Using RADAR to Understand Speed of Processing in Baseball
By Dr. Peter Gorman
As winter training slowly comes to an end, athletes eagerly await the start of a new season. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sport of baseball. The “Boys of Summer” are once again ready to set new records, and, hopefully, replace any previous disappointments with cheers and thrills. This goal of achievement relies heavily on the premise that the winter training program was fundamentally sound and efficient in correcting weaknesses and forging new strengths.
The winter training program has to realize that, like most sports, baseball is a “true agility” sport. Every movement on the field is decision-based, which, in essence, is the definition of true agility. This requires not just great physical ability, but also great cognitive ability. Decision-based movement requires RADAR – it requires the athlete to:
Recognize: The ball was hit left, but the athlete must recognize that the ball was hit left or the pitch is coming. Recognition starts the process – mental engagement begins with recognition of the stimulus.
Attend: Once the stimulus is recognized, the athlete must attend to it. This is the “think” part of the game, as the athlete observes the target in motion, predicting where it is headed. The ability to do this is, arguably, more important than any physical attribute.
Decide: The athlete attends to the stimulus while suppressing any distractors (no room to start right and then go left… too many moments would be wasted), then, decides what action is the right response.
Accept: Once decided, the athlete’s mind and body must accept that decision by having the brain tell the body what to do.
React: Once the decision is accepted, the athlete must now move and react to it. Yes, reaction is physical, but it is based in a cognitive process. The efficiency of the athlete’s cognitive process, from recognition to reaction, is known as the athlete’s Speed of Processing (SOP).
How many coaches or trainers know the actual SOP of their players? It is amazing that terms like “bat speed,” or “exit velocity,” or “60-yard time” are thrown around with oohs and aahs. Yet, if we do not know the athlete’s SOP, then the fastest bat speed or 60-yard time might just be wasted statistics. Remember SOP is the time between recognition and reaction. If SOP is slow, then reaction is slow. If reaction is slow, then the athlete plays slow, and “slow” is often “too late.” Fast bat speed, but slow in pulling the trigger… you are out. Fast 60-yard time, but the athlete is slow to react to the pitcher releasing the pitch… you are out.
The Functional Movement Screen (FMS), which many coaches and athletic trainers use to screen athletes, states this very clearly: “First move well, then move often. Moving well speaks to quality of movement and speed of processing (cognitive function). While moving often is not simply quantity but rather the capacity and adaptation that allow brain and body to function cohesively and optimally for life and sport.”
It is well understood that all position players must be able and agile in all directions, so an efficient winter training program must understand the importance of cognition and must be able to evaluate and correct any physical imbalances. An athlete is only as strong as his/her weakest link. Fix weaknesses before developing strengths. This eliminates the need for the athlete to compensate. Train the true athlete, not the compensatory process.
For a more detailed discussion of how this can be accomplished, see “How I Learned More from Training 9-year-olds than from Training Pros,” By Peter Gorman, DC, in the January 2022 issue of Lower Extremity Review at lermagazine.com.
Peter Gorman, DC, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is widely referred to as the developer of heart rate monitor technology and owns seven major patents in the United States and Canada. He was named President of Microgate USA in 2010 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport Chiropractic College in 2012. He later joined CourtSense, developing innovative and logical progression that helps athletes attain symmetry and better coordination.