By David O’CONNOR
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Ex-minor league baseball player and baseball performance coach Dustin Emmons and Crescenta Valley High School assistant hurdles coach Eric Kwong both subscribe to this theory when they’re treating their athletes on a holistic scale, rather than following the outdated and ineffective coaching stereotype of “no pain, no gain.”
Emmons was sitting at school and checking his phone and found that his dad left him a message: “You just got picked up in the 43rd round.” As a 17-year-old kid in his senior year of high school, Emmons described that moment as “pretty surreal” and realized that his childhood dream of becoming a professional baseball player was coming to fruition.
The former CVHS pitcher represented Riverside College in the Big West Conference and he cited his career highlight as being drafted three times – by the Florida Marlins, the New York Mets and the Pittsburg Pirates.
“I just felt super-lucky. That’s a unique thing, so I’m always thankful that three times somebody was interested and [somewhere] along my career I was doing something right,” Emmons said.
While representing the Kingsport Mets in Tennessee in December 2012, Emmons was called into the manager’s office and was ready to face the music. After enduring a rigorous four weeks of rookie ball that involved 10 players getting cut every week, the La Crescenta native was told that “we no longer need you.”
Looking back on his short-lived minor league career, Emmons doesn’t regret a thing and treasures the profound lessons he picked up, and realizes that his most important lesson was being more aware of his body. He admitted that “things weren’t going well health-wise.”
Emmons is currently pursuing a career in athletic performance coaching at a youth baseball facility called 360 Elite Performance Sports in Pasadena and applies a holistic coaching style to his athlete’s programs by working them from the inside out. He wants his students to learn from his baseball journey.
“I learned over my career to work smarter, not harder. Just as you get older [and] you have to learn about your body a little bit [more], that’s how I have come into helping other athletes to create a relationship with their own body, listening to it when you need rest and when it’s time to work,” Emmons said.
Eric Kwong shares a similar philosophy when he coaches athletes at CVHS. “Train smart, not stupid,” the assistant hurdles coach preaches to his team on a regular basis.
“I do a very holistic approach where we target all the major muscle groups. We’ve been doing weight room the past couple of years. This year I’ve made it mandatory and that’s actually been helping a lot,” Kwong said.
Preventative care and rehab is another crucial part of the Falcons’ track and field program. This ensures the athletes are avoiding unnecessary injuries by diligently carrying out Kwong’s program on and off the track, which allows them to keep their body in balance and less susceptible to any surprising ailments.
“Preventative care is pre-hab and rehab. Pre-hab is preventative rehab and rehab is to get you back if you’re hurt,” said Kwong. “We do a lot of hip and bare foot strengthening and we do core each day.”
Emmons, certified in Joga, a fast-growing form of yoga for pro and urban athletes, feels one of the other mistakes he has seen in baseball coaching programs is the lack of pre-hab or rehabilitation programs.
“[The goal is] before a player gets injured having a program like Joga or a system to implement into their training regimen that finds a balance between their strength and flexibility,” Emmons said.
Kwong ran track, did high jump, hurdles and pole vault at CVHS for four years and represented the Cal State Fullerton Titans in hurdles and sprints. He did this while pursuing his bachelor’s in kinesiology and also gained a master’s degree in kinesiology at CSUF with an emphasis in sports performance. The La Crescenta resident managed to acquire vital experience working in a physical therapy clinic for three years, which has assisted him in addressing various injuries his athletes may encounter.
Emmons and Kwong have both witnessed poor communication between athletes and coaches that has led to preventable injuries. Both coaches feel that communication is not only a valuable component in their coaching programs, but it also could be the difference between an athlete’s succeeding or being disenchanted and walking away from a sports career.
“Something that I think is crucial that should be implemented is a cross-referral system that treats player injuries. This will move the focus all the way up the ladder,” said Emmons, when describing the process of identifying which health care or fitness professionals an athlete needs to see when or if he/she becomes injured.
Kwong believes that coaches need to stop putting Band-Aid solutions over injury problems and added that this uneducated attitude stems from not understanding the psychology of dealing with injuries.
“The most common mistake is the psychology of it,” said Kwong. “A lot of times coaches will say to the athlete, ‘Go and sit down, go ice, just go away,’ and at that point the athlete stops being motivated in terms of getting back. What I’ve always told my athletes is if you’re injured it’s not less work, it’s more work.”
Emmons and Kwong share a balanced coaching method with their students, and understand that any imbalances in a training program or in an athlete’s body can likely lead to injury.
“Injuries are caused by imbalances,” says Kwong.
The way in which both coaches conduct their programs shows that their athletes are not only in good hands, but they’re on the best path for success in their performances and overall health.