The longest standing record at our facility, the 10 yard dash (laser start/laser finish/hand in laser) was finally broken this past Thursday. Beau Capanna (drafted out of high school Boston Red Sox 2016, much in part to his speed) had held the record since 2015 of 1.66. The new record holder has had an impressive journey of transforming himself from a turgid 1.78 to the new record of 1.58.
It used to be standard that athletic kids played 2 sports in high school and even 3. But as specialization at a young age has taken hold, long gone are the days of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. And as baseball becomes more and more strictly one sport kids and "wealthy suburbia", athleticism in the sport has gradually vanished. As a Texas Rangers scout at a game to watch Capanna last year told me, "You just cannot find speed anymore". Times have become so desperate that we even had one kid in our facility who despite being behind on his sport skill and only amassing 4 varsity AB's as a high school junior, signed a scholarship to a premier Pac-12 program simply off a 60 yard dash video we sent them. The school's attitude was we can teach him the game, we can't teach speed.
Adding to the paucity of athletes even playing baseball anymore, is the overall confusion within the sport on how to build speed. Speed is a skill; it can be trained. However, in the archaic baseball world, kids are still plodding along running poles everyday at practice, and performing cross country styled "conditioning workouts" in the fall. As Charlie Francis notes, "Most sprinters aren't made, they're unmade". Performing activities that run contrary to the explosiveness and power necessary for sprinting is death to young athletes. Just as worse are the truly lost who waste time doing the foot ladder. The greatest sprinters in the world take 4 to 5 steps in the first 10 yards; for reference our new record was 6.5. The foot ladder though, teaches you to take 50. Furthermore, unknowledgeable baseball parents also often think speed can be improved without getting strong. The reality is that the most important thing to speed is power: how much mass specific force (relative strength) can an athlete put into the ground. Capanna squatted (vertical shin, hip joint below knee joint) 385 at a bodyweight of 175. Our new record holder has squatted 350 with a yoke bar at 180. Being fast without being strong is a fantasy. But we've had kids that cannot even perform a body weight squat on their trial workout have their parents ask if they can "only work on speed. I don't think he needs to lift at all". This is often derived from the fear that their weak child will undoubtedly metamorphosize into Arnold Schwarzenegger, rendering him "too bulky" to play baseball effectively-you know, like the 90's and early 2000's when hitters used anabolics to bulk up and the home run numbers were super low.
The overall lack of athletes playing baseball at all nowadays; the poor team training; and unknowledgeable parents have all convalesced into what is actually a great opportunity, for even a decent amount of speed can now open doors for baseball kids who are wise enough to intelligently train their speed. Sadly, most kids aren't even aware of their true sprint times, having only a nebulous and typically wildly inaccurate stopwatch time from a camp or a practice. As we say, laser or it never happened. It's tough to improve without being able to get accurate feedback along the way.
The current status of the game can be summarized as such. Watching a UNLV baseball game last spring a girl next to us commented on it being her first time watching baseball. She then followed up with asking, "Why's everyone so slow? I've watched football and everyone is so much faster".