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In the baseball off-season, athletes are afforded some extra time to reflect and focus on the year ahead, making it a busy time for the Seattle Mariners’ Director of Sports Science Kate Weiss.
Here, Weiss doubles-down with Muscle & Fitness to talks us through what this pivotal role means to her team and why the off-season is an essential time to build foundations. We also found out how Weiss applies these lessons in her own fitness lifestyle.
“The off-season is the best time to make improvements, because the athletes have more time to train, sleep, and recover,” says Weiss. “The start of the off-season is the best time to take stock of performance and create a plan to improve in the areas that are needed. There are a number of ways to improve both throwing and batting skills with specific drills such as underload/overload training both with weighted balls and bats or training in the weight room. The goal is to improve movement, speed, strength, and power.”
“Growing up, I always loved human movement,” says Weiss, 36, who was born in Los Angeles. “I started coaching gymnastics when I was 12, and continued doing so until I started college. I was also in a dance company and decided to major in Kinesiology at the University of Southern California. During my time at USC, I was working full-time as a personal trainer and Pilates instructor, as well as interning for the head football strength coach. I loved working with athletes and studying, and I knew that I wanted to keep learning, so I applied to graduate school. I ended up with a scholarship from Ball State University to study biomechanics.
While there, I worked as the men’s tennis strength coach, as well as a research assistant. I found the information we gathered from the lab to be very valuable, but I knew it was unrealistic to have athletes constantly coming in to collect data. So, I started looking for doctoral programs that would allow me to do the applied research outside of a laboratory setting, and gained a scholarship to study Sports Science and Biomechanics at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. The program there was incredible, and it allowed me to collect data with their professional men’s basketball team and get hands-on experience in the field. After graduating, I knew I wanted to gain experience working in different sports, so when I was offered a position in baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers, it was meant to be. Now, I am entering my fifth season in baseball, and third season with the Seattle Mariners!”
As the inaugural Mariners’ sports science director, Weiss is able to work as a team. “We all collaborate daily to help the athletes perform at their best,” she shares. “My job is to help make more informed decisions by providing coaches and staff with the relevant data needed to do so.”
“I provide daily reports to coaches and staff, flagging things such as changes in performance or workload,” she says. “Anytime that we see high workloads together with signs of poor recovery, we work to adjust what the athlete is doing, on a given day, to help them improve recovery and to mitigate the risk of injury as far as possible. This has helped us to manage increased injury risk and provide the athletes with the tools they need to improve on their recovery and to feel better. This is an ongoing process that has served us well in terms of athlete support.”
Collecting and evaluating data is a passion for any great sports scientist. “There are several methods that can be used to collect data,” says Weiss. “We use everything from in-game, camera-based data through to force plates (for measuring ground reaction rates). We look at things such as workload, sprint speed and distance, pitching metrics, mechanics, and body composition. Workload data provides us with information around what, and how much, an athlete is doing. How much physical stress are they experiencing? Performance and injury data provides us with feedback on how they are responding to workloads. If an athlete is experiencing a spike in workload, followed by a subsequent decrement in performance, or even increased soreness or an overuse type issue, we can use this information to decrease the workload. We can then modify things such as their training in the weight room, conditioning, or recommend an off-day.”
For her part, Kate Weiss certainly practices what she preaches, as relates to looking after our bodies and seeking to improve on physical limits. “I love weight training,” she shares. “I started back in high school with my mom and have kept it up ever since. I lift heavy, and I adapt my training based on my schedule and my recovery. I also love Pilates and dancing. I try to squeeze those in when I can too.” Weiss understands that the fuel that you put into your body is essential for smashing personal goals. “I have been a pescatarian for 18 years,” says the N.S.C.A.-certified strength and conditioning coach. “I have found that my body feels best when I eat this way. I get my blood work done annually to make sure that everything looks good, and I adjust as needed based off that. Given the amount of travel and long hours that my job requires, it is critical that I keep a clean diet so that I can perform at my best, and so that my sleep and recovery is as good as possible.”
Aside from the physical, Weiss understands that baseball players also need to take care of their mental health. “Cognitive health is incredibly important in elite sports,” she says. “Athletes must react in milliseconds to their opponents or the ball, run plays, and manage distractions during performance. There are several easy to use, accessible tools to help with focus. These include meditation, ice baths, breath work, sleep, and a healthy diet; all great ways to support individual cognition and focus.”
Weiss tells M&F that she was excited to be part of The Seattle Mariners journey to the playoffs last season, and is passionate about applying the lessons learned through the collection of data, and in observing performances on the field, to help the team soar even higher this year.