The Unexpected Mentor

Mentors are one of the most valuable resources a person can have in this industry. Mentors bring forth years of hands-on experiences riddled with collaborative discussions that make you think, question, and continually grow into your craft. 

I can personally say the most mountainous action I have taken over the last few years has been establishing positive relationships with professionals just outside my immediate career path (doctors, physical therapist, pitching coaches, Brazilian jiu-jitsu coaches). For me, I want to seek out mentors that bring something unique to the table that adds value to the bigger picture. If you’re only seeking mentors in your direct line of work, continue to read on and learn how Christian Wonders, the pitching coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), has helped me polish my coaching skills in addition to throwing a nasty change-up. 

Over the last few months, I have made an effort each day to stop by the bullpen and just listen. Listen to what Christian is saying; cues he is giving, the context he is creating, and watching how players respond to it. Here are five priceless lessons I have learned by just listening and participating in a craft just outside my immediate career. 


1. Creating context is a breeze

A majority of the population at CSP are baseball players. There's no better way to help athletes execute movements than creating context using a sport they have played and understood for years. There is a ton of context to pull from a pitching delivery. For instance, here are some of the many actions baseball pitchers have to perform while throwing a baseball.

•    Create intensify tempo down the mound (learn how to control their momentum)

•    Establish a firm front side to transfer force

•    Maintain a solid core position to resist flying open early

•    Strong glove side (players use their glove side to help create rotational power)

•    Be athletic (Pitchers should not feel robotic)

•    Focus

•    Be sure to pronate through the ball

These actions mesh effortlessly into various medicine ball drills. For example, I was working with a high school athlete who was performing a split-stance overhead med ball stomp to floor. After watching him perform the movement with a horrible front side I asked:

Me: Does that feel right to you?

Athlete: Not Really.

Me: Why not?

Athlete: I don't know? Just don't feel explosive.

Me: I want you to create a rock solid front side like you’re throwing a fastball off the mound.

He performs the next set flawlessly

Me: Do you understand now?

Athlete: Firm front side, got it!

Being able to relate movements and explosive actions to athletes are pretty simple when you compare them to the demands of their sport. Things just start to click.


2. Helps me gain respect

I live in a man's world. Being able to step into a cage full of big leaguers and hold sparking conversations is one thing. On the other hand having the ability to throw on the catcher's mitt to warm-up a left-hander throwing nasty 2-seamers at you is one way to join in on the baseball culture. The ability to "speak the language" helps me develop one of a kind life long relationships with players. For instance, I was watching a high school athlete struggling to get his change-up under control. He took his frustration out onto the training floor and it showed. His lifts were subpar and mentally he didn't want to be lifting.

I pulled him off the floor and straight to the bullpen. We started playing catch and making small adjustments. I started with his arm speed. I had him throw me two fastballs. Afterward, I said, "Now throw me a change-up with that same intensity and arm speed as your fastball, just change the grip." He spiked it into the turf. I proceeded to tell him "don't palm the ball, move the ball more towards your fingertips and use your thumb as a gas pedal and slam the pedal down just before ball release."(amazing cue Tim Collins taught me). Boom! There it was. He threw a few more and went back to the training floor with a smile. 


3. Programs become more individualized

On some days, Christian sees up to 12 athletes back to back. While observing a number of these athletes throughout the day I can witness particular weaknesses each individual has and apply an exercise or two to compliment a weak part of their delivery.

If a guy is flying open early during the delivery due to a slow tempo or a weak anterior core I could program them an exercise that teaches them to be explosive while maintaining a solid core position. Implementing an exercise such as the half-kneeling anti-rotation cable chop with band would fill this void. I would relay this exercise selection with Christian and now he has new context to use with his athlete during his lesson.  




4. Polishes my coaching eye

The difference between good and great coaches is their attention to detail in terms of their ability to help athletes learn and execute a movement. Athletes are moving extremely fast while throwing and Christian has developed the eye to pick up on the smallest flaws. Christian will call me over and ask, “What do you see, Nance?” As I am watching this athlete, he’s lacking that "pop" into the glove.

Me: Needs to get explosive late.

Christian: Yes and what else?

Me: Needs to be more athletic and get his hips moving faster.

Christian: Exactly!

Learning the big rocks Christian looks for during the delivery has helped me develop a keener coaching eye on the training floor. When coaching sprinting, medicine ball work and plyometrics, athlete should be moving fast and in return only gives me a small window of opportunity to find the missing link during their performance and make an adjustment that produces a better performance. 


5.Smoother Assessment Process

Imagine a parent anxiously making the drive to CSP with their son who is 6'5 165lbs. They have high hopes to capture a big scholarship or make that elite travel ball team. They proceed to walk through the doors at CSP and are shocked to find out a 5'2 125lb female will be performing their individualized assessment. What would your thoughts be?

During the assessment, I look at both specific and general components. Specific meaning taking a closer look at single-joint range-of-motion (ROM) and general referring to more global movements such as the overhead walking lunge or the push-up. Taking a step back I realized that if I knew what to look for I could also use their first day in the bullpen with Christian as another global movement assessment. For me, this time in the cage can be a "catch-all assessment" tool and solidify my findings in the assessment room.

For instance, if this 6'5 165lb athlete comes to me complaining of low back pain after throwing I can probably expect to see the following: 

•    Some degree of an extension based posture

•    Lack of both anterior and rotary core stability

•    Aggressively slams his shoulder blades while performing shoulder abduction (overactive lats will limit shoulder flexion and their ability to upwardly rotate the scapula)

•    Poor motor control during standing thoracic rotation (t-spine) (no hip and shoulder separation)




When this athlete hops on the mound with Christian I can almost guarantee that I will see him flying open early because he lacks both anterior and rotary core control. He doesn't understand how to create hip and shoulder separation and in result, he is most likely going to compensate at his low back in order to still rotate and throw down the mound.  When parents see these compensations come to life they listen to what I have to say. 

I Challenge You

I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to a local professional in an adjacent career field. These new mentors will bring new collaborative discussions that make you think, question, and continually grow into your craft. All you have to do is take action, be humble and listen.