Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Steroids? You Better Think Twice

School is tough, no matter how you dice it. There is peer pressure at school, parental pressure at home, and social pressure every time you go out. If you’re a young athlete, the pressure to perform at a high level can be even more intense.

The pressure may be crushing, and some teens look to escape through drugs – and not just the usual drugs. Steroids are included in the list of drugs banned by the United States government. Taking steroids is not only illegal, but they will likely leave you in a worse state than many of the other drugs you may try.

The appeal of taking steroids is high; the increase in muscle mass and improvements on the field are strong draws. But, the fallout is huge and the side effects are immense. Whether taken by needle or as oral supplements, steroids shut off the parts of your brain that tell your body to produce hormones. This means that boys could begin to grow breasts, start balding, or even lose the ability to have children.

Even when you put aside the nasty side effects away for a moment, the drawbacks are still bad. Imagine you have an opportunity to play baseball in college. That drug test is going to show that you have used steroids. Your career will end before it begins.

While you may see an increase in muscle mass and endurance, you, and everyone else will see the negative side effects as you break out with a serious and unavoidable case of acne. You may also see testicular shrinkage. Girls are not immune to side effects either and can develop deepened voices.

Even small amounts can start destroying your organs right away. You’ll notice higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels. You may think you can lengthen your career with steroids, but your heart and liver simply don’t work that way. Long term effects will develop even if the steroid use is short term. These include liver failure, heart attacks, stunted growth and the conversion of muscle into fat. Not to mention the paranoia, anxiety and depression that ultimately took the life of local baseball player Taylor Hooton.

Your dreams of making it to the Major Leagues can be crushed by a decision you make as a teenager. There are many stories about the negative effects of steroids. Don’t take our word for it, do some research of your own about the dangers of steroids. Your findings will haunt you. You have the talent, don’t squander it! If you’re struggling with steroids, or just want more information, ask the Taylor Hooton Foundation. They’re dedicated to steroid awareness and ensuring you have a safe and healthy baseball career.

The Taylor Hooton Foundation

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Should We Really Be Trying To “Watch the Ball”?

“Watch the ball!”

It seems like the most basic and fundamental instruction that we, as parents and coaches, tell our young players. It makes sense right? If you don’t watch the ball, you can’t hit the ball. Did you know that the average collegiate hitter only tracks the ball to within 9 feet of contact? Or, that the most skilled hitters at the highest level of the game only track the ball to within 5 feet of contact? The reason…It is physiologically impossible to “watch the ball” all the way to contact.

When tracking objects, the brain / eyes uses several different scanning mechanisms to follow and intercept a moving target. Imagine looking into the sky and seeing an airplane traveling through the clouds. The plane may be travelling at several hundred miles per hour. However, it is also thousands of feet off the ground giving the illusion that it is moving slowly through the air. We are able to clearly and efficiently visually follow the airplane in the sky because we are using our slow pursuit tracking mechanism. Now imagine standing on an interstate overpass and looking down at the cars whipping underneath. In order to follow these faster moving objects, we use what’s called a saccadic eye movement. When these objects move at speeds faster than 90 degrees per second, they get blurred and we can no longer clearly track them.

In baseball, a hitter that faces a 90mph fastball has 0.4 seconds to see the ball, decide to swing, and then initiate the swing. Unfortunately, a baseball pitch travels at approximately 1000 degrees per second. Obviously, this is significantly greater than the eyes can physiologically track a ball using the saccadic tracking method. So, in order to help prevent blurring and attempt to follow objects at these much higher velocities, the brain / eyes use what is called a jump saccade eye movement. During a jump saccade, the picture input literally “turns off” while the eyes move to the next focal point and then “turn on”. The problem with this is that once the eyes “turn back on”, the ball has moved again. So, in theory, you’re not seeing the ball, you’re seeing where the ball used to be. This explains why even elite level hitters cannot track the ball all the way to contact. They are literally “watching behind the ball”.

In my practice and training of athletes over the years, I’ve developed a teaching method to help hitters learn to track “in front” of the ball. By understanding, the role of the visual system in hitting performance, athletes are able to have a clearer, earlier picture of the baseball giving them better pitch recognition, understanding of the strike zone, and more quality contact.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS