Training Through Spikeball?

Most of our posts are easily skimmable – in thinking about this one – this will not be one of those posts. The 10 of you who read these – you’ve been warned. As always, our goal is to continually grow while helping others gain value. To that end, please leave us a comment if you feel inclined!

In my never ending quest to never sleep, never see family, and never eat – I’ve poured a lot of my time lately reading through books on my – always growing – must reads. These books range from economic and financial philosophy, to human development, to biographies of various self-assessed “successes” and “failures.” Ok, I also read Marketing With the Kardashians (don’t you judge me). Coincidentally, I’ve been “hooked” onto the product/business development genre of my list. Two of the books that engaged me the most recently were Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products and Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. In the former, author Nir Eyal analyzes the processes and frameworks that have helped businesses – and people – capture user engagement. In the latter, Nassim Taleb analyzes how people, businesses, ideas, products, etc. not only are unharmed from things that should be potentially harmful; but actually gain strength from them.

Hooked and Antifragile

Admittedly, to summarize these two works into the forthcoming paragraph is a great injustice to the literary works of the aforementioned authors; however, this is a blog post about Spikeball so the inherent intellectual gravity should be considered. In “Hooked,” Elay provides a framework for why people become “hooked” on various products, trends, etc. He suggests that the “novelty” of products is what keeps consumers interested. Facebook never gets “old” because there are constantly evolving posts, information, pictures, etc. If Facebook was static rather than dynamic – same information and same pictures from the same people popping on your newsfeed – “facebooking” (is that a term, if not it should be) would get stale to users and Facebook would not be the giant it is today. In “Antifragile,” Taleb analyzes the counterintuitive notion of antifragility and outlines what should be our mission: “to domesticate, even dominate, even conquer, the unseen, the opaque, and the inexplicable.”

Although some of Eyal’s derived conclusions are self-confirming and represent post-hoc theorizing, the narrative provided by Eyal and Taleb are thought provoking and epistemologically groundbreaking from an athletic training perspective. As outlined above, the basic premise from Eyal is that keeping things novel maintains our interest and focus. Taleb focuses on not only adjusting for randomness but thriving from it.


When the Compete Academy started, the goal was to emphasize repetitions in order to increase deliberate practice – which has been connected with long term growth. We continually refer to this as the “process” of growth. It isn’t about being better today, tomorrow, next week. It’s a process that is focused on being the best you can be in the LONG TERM – which admittedly is a notion alien to many in our world of immediate gratification.

We don’t do “lessons” in the conventional sense – 30 minute to 1 hour individual sessions that may or may not have some crude video analysis, that may or may not be consciously planned ahead of time from a biomechancal growth perspective. (An aside – if you pay for 30 minutes with a “guru” and the person merely comments on good actions when the ball was hit/thrown well and tries “adjusting” you when the ball wasn’t hit/thrown well – you have less money in your pocket AND there was zero or NEGATIVE athletic growth.)

Rather, we focused on providing a vehicle for student-athletes to grow through focused repetition, advanced biomechanics instruction, state of the art video analysis, competitive elements, and randomness . However, in talking with many since our inception, all of these concepts contrasts conventional wisdom (as does most of our stuff – Pink Elephant!! Where?) which causes a stressful cognitive dissonance and general misunderstanding. For example, at the Compete Academy, we allow students to feel their movements and process results rather than have instructors constantly verbalize what they perceive (with their naked eye) as “good” or “bad” movements. The lack of continual instruction confuses most as people mistake the absence of continual instruction with absence of learning.

Therefore, despite results of kids doing things better than they’ve ever done them, there is an obvious learning curve to our approach.

