3 Big Takeaways from a Busy Summer

3 Big Takeaways from a Busy Summer

The saying “do the ordinary things extraordinarily well” certainly holds true in the training setting. I find my athletes continue to get better and better the more I emphasize the basics.

Now that the weather is finally starting to turn we can really say summer is officially over. High school athletes are back in school and our fall schedules are taking shape. We’re preparing to say goodbye to our seniors as they kick off their final year of high school, while welcoming a new younger wave of athletes into the gym.  This transition is bittersweet; although we will miss our outgoing seniors, we enjoy celebrating their accomplishments and college commitments. 

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Before our pro ball players return for a busy off-season I often use these weeks to take an audit of our training practices at the Annex over the summer months. Needless to say, this year was a solid year for college commitments and athlete accolades. Here are three things I believe we, as a facility, did well this summer.

1. Educate

Educating our athletes is one of the single most important things we can do on a daily basis. Depending on the time of year, we may see our athletes anywhere between two to five hours a week. This leaves a lot of time in between training sessions where outside influences can either make or break an athlete’s success. Getting them involved in the training process pays dividends in the long run as most of these kids are looking to play their sport beyond high school, and if they are lucky enough, beyond college. For these individuals, the habits you set with them early on as middle schoolers or high schoolers can help them navigate through their athletic careers.

Simple examples of such habits are getting an athlete to understand the importance of adequate sleep every night or the value of proper nutrition for better performance in the gym and on the field. Without these two things, our jobs as strength coaches become much more difficult as we are running an uphill battle when it comes to managing stress on the athlete. That said, if an athlete can manage to develop sound sleeping and nutrition routines at a young age, those habits will see a huge ROI on performance both as an athlete and as an adult later in life.

From day one we start getting them involved in the training process; this starts with our assessment. Rather than telling them all the things they do wrong or poorly, we discuss WHY we test certain things and WHY certain results create issues. This gets them involved in the process in hopes of creating some early type of “buy-in.”

Simon Sinek Why

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek, an expert on marketing and leadership, speaks about the power of WHY when creating buy-in. The question “WHY” is tied to our limbic brain, the part of the brain that is tied to all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. Along with feelings, this region is also responsible for human behavior and decision-making. As Sinek explains, if we can relay the “WHY” in our process we can make a profound impact on long-term decision-making and create loyalty with an individual. From there we can more easily create context as to HOW we move forward and ultimately WHAT the athlete will be doing.

What does this mean in relation to training youth athletes? The more invested the athlete is in the process the easier our job becomes. Our ultimate goal as strength coaches is to prepare our athletes for the day we are no longer there to tell them exactly what to do.  Whether it’s a student-athlete in college managing their off-field activities, or a high school athlete warming up properly before a game, they need to understand the WHY in the process in order to truly make a lasting impact.

An easy way to do this is to gradually interject an athlete’s input into the training process. Early on in an athlete’s training career they have little context built up and do not have much understanding of what’s going so the main goal is really to just build their movement capacity and their level of comfort in the gym. However, once they start to understand HOW to do things and build their confidence, get them involved in the process. Start getting them involved in WHAT you are doing by getting their input on things like weight selection during lifts or eventually even exercise selection. Building their involvement throughout the process only helps to strengthen their buy-in in the long run.

2. Perfect the Basics

The saying “do the ordinary things extraordinarily well” certainly holds true in the training setting. I find my athletes continue to get better and better the more I emphasize the basics.

When designing programs for beginner athletes my main focuses are: jump, throw, carry, squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull and core stability. Of course, some movements are subject to requisite joint range of motion and proper movement patterns, however a movement screen will help decide where an athlete falls on progressions and/or regressions of each movement pattern. By building a greater movement inventory we can further help to build variability and capacity later in an athlete’s training life.

3. Rest>Everything Else

This last point becomes more and more apparent every day. There is a ton of research out there to back up the importance of rest and recovery and its effects on training quality. There are countless apps like Whoop to help track sleep and others like Omegawave that rate an athlete’s readiness to train on a given day. No doubt these are amazing pieces of tech that have a lot of merit, but some would argue these are best suited for the professional athlete.

