for (at first) 15 seconds, take a 15 second break, resting on your knees, then go up to plank again. Do this five times.
•Do five sets of five planks. Work up to 30 seconds on, 30 off, then 45 seconds, then a minute.
Advice for the Younger Athlete
For the elementary school athlete, too much of the same sport can lead to burnout. Ridgewood Lacrosse Coach Mike Pounds, who conducts LAX clinics for elementary and middle school players, likes to see younger athletes play sports other than lacrosse during the off-season. "In the winter we like to hear that our guys are playing basketball, or wrestling. At this age, it's not just all about skill, it's learning teamwork," he says. "It's about dedication to improving yourself in another sport and learning a good work ethic."
Indoor Training Facilities
There are lots of indoor spaces for athletes in training during the cold winter months. Here is a smattering in Bergen County that offer private instruction, clinics, strength and conditioning, and off-season team play:
F.O.R.C.E Performance Training
22 Hollywood Ave.
Ho-Ho-Kus, (201) 670-1700
134 Hopper Ave.
Waldwick, (201) 444-7660
260 West Crescent Ave.
Allendale, (201) 760-9900
Professional Baseball Instruction
107 Pleasant Ave.
Upper Saddle River, (201) 760-8720
Parisi Speed School
2-22 Banta Place
Fair Lawn, (201) 794-1555