The first step in developing individual plans for your pitching staff is to determine where their arms are in terms of in or out of season. As a rule, it’s important to remember that you coaching people, but you are training arms. For long term workload, I use a simple method that resembles a stoplight:
• Red refers to rest.
This is a period where there is no throwing going on at all. There are some exceptions here for plyo or rehab work, but for all intents and purposes, rest should be rest. Another way to think of this concept is sleep: just like the human body requires a certain amount of sleep (an amount that can differ depending on the age and health of a person), a pitcher’s arm requires a certain amount of rest (this amount also depends on age and health of a player). A generally accepted amount of rest within a calendar year is 2-3 months. Depending on the program/organization, this timeframe can be divided up and doesn’t necessarily have to be consecutive, however a legitimate rest period should be at least six weeks.
• The yellow phase
refers to the throwing program, which is a buildup to a playing season. There are clearly many different types of throwing programs you can choose, but we like for this period to 4-6 weeks. Some pitchers will be able to get on a mound in the last week or two of their programs, but it’s essential to build a solid foundation of throwing rhythm, mechanics and most importantly arm endurance/strength before taking the mound.
• The green phase
is simple––go time. This refers to the time period when players are on the mound and working in competitive environments- live BP, intrasquads and of course, games. The arm cannot differentiate a true playing season from lesser competitive practice or exhibition games, so it’s important to consider the green phase to be the moment your players begin throwing competitive pitches. One thing you can do within this phase is have two shades of green––one to signify how long the bullpen progression takes for your pitchers, and another to signal the beginning of the playing season.
Top line: Running count of the calendar week (1-52)
Second and Third lines: Day of the week and day of the year
Red: Rest phase, no throwing
Yellow: Throwing program
Light green: Bullpen progression
Dark green: In-game pitch counts
Numbers within the individual cells reflect either the consecutive amount of days (of rest––in red, and during the throwing program––in yellow, along with the pitch counts for bullpens––light green and competition––dark green)
Once you have established these phases for your pitchers, you can lay the groundwork for a successful development program. Ultimately, it’s up to your players to draw lines in the sand when it comes to their optimal rest and buildup periods, but it is not an excuse for coaches to claim ignorance when it comes to not knowing how long their guys have been in a ‘green’ phase, or when the last time they’ve had ample rest. I believe this is one of the most important duties for high school, travel ball, collegiate and college summer league coaches. It has been alarming how often I had conversations during the recruiting process with some very talented players who could not recall when their last rest period was, or considered ‘a week or two’ off over the holidays as an acceptable rest time. We understand that the safest pitch count is always zero, but with a little trust, communication, and organization, it’s easy to create a long-range workload plan that will promote both the development and the health of your pitching staff.
All of this looks great on paper, but none of it matters without a constant line of communication between player and coach along with a clear, consistent plan. As with anything, education and preparation must come before competition and execution.