For the youth and high school athlete, the main focus should be about getting quality sleep (at least 8 hours) every night and quality food intake. So much of what we do in the gym will carry little weight if we are not prioritizing rest and recovery outside of the gym. Of course, this point goes hand-in-hand with my first point of educating our athletes. Setting the groundwork for these habits pays long-term dividends in an athlete’s competitive career. But most importantly these lessons prepare them for life after sports. These skills will hopefully take them through the rest of their lives and serve them well as healthy adults.

Of course, there are a number of other things that make up an effective training program both inside and outside of the gym, however the more time I spend coaching athletes I begin to realize it’s more about interaction and relationship building than it is about exercise selection and sets and reps. Everything has its place, but realize even the best thought out programming has little effect in an environment that doesn’t promote personal growth and education. Culture is everything!  At the Annex, we pride ourselves in our coaching staff and I believe they've done an excellent job executing these points and many others with our athletes this past season. 



ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Matt Devlin

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Matt Devlin

At the ANNEX we are so proud when our athletes move onto the next level and reach their goals.Matt Devlin, class of 2017 Chatham High School, has committed to Franklin & Marshall College for next fall as pitcher with the possibility of playing field position too.

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Sydney Zirlin

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Sydney Zirlin

Sydney Zirlin (pictured at center) with her senior teammates Isabella Wuang and Stephanie Schrage. (photo credit: NJ.com)

Sydney Zirlin (pictured at center) with her senior teammates Isabella Wuang and Stephanie Schrage. (photo credit: NJ.com)

It’s not uncommon to have an athlete come back from an injury. But Milburn High School tennis standout Sydney Zirlin roared back from a torn ACL (in December 2015) to place her highest ever in the state singles tournament and make third team All-State.

She, along with fellow seniors Stephanie Schrage and Isabella Wuang, was instrumental in leading Millburn to 100 straight wins and the state championship. Sydney’s team has been undefeated since Oct. 24, 2012.

Sydney credited training at The ANNEX, working with coach Mickey Brueckner, for helping her regain her confidence after suffering what could have been a career-ending knee injury.

“My surgery took a large toll on my tennis career,” Sydney said. “I think I was able to recover relatively quickly because I devoted a lot of time to doing leg exercises, playing tennis sitting down, and training at the Annex. I had really great coaches who made special drills for me and kept me going when I got discouraged.”

Her surgeon, Dr. Michael Shindle, recommended the Annex to help her during her recovery. For six months, Sydney couldn’t do any physical activity after her surgery. Over time she was able to regain her strength and agility.

“The Annex provided a fun environment where I could ignore the pain in my leg and stay motivated,” she said.

The senior, who excels at math, was undecided about college at the time of the interview. She plans to major in engineering.

“I am unsure where my tennis will go in the future, but I will always continue playing,” said Sydney.

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Henry Voorhees

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Henry Voorhees

Coach Tim Laffey presents 6’7” Henry Voorhees, basketball player for Columbia High School (headed to DeSales University in Allentown, Pa.), as our Annex Athlete of the Month for his amazing progress since he started training with purpose.

Why you should add whey protein isolate to your training

Why you should add whey protein isolate to your training

We are often asked by parents and athletes on how to maximize training potential. Additionally, many athletes are looking to put on added weight, gain strength, add muscle and improve overall diet.  One such way is to add whey protein to your workout routines.

A great June for ANNEX Athletes

A great June for ANNEX Athletes

Two state championships and a MLB draft pick highlighted an outstanding week for the Annex Sports Performance Center athletes. It's a big deal to witness our Annex family grow and succeed in personal and team goals.

Ty Blankmeyer, who has been a fixture at The ANNEX since he was 13, was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 36th round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft this past weekend. The Morristown native had an excellent career at Seton Hall Prep, won the Rawlings "Finest In the Field" award as the top defensive second baseman in the Northwoods League last summer and posted a career-high .408 on-base percentage this season for St. John's University.

Unlikely champs

Speaking of Seton Hall Prep, the varsity baseball team took home its first state title since 2007, defeating St. Augustine, 4-2, in the Non-Public A final at Toms River High School North this past Saturday. Annex athletes Nick Maldonado, Ryan Toohers, Jack Zyska, John Savino, Justin Miller and Francis Prior were all instrumental in the success of the team this season.

