Rick Slate may be the strength and conditioning coordinator for one of Major League Baseball's best teamsthe New York Metsbut it's football blood that runs in his veins. Back in '86, Slate walked on to the Florida State University football team. And although he turned some heads when he rated as the team's top conditioned player (thanks to his rigorous training regimen), Slate couldn't snag a starting spot from the likes of Deion Sanders. Needless to say, his playing career came to a premature end.
The experience wasn't a wash, though. The FSU coaching staff recognized Slate's aptitude for training and offered him a graduate assistant position on their strength staff. Slate accepted and has been training athletes ever since, starting professionally with the Florida Marlins in the early '90s, when he signed on as the club's strength coach. For more than a decade now, he's been adapting his football-based training knowledge to programs that are perfectly tailored to meet the demands of the diamond.
And because old habits die hard, Slate has found a way to integrate an NFL-style combine into his training program. Every year, when the Mets arrive to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for spring training, they do a series of performance tests. Slate says, "We use the tests to see what kind of shape our guys are in, and we rate every player. We do this at both the big league and minor league levels."
The combine tests, which include everything from body composition to vertical leap, have other purposes, too. "One is for profiling," Slate says. "I have profiles for [Jose] Reyes and [David] Wright going back several years. We can see their highs and lows in terms of power, endurance, speed, agility and aerobic conditioning, and then compare them to the numbers they put up in those [prior] seasons."
The tests also provide a benchmark for getting a player off the DL and back in the game. "Guys are going to get hurt, and guys are going to have to rehab," Slate says. "We use the tests as a baseline before we bring a guy out of rehab. To come back, the player has to retest and get as close to his preseason numbers as possible."
To keep a light-hearted element about the combine, Slate adds fun by feeding off the players' übercompetitive natures. "We rank our top four guys. At the big league level, we have money prizes; we give $100 to fourth place, $200 to third, $300 to second and $500 to first," Slate says. "At the player development level, they get a t-shirt, meal or something like that. Bottom line: these guys just have an incredible desire to competenot only compete, but compete to win. So adding the prizes makes this fun for the guys."
Slate's combine comprises six tests plus body weight and body composition assessments. Here, he breaks down how to perform the tests along with the goal numbers he likes to see his athletes post. Give the tests a go, recording your numbers. Retest every few months to track your progress, and create your own profile so you can compare your testing numbers to your on-field stats.
Test Your Body Weight and Body Comp
"We chart weight and body comp every six weeks," Slate says. "That way, when we have a situation where a guy isn't hitting and people are saying it's because he's fat, we can say: 'No, he is not fat. He's the same he's been all year, but he's just not hitting.'"
Test Your Hops
"It's not etched in stone, but there is a correlation between being able to throw hard and being able to generate a lot of power on these tests," Slate says. "For guys who can throw 95, look at their standing long jumps and verticals. Usually, they're over 100 inches on the jumps and around 30 inches on their verticals."
Test Your Hops
Measures: Vertical explosive power
Goal: 30 inches
Get in athletic stance
Raise one arm above ahead and reach for highest point possible, keeping feet flat on floor
Mark height at tips of fingers
Dip and load hips, then jump vertically for maximum height
Raise hand above head during jump and reach for maximum height
Measure distance between first touch (with feet flat on ground) and height reached during jump
Standing Broad Jump
Measures: Horizontal explosive power
Goal: 100 inches
Get in athletic stance
Dip and load hips, then jump forward for maximum distance
Measure from tips of toes at start to back of ankles at landing
Test Your Speed and Conditioning
Measures: Explosive power, acceleration
Goal: Less than 1.8 seconds
Start in athletic stance and sprint 10 yards
Measures: General conditioning, mental toughness
Goal: 55 seconds for each repetition
Starting in athletic stance, sprint 50 yards
Touch line and immediately sprint back to start
Repeat 3 times for total of 300 yards
Rest 2-3 minutes; perform second repetition
Slate: I use two reps of this test because I want to see what kind of toughness you got. Can you gut this out, or are you going to say, "I'm tired" and quit? I want to see what you're made of when your lungs are screaming and your butt is just curdled with fatigue.
Test Your Agility
30-Second Cone Hop
Measures: Lateral agility
Goal: 55-plus hops
Set up three cones two to three feet apart
Stand to right of first cone
Hop laterally left over each cone
Immediately hop right over each cone
Continue hopping left and right for 30 seconds
Count the total number of hops
Measures: Lateral speed, change of direction
Goal: Less than 4.5 seconds
Set up three cones five yards apart
Start in athletic stance at center cone
Crossover step right and sprint to right cone
Touch cone and sprint to left cone
Touch cone and sprint right through center cone
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