Why does one player stick around for a long time and another equally talented player constantly get injured and have a much shorter life span?
An example from tennis can shed some light on this question.
If Ken Rosewall, the great Australian tennis champion from the 60s were a baseball player, any baseball General Manager would have loved to sign him to a long-term contract. Not because he would have made a huge difference in the lineup (he would have), not because he had a ton of natural athletic ability (he did), but at age 39, Rosewall did something that very few tennis players his age could ever dream of accomplishing — he reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Playing high-level competitive tennis at 39 is not something your average touring tennis professional can do.
In other words, if Rosewall played baseball he would have stuck around for a long, long time.
I (Steven) saw Rosewall play in his prime and one time even practiced with him. So I can agree with every assessment every analyst came up with who ever watched him play.
Ken Rosewall was the smoothest, most effortless player they ever saw.
Ken Rosewall was known as “Muscles.” That is somewhat of an overstatement, because at 5’7’’, he was not your typical tennis champion, as far as physical stature was concerned. What separated him from the field was his perfect timing and effortless motion. That catapulted him to the top of the tennis world.
Notice that we didn’t say it was perfect mechanics that caused him to have a long career. We said perfect timing and effortless motion.
In baseball, knowing that a pitcher or hitter has perfect timing and effortless motion can allow a GM to sleep very well at night. He would know the big bucks he shelled out for a seven-year contract would most likely still be bearing fruit late in that player’s contract and career. That player would likely still be around and producing along with the GM for making the right decision in signing him.
It is perfect timing and effortless motion that give players longevity. They must also have very sound mechanics but you can have two players, one with a mechanically picture perfect swing or pitching motion, and the other with an above average swing or motion although not picture perfect. The latter may have a longer and more productive career than the one with a mechanically picture perfect swing or pitching motion.
Because they had better timing and effortless motion.
Let’s talk about timing first.
It is not just having a picture perfect swing or pitching motion that is crucial in producing a great hitter or pitcher. It is when that swing or motion unfolds that is just as important. In other words, when they pull the trigger will determine his success.
If someone is swinging well but is not making solid contact with the ball, eventually this is going to produce wear and tear on the body. How? Their beautiful swing will be forced somewhere along the line. The location of that forced action may be imperceptible to the naked eye, but it will be there. This will produce a weakness in the body. When this starts to occur, it is a cycle that is difficult to stop. Repetition of that cycle leads to injuries. Naturally the same is true for a pitcher.
But on the other hand, if a hitter’s timing improves, they will start making more solid contact with the ball, which will indicate their swing is less taxing on their body. We can say this because to make more solid contact with the ball, a hitter has to be releasing every thing in his swing correctly. This will indicate that the machine is running more efficiently and is less likely to break down over the long haul.
Now let’s talk about effortless motion.
Effortless motion is the ability to generate tremendous bat speed or arm speed with minimal effort. The only way to generate more bat head speed or arm speed is to use less effort. If hitters are swinging their bat at let’s say 100 miles an hour and you were to ask them to swing ten miles an hour faster, they could only do this by doing less, not by doing more. The same is true for a pitcher.
In other words to generate more bat speed or arm speed, a hitter or pitcher has to use the parts of the swing or motion more efficiently. They needs to use what they already have from a simpler level. We have seen this done countless times with someone’s tennis serve.
During a tennis lesson, we give a player the instruction to generate more racquet head speed using less effort. At first they look at us quizzically and think to themsleves, “how the heck do I do that?” Then they hit a few serves and their body starts to make subtle adjustments. These adjustments result in his swing becoming more efficient and smoother and as a result, they are able to generate more power using less effort.
Switching back to baseball, if a player is able to produce more power using less effort, this will prevent wear and tear on their body. They will start to produce a “Rosewall” kind of motion. It is the repetition of this kind of swing that produces less wear and tear on his body. It may not be exactly the picture perfect swing or motion you see in a textbook, but it is the picture perfect swing or motion for that player. And because of that, they will have a much better chance over time of staying off the Disabled List.
There will always be slightly different aspects of a great player’s swing or great pitcher’s motion and there will always be common aspects that every great hitter or pitcher shares, regardless of his own idiosyncrasies. The key is how to unfold an effortless swing or pitching motion that is mechanically sound and will stand up in pressure situations.
You can look at a swing or pitching motion like a car engine. Some engines last a very long time and some don’t. If you were to listen to both of those engines when they were brand new, you may not be able to tell the difference in sound. But the engine that lasted longer had moving parts that were working in perfect conjunction with each other. The other engine did not.
The latter engine had some slight wear and tear building up over time. You may not be able to notice it within the first six months on the road, but a weakness was being created in the early life of the engine that could eventually lead to a breakdown.
If hitters or pitchers are going to last as long as possible in their career, they can’t have that kind of weakness in their swing. They may be the only ones that feel it. They may notice every time they swing or throw a pitch, they feel a slight buildup of pressure somewhere in their body. It could start out just very slightly and build up over time. They may even be aware of where that buildup is occurring and feel powerless in reversing it. Then eventually with just one swing or pitch, their career is cut short.
It may also be that a slight disturbance in their swing or motion leads to some weakness in his body and when they slide into second just a little awkwardly, or slips fielding a bunt, that area receives a powerful jolt and causes a rip or tear. Maybe that same kind of tear would not have happened at bat or on the mound over time. But because a weakness was created in his physiology, when they exposed that weakness to a jolt of stress, an injury occurred.
An effortless swing or motion would not have produced that weakness in the first place. An effortless swing kept Rosewall in the picture a long, long time.
The goal is to produce a motion that every Major League hitter or pitcher can do when there is no pitch coming towards them or no hitter in the box. It’s the swing or motion that they produce in the comfort of their own living room. If you had a living room hitting contest where you took a hundred hitters whose averages were over .300 and a hundred hitters whose averages were under .250, how many times do you think you could tell the difference when you looked at their swings?
Of course the difference is that the .300 hitter takes his living room swing and produces it in the bottom of the ninth with the scored tied.
That is what we teach.