Head coach Mike Sheppard Jr. told NJ.com: "This one feels different because of how this team has come together. Over the years, we'll have 2-3 star players and usually a star pitcher to help us have success, but we didn't have that here this year. We had a bunch of good players who did their job.

"Had you told me back in March that we'd be here winning a state championship as the No. 1 team in the state, I might have told you that you were crazy. I'm proud of these guys and what they've been able to accomplish."

Defense wins championships

The Delbarton lacrosse program continues its successful run with 13-4 victory over Pingry in the final of the NJSIAA/Investors Bank Tournament of Champions this past Saturday at Kean University. This state championship was Delbarton's fifth T of C title in its ninth appearance, and it is its second title in three years.

We're proud to point out that Annex athletes Michael Rutter, Liam Villano and Matt Bicknese were all involved in this squad's winning ways.

Attention to detail

We'd like to give credit to both our coaches and these student athletes. It's a two-way street and when both sides give it their all in training, we get to witness accomplishments like the ones we saw this week. 

So proud of the #ASPfamily!

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Luke Jackson, Columbia High School varsity baseball

ANNEX Athlete of the Month: Luke Jackson, Columbia High School varsity baseball

Columbia High School sophomore third baseman Luke Jackson is our Annex Athlete of the Month for April. We’ve decided to highlight the stories of some of our athletes on a regular basis and Luke’s story is a remarkable one of recovery from Tommy John surgery, a surgical graft procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.

As you may know, Annex CEO Mickey Brueckner underwent Tommy John surgery himself so he feels passionate about helping rebound after going through the procedure. Luke has worked extensively with Mickey at our facility. We are happy to report that Luke is back on the field and thriving.

We had a chance to ask him about his experience.

Q: How did you feel when you were told you needed to have Tommy John surgery?

A: I was absolutely crushed. My heart sank and I felt demolished. This was going to be my third major surgery before I even reached high school. I felt remorseful of what I had done to myself. I knew there was something wrong with my elbow way before I ever told someone.

I really needed a confidence boost and a pick-me-up before I was going to be back to the level of baseball I was accustomed to. This is where Mickey really played a key role in the recovery. It was not about just my body, but my feelings and confidence. 

Q: We heard that you are back and having fun playing baseball again. How does that feel just to be playing again? 

A: To be back and playing after 18 months of being sidelined is one of the best feelings that I could have. I have been out for long periods of time prior to this incident, but this one hurt the most. Mickey really made it possible for me to come back to baseball at the level of performance I am playing at, but he also put my confidence through the roof. He allowed me to understand that I was capable of coming back and being even better than before, which was something that I was feeling sort of in the gray about and lost about how I would do in my return to baseball. 

Q: How did you discover the Annex?

A: Through a therapist at JAG Physical Therapy in West Orange, Dan Kane. Dan was also very helpful in my recovery process, but there got to be a point where I needed to be doing higher intensity workouts and rehab than what was possible at JAG. He recommended the Annex and Mickey to be my trainer because he dealt with the injury that I had. 

I really needed a confidence boost and a pick-me-up before I was going to be back to the level of baseball I was accustomed to. This is where Mickey really played a key role in the recovery. It was not about just my body, but my feelings and confidence.

Q: How has working with Mickey helped you the most?

A: He not only helped me to drop some of the weight I gained through my injury, but he also helped me gain a good amount of muscle to my body. That is just the training aspect though. During the rehab process for my elbow, he threw with me everyday and never allowed me to push myself to a point where I could re-injure myself.

He would go out of his way of his busy schedule to throw with me and to tend to my specific individual needs. He also kept me positive, and confident in my abilities. He saw potential and skill in me that I thought I had lost to my injury and made sure I knew that he thought I was going to be fine and that those abilities were not lost to my injury.

Q: What aspects of training do you enjoy?

A: The aspects of training that I enjoy are coming in to the Annex and seeing all these people who are there for similar reasons to me. They all want to get stronger, faster, more athletic like me. Being in a setting like the Annex allowed me to be social and meet new people. I was able to make new friends and bond with other athletes and coaches fairly easily.

The training part also was better due to the staff and the dedication that they put towards their athletes. There was never a moment where I felt I was left to have to figure something out by myself.

