During any athletic calendar year, athletes will inevitably lose time of training and playing because of injury. It could be that nagging ankle from a match on an uneven surface, shoulder or elbow pain for high velocity throwers, or muscular tears. Regardless of how things happen, we should be asking ourselves why these things happen.
In the context of baseball players, lets try to work through few reasons why your season may have looked bright in the beginning, but is no longer trending that direction.
1. Poor Nutrition and Recovery Habits
Being a student-athlete has its pros and cons. One of the pro's being able to competitively play the game you love, a con could be your McDonalds breakfast sandwich before competition.
Not "making time" for adequate nutrition is like bothering not to put diesel in a vehicle that requires it. Regular unleaded in a Formula One car probably won't allow the vehicle to perform to its maximum capabilities. Coincidentally, if your body uses food as energy to fuel your activities, shouldn't you be sensitive to the type of foods you are consuming?
Athletes should be consuming adequate amounts (in order of importance) vegetables (approx. 5 fistfuls per day), protein (anywhere from 1 - 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight), fats (avocados, coconut oil, nuts), and carbohydrates (whole wheats preferably).
Additionally, the cheapest form of recovery is sleep! With weekly games, homework due, and other responsibilities of a young adult, its very easy to procrastinate on work to be done in order to get to bed early. Athletes need somewhere between 8-10 hours of sleep per night in order to continue having productive recovery cycles. Are you consistently in that window? If you're not, you're missing out on the easiest way to recovery between bouts. Find the things that keep you up and either complete the tasks earlier, or remove the distractions (Netflix, Snapchat, Instagram, etc) that are standing in your way of a good night's rest.
2. You've Stopped Working Altogether
As both an athlete and a coach, I've seen the annual movie play where a young, talented athlete works incredibly hard through the summer and into fall. Continue to work hard the athlete begins their spring season on a high note, seeing the culmination of their months of work in fruition. Then, they hit a bump in the road, and never recover.
The answer to this question typically has to do with lack of continued hard work. I'm not sure what it is about the "regular" season that gets athletes overhyped up, but this is where the training is the most important. The adage, "If you don't use it, you lose it" couldn't be more on point. If you neglect in -season training, you'll be sure to find diminished velocities, speed down, overall sluggishness, and higher chance at a movement related injury.
There is a reason professional and collegiate athletic programs require their athletes to train during their season - and its not for the gains. Its for the maintenance of the body, health, and overall ability to perform the best you can over a long period of time.
Be sure you are with a performance professional who understand the demands being placed on you during your sport. This way, they can be utilizing principles of periodization and maintenance to ensure your training sessions are quick, challenge your movement, and encourage your overall health and longevity.
3. Arm Injuries
This is a hot topic in the baseball world. There really is one big question we have to ask when the arm stops working for you: When was the last time you took a throwing break for at least 6 continuous weeks? If your answer is longer than a full calendar year, lets start there.
The simple fact of throwing is this: You don't need to throw year round. Now before you give me the whole shpeal about the "world class pianist practicing 8 hours a day," please consider how different in nature those two activities are. I haven't heard of a ton of pianists going in to get their metacarpal ligaments reattached surgically. Anecdotally, the UCL surgery rate continues to rise. What rises with it? The proliferation of year round travel ball organizations, showcases (which are mostly useless, especially for the modern day, hot weather climate athlete),
When I coached a travel team, my stipulation was this: We take a 2 month complete throwing shut down with the kids and get them training at a facility, rather than practicing baseball. Interestingly enough, none of our kids forgot how to play catch, hit, or run the bases. They all knew where to go for certain positions, and how to throw a 2-2 breaking ball in the dirt. However, a team of athletes one year our junior (who tried to follow how we set our schedule up) always wanted to take shut down periods, but the glory of big name tournaments and 11U team USA tryouts (mostly eyewash under 16) never got the "opportunity"
Today our athletes range from sophomores to 8th graders. None of the athletes on our team have missed time due to arm issues, and many of the other team's athletes have.
The sample size may be too small, but the other arching theme is pretty obvious. No, you won't get worse by taking time away from the game, unless you choose to sit on the couch and eat potato chips during your break.
Get to work on fixing how your body moves, and prepare it for another 8-9 month window of throwing development - especially if you are under 18. You have plenty of time.
There's a reason our pro guys shut down for 2 months when they get back from their seasons, and subsequently, when their back to throwing they manage to see improvements in command and velocity because their body works better.
Take Home Message
You really can't afford to stop working hard if you are an athlete, because if you do, someone else will take your spot. However, "working hard" doesn't just include the skill, it includes the holistic package of nutrition, recovery, training, then skill.
Don't become the next athlete calling the last month of the season asking for help because you've neglected your obligations to athleticism for the last 3 months.