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Legendary Coach John Anderson Gives Offseason Training Advice

John Anderson, the longest-tenured head coach in the Big Ten conference, has coached 18 eventual major leaguers. As skipper of the Minnesota Golden Gophers since 1981, that has included observing Paul Molitor during the Hall of Famer’s collegiate career in Minneapolis.

All those eventual pros possessed one common character trait, according to Anderson: a willingness to work.

“What I’ve witnessed in all of them, is they were always working on their weaknesses,” said the longtime coach. “They identified what they weren’t very good at, and they would go to work on it, without having been told to do it. They had the internal motivation.” 

Indeed, offseason training is often what separates the standouts from players left with regret. But now more than ever, baseball coaches and players must be smart about offseason training to avoid overtaxing young arms.

The answer to effective offseason training, Anderson believes, lies in working wisely and efficiently. In other words: Don’t worry about traveling the country on touring teams for 11 months a year. There’s something to be said, after all, for letting a body recuperate after a lengthy stretch of play — especially for young players.

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“The amount of stress that they’re putting on their bodies today has dramatically increased,” said the seven-time Big Ten coach of the year. “Nobody just plays on one team anymore, and the harm of that is you’re seeing kids get hurt — they’re putting stress on their bodies and their arms that, to me, is excessive.

“There’s been a big increase in indoor facilities, especially in the north. So kids today, outside of the normal Sun Belt climate, can play the sport year-round,” Anderson added. “So we’ve seen an increase in injuries, because I don’t think people are giving their bodies enough of a break.

“Because of year-round play today, I think we’ve lost our way a little bit.”

Before any extensive offseason training, Anderson suggests that players take around two months off after their season concludes, allowing their arms to recover. Using a “slow, deliberate process of building up strength in the arm,” position players should then gradually increase their throwing over a roughly three-week process, Anderson said.

Pitchers should build their preseason throwing regimen a little more incrementally. In Week 1 of preseason training, for example, a hurler should start throwing for just 5-10 minute sessions, at 60 feet. By Week 5, a 30-pitch bullpen session can be added to the regimen. Soon after, a pitcher can throw briefly in a simulated contest.

Of course, over his 35-year career as a college head coach, Anderson has developed firm opinions on what drills have the most merit. He’s a strong believer, for example, in having infielders practice with a flat glove, which trains players to use two hands when corralling grounders. The American Baseball Coaches Association hall of famer suggests having outfielders work diligently on proper routes, getting behind the ball, and footwork — all of which can be worked on even in the dead of winter.

Anderson’s suggestions for offseason hitting practice: Concentrate on developing a proper bat path, the arc of a swing and the length of a swing. Try resistance training, utilizing heavy, oversized baseballs. Don’t utilize typical BP-pitching, because, as Anderson notes, “everybody looks good against 50 miles per hour.” The Gophers coach is also a proponent of the "wall drill" for shortening swings.

When it comes to offseason training for pitchers, Anderson — a pitcher himself before an injury ended his playing career in the mid-1970s — believes in strengthening muscles around the rotator cuff. Dynamic workouts with bands can be useful. The keys are avoiding any injuries to areas like the labrum.

While Anderson is considered the dean of Big Ten coaches, he also sees value in utilizing modern video methods during offseason work to evaluate proper form.

“The technological advancements today are enormous,” the coach noted. “There’s all sorts of different levels of technology today that you can utilize to help evaluate — it’s mind-boggling.

“You’ve got to kind of wade your way through it,” Anderson added, “and find what works for you.”

From GameChanger and Kelly Beaton. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletics.
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