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It’s Not the Arrow, It’s the Indian

It’s Not the Arrow, It’s the Indian

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM

During his more than four decades with the Astros as a player and coach, whenever a teammate would swing and miss what looked like a hittable pitch and then look at his bat to see if it had a hole in it, Jose ‘Cheo’ Cruz would call out – “It’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian.”

How many times have you seen a player from Little League to MLB look at his/her glove after missing a ground ball or look at his/her bat after a swing and miss?

Cruz’s “Arrow vs. Indian” phrase doesn’t just apply to missed opportunities at the plate or in the field. It also applies to conditioning sessions and workouts in the weight room.

Over the past 5 decades, I have had the opportunity to work with youth, high school, college, minor league, Major League, All-Star and Hall of Fame baseball players. During this time, I have seen an almost incalculable number of theories and methods of training, and have found that the key to continued improvement and success both in the weight room and on the field is the willingness to consistently follow, basic, sound training principles.

It’s easy to copy the latest and greatest training program proposed by a training guru who works with players during the off-season. It’s fairly easy to design and supervise mid-morning, off-season workouts for 2-3 players who have had a full night’s sleep, a solid breakfast and have not had to travel, compete, win and lose.

It’s a different story when you have to design, modify and implement an in-season program for 25-30 players after an 8-hour bus ride in the minor leagues, 4-hour coast-to-coast flight after a MLB night game, day game after night game, 3-hour rain delay, 5-hour extra inning game, 6-game losing streak, 2-week hitting slump, 20 consecutive games without a day off, tight hamstring, sore shoulder, etc.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to in-season training and most “new” programs usually require too much time, supervision, equipment, etc. to be used in an in-season team setting. It’s almost never the training program or implement that makes something useful or not, it’s how it’s used, i.e., “It’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian.”

It’s easy and trendy to copy the training program of a winning team or elite athlete, the “monkey see, monkey do syndrome.” The program must be good because Team X just won the State Championship, NCAA title or World Series. It must be good because Player A was the league MVP, or Player B won the Cy Young. There is an attitude at all levels of the game and in most sports that the greatest justification for a piece of equipment or a particular training method is the affirmation of winning. Experience indicates that success is sometimes achieved despite, not because of the training program or equipment, but because of superior talent and genetics.

The Big Red Machine, for example, won 5 division titles, 4 NL pennants and 2 World Series championships between 1970 and 1976. They were also one of the first teams to use Nautilus Machines. Was it the Nautilus Machines that lead to their success; or was it the 8 players who won 25 Gold Gloves, made 63 All-Star Game appearances, won 6 NL MVP Awards, led the NL in Home Runs 4 times and won 3 NL Batting Championships? What effect did the 3 Hall of Fame players (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez), Hall of Fame manager (Sparky Anderson), and All-time hit leader, Pete Rose has on their success?

Sound, effective training programs are not based on “new” training methods, state-of-the-art equipment, or the personality or popularity of the strength and conditioning coach, but on sound scientific training principles. If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be this:

It’s almost never the training program, exercises, drills or equipment that makes a team successful or not, it’s how the program is applied and how the exercises, drills and equipment are used.
“It’s rarely the arrow that’s the problem. It’s the skill of the warrior using it.

Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros 1978-2012) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers 2013-2020). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager

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