Which leads to…

Novel and Random

It is my belief that randomness and novelty have a specific place in all forums of life – especially athletic training. From a social perspective, a repetitive act gets boring. This – along with the ingrained competitive element – is why CrossFit is popular. “Athletes” do a different “workout of the day” which mixes up exercises to target growth. Although I’m not going to argue the merits or potential destructiveness of these programs, the CrossFit exercises – when performed correctly – are dynamic and keep people working at their maximum heart rates. There is no “middle ground” training – where athletes go at a less strenuous pace, lifting relatively easy weight – which offers little towards athletic engagement. To that end, we believe randomness helps maintain student-athlete interest and prevents the inevitable “burnout” that affects a lot of our youth. Students focus better when something seems novel – which is why mobile game apps take off at first, then fizzle quickly among their demographic (“it gets boring.”)

I celebrate randomness in our training to maintain focus, however, I wholeheartedly believe in periodization. Periodization is a concept many conventional instructors I’ve spoken with will either neglect or disavow – because it takes time and some money out of their pocket. Athletic growth comes from learning mechanical movement patterns which is built off repetition. After learning the basic movements, trainers can build power within these movements and student-athletes can continually push their limits of athletic performance. This growth is “periodized” as athletes move through various stages of ability. In order to do this, we need to have short term and long term growth plans to ensure that a prescribed training effect is reached and if it’s not – then we must have quantifiable data to rely upon and correct malperformance.

Consequently, I believe in the benefits of randomness but I also believe we need to have thoroughly constructed, developed, and implemented growth plans. So how do we square that circle?

SpikeBall, BartleBall and World Wide Dominance

We are not mechanical beings – we are organic – and therefore need to optimize our organic processes. The premise, therefore, is simple: a successful performance program is derived from a balance of repetition to engage our muscular synapses and novelty/randomness to engage our interest.

Well known fact #1 – as of this writing, I’m the number 1 player in the world in BartleBall. Well known fact #2 – as of this writing, I’m part of the number 1 team in the world in SpikeBall. This is important as it provides evidence to my athletic greatness; but it’s more important because it’s just two of the ways that we add randomness/novelty into our training program that is designed for deliberate practice. In addition to the randomness created, these alternative athletic “games” unconsciously train all of our functional planes of motion. For example, “BartleBall” provides a competitive environment in which players will field every type of ground ball and make every type of throw from every type of arm slot. It builds lateral quickness, arm strength and pushes our aerobic and anaerobic processes. To sum, these games serve as important randomized training exercises while driving our competitiveness in a fun environment. Referencing Eyal, these games also promote user engagement and break monotony – and eventual burnout.

When developing all of our training programs we utilize a similar principle of combining specificity in our movements and randomness in our training. We have created drills that provide novelty in the training process but ultimately, we target specificity because we won’t hit a baseball 500 feet or throw 100 mph by simply playing SpikeBall and messing around with a few baseballs every once in awhile. Players either must be pushed to train on the edge of their athletic limits or train at extremely low levels of activity – as outlined by Taleb’s “barbell approach.” However, athletes must also be given the flexibility to randomize their workouts with engaging drills to keep them engaged.

This approach is relatively impossible in conventional facilities – where “lessons” are the funding engine and time is constrained.

Plan Development

Although I believe in the benefits advocated by this approach, it should not be a cookie cutter approach for all individuals. Developing a a proper program that balances specificity training and randomness is an art. Therefore, we individualize our training programs after initial consultation and analysis so our athletes are effectively training and reaching their individual periodized goals. For all members, we combine quantifiable data and video analysis so players can always gauge their progress; but ultimately, the design of the workouts and the randomness provided vary from athlete to athlete:

*Some athletes are inherently engaged and require high levels of repetitions and not as much randomness.
*Some athletes require significantly higher levels of randomness in order to maintain engagement and facilitate athletic growth.
*And some athletes are simply not ready – or will never be ready – for a designed training program.

But for all athletes, there will always be novel drills – come in to try our “Happy Gilmore” drill – and BartleBall or Spikeball type events to continually promote engagement and keep everyone “hooked” on their training programs!

Comments 2

  1. Well thought out and explained! Do you subscribe to the 10K repetitions thoughts in “Outliers” by Gladwell? If yes, do you feel that the variety of games adds to the directed practices of regular fielding?? (I hope so because Spike Ball has become a regular in our house!!)

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