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Athlete Development: Three tips to help players during lockdown

By: Connor Heldman

Normally at this time of year, players and coaches throughout Canada are making noise indoors honing their skills in anticipation of getting outside in the spring and playing baseball.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place limiting gathering sizes or blocking any sort of gatherings, associations, teams, coaches and players have been forced to adapt and come up with creative ways to continue player development both on the physical and mental sides of the game.

Corey Eckstein, a former Junior National Team athlete and coach and current Director of Player Personnel with the Ontario Blue Jays, has been navigating through provincial COVID-19 restrictions including Onatrio’s current lockdown since the fall.

A lot of Canadian players are feeling like their window of opportunity to develop in the sport is growing smaller with little or no opportunities for in-person training. 

“I wanted to ensure we tried to get those thoughts out of (players') heads as early as possible,” said Eckstein. “So we went ahead and hired a Mental Skills Coordinator who has been doing two hour sessions with our group every week.” 

Eckstein also says that although there isn't a lot of opportunity for players to practice together with their coaches that doesn't mean there isn't a wide range of things players can be doing from home to get better.

He offers these three suggestions on how players think outside the box to further their development:

Coaches Clinics

Eckstein says although you can't get out and do as much baseball related workouts as players are used to around this time of year. That doesn't mean there are so many outlets still available that players should use to their advantage.

“There are numerous coaches clinics available right now and it has always amazed me that players never take part in them.” 

Eckstien who has recommended such clinics to his own players like ABCA, I-70 Clinic, Baseball Ontario’s Best Ever Clinic and more says these, although they are mostly run through Zoom meetings can still be immensely valuable to players. The amount of useful knowledge from the best coaches and baseball leaders in the world is incredible, and this is something that Eckstein strongly recommends to not only his players but all baseball players.

Off-Field Habits

“Intrinsic Motivation” as Eckstein puts it. Find a daily routine and stick to it. A routine gives you something to control during the COVID-19 pandemic which has flipped life as we know it upside down. 

“Make your bed every morning. Force yourself to fall in love with a routine. Off field consistency leads to on-field consistency. Sleep patterns and eating habits are just as important as hitting or throwing a baseball,” says Eckstein.

With those thoughts of doubt, baseball players around the country are feeling a routine can not do anything but help take your mind off lingering feelings and help improve their mental health.

Social Media

“As toxic as social media can be, if you are looking for drills you can be doing at home during this time, there are some really good follows online who can help you.”

One of the main things Eckstein has been most adamant about since the second COVID-19 lockdown is encouraging the Ontario Blue Jays organization to get creative with their training. He has urged his players to find new ways to keep up with the game.

“I would always cross-check with your coaches to ensure it coincides with their beliefs and how it will benefit you. There is a lot of information out there that I would not recommend so just be careful in that regard.”

Although it seems like there isn't a lot you can do to keep yourself in baseball form, Eckstein says things like throwing a ball against a concrete wall can help drill in the correct footwork. You can only do things like that and hit a ball off a tee for so long before you get stir crazy but by following different coaches and even using #baseballdrills on social media will show you a plethora of different drills you can do from home.

Lockdown won't last forever but for now Eckstein urges all players to get creative with their training. Other than what has already been mentioned he also recommends listening to podcasts to help keep players’ heads in the game. Recommendations include, Stickball TV, Ahead of the Curve and ABCA Calls from the Clubhouse.