Mar 23, 2018
Better Together, Part 1
Barry Lippman

Following the 2015 season, the entire Coastal Carolina University baseball staff met to review and process the year we’d just finished and plan improvements for the upcoming season. Of primary concern was an issue we’d been having for years — by the end of the season, our best players were either underperforming due to chronic breakdown or sidelined by injury. We determined that in order to resolve these problems once and for all, we had to completely overhaul the team’s training and sports medicine practices.

To start, we wanted to change the approach of the athletic training staff. A study done by the NATA in 2013 found that collegiate athletic trainers devoted insufficient time to rehab and therapeutic exercise because of their time spent at practices and on administrative duties. As a result, prevention of injury was found to be hyperemphasized but underutilized. Athletes whose recovery entailed doing a few quick tubing exercises and getting in the cold whirlpool were lacking true understanding and leadership from overwhelmed, uncoordinated team staff. We also did not want the role of the strength and conditioning coach in a student-athlete’s health care to be lost or understated anymore.

Instead, our vision was to create a combined sport performance team, one that allowed all staff members to focus on the student-athlete as a whole by collaborating more efficiently and effectively. We wanted a system that merged the athletic trainer, strength coach, and baseball coaches into one central command for sports performance to maximize strengths, fill in gaps, and address dysfunction before it became symptomatic.

Our administration and Head Coach Gary Gilmore believe in empowering staff to have the largest circle of influence possible in their area of expertise. Therefore, I was tasked with leading the change in program structure. In some ways, it reminded me of when I served as the foreperson on a jury trial. All members of the jury had agendas that influenced their thinking and decision-making, which made it incredibly challenging for us to agree on anything.

Similarly, all members of the baseball team staff brought different motivations and backgrounds to the job of developing players. My assignment was to unify these modes of thinking for the benefit of the student-athlete. Together, we came up with four main goals for our new sports performance model:

• Hire a strength and conditioning coach exclusively for baseball who would share our collaborative vision.

• Develop effective, individualized sports performance plans for each athlete.

• Have remarkable synergy.

• Pursue relentless attention to detail and student-athlete education.

The 2016 season was the first year for reorganization, and the results were more than promising. The squad led the nation in home runs, scoring, and total wins that year. Instead of players getting injured before the end of the season, each athlete made strength gains while maintaining range of motion and energy levels. Every game in the postseason was fought with the same four pitchers and the same 10 position players, and we accomplished the team’s mission of competing in the College World Series and brought back the program’s first NCAA Division I national title.

This success was a testament to our players who bought into the philosophy, Coach Gilmore for leading the change and not being comfortable with the status quo, and the complete trust our administration put into everyone working together, which is uncommon. Each win was earned well ahead of time with preparation in all phases of sport performance.

Look for Part 2 of this article next week.

Barry Lippman, MS, ATC, CSCS, is Associate Athletic Trainer/Director of Rehabilitation for Coastal Carolina University athletics, where he oversees athletic training for Olympic sports and works directly with the baseball team

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