Evidence-based or Belief-based Coaching
Richard Todd From city sandlots to early non-player involvement with an MLB franchise, Richard has pursued a life-long love of baseball. An active volunteer coach for 25 years now, and a continuing student of the game, he founded WebBall in 1996 to give his own team an internet resource for tips and drills. The growth and recognition since continues to astound him. What began as a hobby was turned, of necessity, into a business in 1999 to cover the costs, and incorporated in 2002 to manage the enterprise. Despite business responsibilities, and sometime duties in league administration and coaching conferences, Richard is still happiest when working on field with players and in conversation with fellow coaches. Send an 'Ask the Coach' email to WebBall and it's most likely Richard who will answer. (Click to close.)
Well, I for one do. In fact, I believe that each coach or instructor, and each pitcher or hitter, must make his/her own value judgments about what works for them. Does that mean we recommend "belief based" approaches over science? Absolutely not. What we recommend is that you base your decisions on actual trial and experimentation - in what is the true scientific method.
In my view, the problem with those who claim the scientific high ground: they aren't being honest with themselves.
First, most of their conclusions are derived from reading studies done by others, not on empirical evidence from original research of their own. In the course of that reading they make armchair value judgments as to which studies they will accept as presented, and which they will look to find fault with. They might run through a checklist of peer-review standards, but seldom if every conduct their own in-field trials.
In other words, if a study follows preset rules it is valued, if it is not done in academic style, it is flawed. Oddly enough, it often seems that those academic critics expend more effort knocking so-called "flawed" studies than they ever do in rigorously reviewing the studies thay can live with, or so it seems.
Is there an evil motivation behind this selection process? I don't think so; I certainly hope not.
I hope it's simply human nature at work, being more willing to challenge what seems implausible on a personal level, and accepting what they are comfortable with. Those who claim to take the scientific approach do that; I do that; we all do that. As I said, human nature.
The other side of this problem, of course, is when skepticism slips into the process. More than once I have encountered a so-called guru who will tell me that someone else's claims can't possibily be true, so they don't need to be tested. Read that again and think about it. "They can't be true, so don't need to be tested." Really? That's both armchair and belief based: "Because I know the science, I don't have to look at the evidence."
Folks, evidence is science. A refusal to look at others' proven results is the most suspect form of scientific study there can possibly be. It is the height or arrogance and a disservice to the baseball community to pick and choose from the comfortable science, without ever exploring the possibilities.
The argument put forward about "peer review" fails to account for the fact that the peers in question are academics, not baseball instructors. The distinction is profound.
Now a proper (read: scientific) test of biomechanical principles, if done rigorously, could certainly serve as a benchmark for performance characteristics. However, what happens next is crucial. The missing step in virtually every academic study is to then take the same test subjects through a training regime conduct by an expert - i.e. an instructor who has a track record of getting better performance from athletes. Then the differential should be re-evaluated.
The problem is that, in academic circles, either the second step is never taken, or it's conducted poorly by a biomechanics scientist who is not a proven pitching coach. Garbage in = garbage out.
In the real world this constant evaluation and re-evaluation is done all the time. Performance characteristics such as pitching velocity can and are measured frequently when a credible instructor is bringing his student athletes through a program. These results lead to documented improvement. Plus the endgame is peer recognition in the context in which it really matters (read: getting drafted). So what we may have here is certainly valid data - even though it may not be published in an obscure scientific journal.
You think this problem doesn't exist? You think those who claim the scientific high ground are always pure of intent, rigorous in their discipline, and thorough in their testing? Need examples?
- I have seen products dismissed by others without testing because they presume to know what the product is about, yet they say they are all about the "science of pitching". Where's the science in that? Here, as you know, we do our own evaluations, or we look very closely at the results - actual results - discovered by others.
- I have seen preconceived notions about training methods or tools reinforced by a self-serving selection of studies - those that support are accepted on faith, those that challenge are dismissed on some pretext or other. Here's an idea: believe nothing until you see what the science - all the science - shows. Better yet, determine what the applied science shows - don't just read, test.
- I have also seen those who criticize others (including WebBall) of simply selling things to make a buck, then have those people turn around and say "buy my stuff instead". Folks, this is America. Okay, yes, WebBall has website visitors from about 60 countries, but you know what I mean. Offering products for sale which have value is not a crime or sin. Trying to get people to buy your brand just because it's yours is far more questionable. As you know, WebBall has no branded training aids, we are not trying to push our own pile of books or our inventory of DVDs. It gives us an opportunity to be independent and objective, as much as anyone can be.
- On the other side of the argument, yes, I would like it if some of those who have proprietary instructional approaches, especially those who willingly share their methods, would also share all the detailed measurements not simply the results. But I understand why they do not, and it isn't because the results aren't there, it's because their role is not to satisfy scientific curiosity; it's to improve athletic performance.
So where does this leave you? Be curious. Be critical. Seek advice from everywhere, accept what is balanced and reasonable, and mostly what can be duplicated in your own coaching or training. That too is a scientific principle - the ability to repeat the results consistently and predictability. In other words, keep at it, but please question authority - all such resources, including WebBall, but mostly question the methodology and blinders of those who claim a scientific high ground. They are not always what they seem.
A great deal has been written lately claiming to be "evidenced-based" instruction derived from science, and knocking what is put down as "belief based" (meaning unscientific) coaching. Perhaps you have seen books or forums which cite academic studies and you wonder how anyone could challenge such sources.
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Dean Jones says:
Apr 02, 2007 at 10:57 AM
Please search "Baseballs Secret Formula".
Science channel exclusive stat Godsend!