Mickey of course helped me get through my issues, as well as the whole staff, but another trainer at the Annex named Matt [Petrillo] was a huge part in my recovery too. He was incredibly kind to me, a funny guy to be around. But he was also serious and could help you get done what you needed to get done. 

It isn’t just a place to go and workout, it is a place to meet new people and socialize with others who enjoy the same thing as you. I was a part of the Annex community for about a year, and it was one of the most complete and interesting years of my life, and I did it all without being on the field. 

Q: What are your personal goals for this season?

A: Continue to be a middle of the order hitter for my schools lineup and to continue being the starting third basemen and to have as little strikeouts as attainable. With baseball, you fail a majority of the time, but my goal is to make those failures to be the most productive failures they can be. Failure in baseball and everything is imminent, but I hope to keep mine to a minimum and to help the team win.  

Q: Who do you see as your role models and why?

A: Of course it will always be my parents because of all they have done for me, but also I would have to include Mickey in this list because of how humble and generous he has been towards me. He was always kind and supportive and he is one of the main reasons I’m able to do what I am doing today. My parents have also kept me positive and made sure I was happy at all times with where I was in my rehab stage, and to make sure I knew they were there for me if I had any issues. 

Q: Why do you love baseball?

A: Because it is a game like no other, and being on the field allows you to just relax and have a good time. There is no clock in a baseball game. There is no hurry or rush to finish. It’s a competitive game that requires a certain skill set to really become successful at. The feeling of hitting a homer or coming up in a clutch moment for the team is a feeling that only baseball can give me. 

Q: Any advice or words of encouragement for other athletes who are coming back from a major injury?

A: It really isn’t as bad as it seems. In the moment it seems like the worst thing ever, but as tedious and aggravating as it was, looking back on it now I realize I got a whole new perspective on the sport and life that I didn’t have before my injuries. You can get through it, if you have the right people like Mickey and the Annex staff by your side, you can come back the times better than ever before. 

Something that we think defines an Annex Athlete

Something that we think defines an Annex Athlete

During his impressive outing to improve to 5-0, Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello made a play backing up third base that show his athleticism and effort... and instinct. Not every big league pitcher makes this play, nor do they make it look this easy.

MassLive.com Red Sox reporter Christopher Smith wrote:

"With two outs, Porcello walked Didi Gregorius, then Chase Headley singled to left-center field and Gregorius headed to third base. 

Porcello, backing up third baseman Travis Shaw, made an excellent diving stop on a wild throw from left fielder Brock Holt.

Gregorius would have scored if the ball had gotten past Porcello.

The Red Sox lead 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning."

Check out the play below: 

Bosox pitcher Rick Porcello off to good 2016 start

Bosox pitcher Rick Porcello off to good 2016 start

Annex athlete Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox pitcher, is off to a 3-0 start, earning a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts since being activated from the disabled list last August. He has 81 strikeouts and h only 14 walks in the 76 2/3 innings he’s pitched over that time period.

He recently told RedSoxLife.com that much of his rebound from last year's off year has been in his training regimen:

"But it does start here (the Annex) with the injury prevention and arm care stuff that I’ve learned throughout the years. It started with Mickey (Brueckner, owner of Annex) and then the training staffs that I worked with in Detroit and now in Boston. I take all that knowledge collected together, pay attention to the detail that’s provided and take care of your shoulder religiously."

Check out the full story here.

A big No-No

A big No-No

Will Schafer on the mound during his incredible no-hitter.

What’s cooking with Trevena Bennett?

What’s cooking with Trevena Bennett?

Annex athlete Trevena Bennett is the type of basketball player every coach wants on a team, one who can score but has a strong desire to grab rebounds. The 5’9” sophomore guard from Union has successfully transitioned to Bentley University after a solid career at Gill St. Bernard’s School in Gladstone. We spoke with her about her training and off-court hobbies.

T.J. Gibbs becomes Seton Hall Prep's third leading scorer

T.J. Gibbs becomes Seton Hall Prep's third leading scorer

T.J. Gibbs became Seton Hall Prep's third leading scorer in school history on Tuesday in a win over University. He has a chance to become the school's leading scorer, surpassing his brothers Ashton and Sterling, who also train at The ANNEX.