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Coaching Management 23.2

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REBEL RECOVERY A frequent misconception among baseball players is that weight- room training and going to prac- tice are the two most important aspects of becoming a better team. We preach a third component: recovery. At the University of Mississippi, we utilize different forms of recovery to keep our players fresh and ready to work hard. After weightroom workouts, the players use cold tubs and contrast baths to reduce swelling from muscle tissue breakdown and decrease inflammation. There is evi- dence that cold-water immersion can cut down on muscle soreness for up to 96 hours after exercise. Nutrition has also become a huge part of our program. Working with our team's registered dietitian, the baseball coaching staff and I monitor the players' body com- positions weekly, and they meet with the dietitian one-on-one if we feel they need an individualized meal plan. The athletes also do Bod Pod scans up to four times a year to analyze their body compositions and address areas of concern. I like to get directly involved with the play- ers' nutrition by going grocery shopping with them, especially the underclassmen. It's something I have done since I started as a strength coach. Not only does it help me get to know the athletes more personally, it also provides an opportunity to educate them about how to reach and maintain bodyweight goals. It can be especially hard for our young players to obtain ideal body composition while living in the dorms. Many have never done meal prep before, so unless the dining halls are open, they have no means of fueling themselves. I show them how easy it is to make five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at once, put them in their mini fridge, and have easy access to protein for the rest of the week. Tips like this help them keep a tighter handle on their nutrition habits. room. For example, I'll have the athletes lunge walk for 200 yards on the football field, complete an up-down or squat jump every five yards for the length of the field, and then have them run 110-yard sprints on a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio. We don't do the body- weight exercises during every session, so they are a surprise at the end of the workout and make the running more difficult. Overall, the key to the success of our offseason program is that I make the players believe they are working harder than every other Division I program. This help builds the physical and mental toughness we are shooting for and develops a winning men- tality that the athletes take with them to the field. OMAHA CHALLENGE Another way I instill a team-wide identity of toughness in our offseason work is through constant competition. I know I have to make the players compete often if I want this mind- set to carry over into the season, so regardless of whether the team is in the weightroom or on the football field conditioning, we are always trying to see who can lift the most or run the fastest. Perhaps the best example of this is when we cap off our offseason work with our ver- sion of the Omaha Challenge, a popular competition that involves splitting the squad up into groups and putting them through a grueling schedule of nontraditional physical activities. Individuals can earn points for their team based on how they perform in each challenge, and at the end, the team with the most points is crowned the winner. The events of our Omaha Challenge are made to challenge the body, but more importantly, challenge the mind. I believe that when you put young athletes in a com- petitive environment, no matter how bad they hurt, their minds will block out the pain and push through to win. We split the squad up into four teams based on our school colors—red, blue, white, and black. One unique aspect of our Omaha Challenge is that it lasts a whole week, with different events each day, whereas some schools only hold a single-day event. Here's the schedule from our 2013-14 Omaha Challenge: Monday: n Towel hang for time n 15-kg single-hand plate hold for time n Inverted rows for reps in one minute n Block bench for reps in one minute n 200-yard timed board push with a weighted vest Tuesday: n Swim relay n Dodgeball tournament n 300-yard shuttle relay while carrying a 45-pound plate n Timed super shuttle Wednesday: n Tug-of-war in the sand pit n Timed shuttle run in the sand with 16-pound med ball n Prowler relay race for time Thursday: n 200-yard sled pull team relay n 200-yard tire flip team relay n Ultimate Frisbee tournament Friday: n Obstacle course. The obstacle course starts in our football stadium. The players snake their way up and down the stadium stairs until they go all the way around the lower bowl. Once they finish the stairs, they come onto the field, where they have to complete nine different chal- lenges that run sideline to sideline, such as bear crawls, sled pushes, and a 45-pound plate carry. Next, players do an up-down or burpee at five-yard intervals down the length of the field. Finally, the players run a half-mile from the football stadium to the baseball diamond, where they finish the course by stepping on home plate. After the obstacle course, we finish our week with a breakfast buffet, and Coach Bianco addresses the team. The biggest lesson he tries to instill is to not dwell on the past. Even if a player didn't score any points for his team on a particular day or came in last dur- ing a race, Coach Bianco reminds them that tomorrow is a new day and a new competi- tion, so they better be ready to go. This directly translates to what the players face during the season. We have a lot of games on back-to-back days, and whether the team wins or loses on a Friday, Saturday is a new game, and they need to remain focused. Ultimately, I believe that our Omaha Challenge in the offseason helped propel the Rebels all the way to the CWS semifinals in June. Looking back at the year, it is incredible to think about every challenge the team over- came due to the players' toughness. Offseason strength and conditioning was just one piece of the puzzle that made last year's team so great, and as we move forward with the same level of intensity, I can see the trip to Omaha becoming an annual journey . CM A version of this article appeared in our sister pub- lication, Training & Conditioning. For more articles from T&C, visit: Training-Conditioning.com. 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