Aaron Robinson is currently the Head Strength and Conditioning coach for the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan. He is an accomplished training professional, who has experience working with professional athletes in the NFL, MLB, NBA, USA softball among others.
He has previously worked as a minor league Strength and Conditioning coach in the Houston Astros organization and as a trainer for NCAA football players preparing for the NFL draft. Mr. Robinson received his undergraduate degree in Psychology and Business from the University of Arizona and completed his Masters in Coaching, with an emphasis on Exercise Science, at Concordia University-Irvine. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Sports Psychology from San Diego University.
We sat down with Mr. Robinson to discuss his experiences working with Asian baseball players and talk about the difficult training transition process for the Asian players who come to the United States.
GSI: Can you tell me a little about your background and how you became the head strength and conditioning coach for the EDA Rhinos?
Robinson: I was walking out of an interview with the University of Southern California (USC) for a strength coach position when I got a call from the player personnel director of the EDA Rhinos. He had found me by referral. He told me Manny Ramirez was on their team and they wanted an American trainer for him. After three weeks on the job, they offered me to become the Head Strength and Conditioning coach for the entire team. The players felt comfortable with me, so I decided to stay on. I’ve been told I’m only the third American to ever get a job in the CPBL. For me, coming to Taiwan was about experiencing something new.
GSI: Can you describe your job responsibilities?
Robinson: Everyday I wake up and do individual training with players from 8-9:30 am, in half-hour time slots. Pitchers work out 3-4 times a week, I let them tell me what they want to do. I give the players the flexibility to come in whatever days they want to. Before games, we get there 3 hours in advance and stretch and run. Sometimes, I’ll workout with guys who aren’t playing that day. I do a flush, bike, and ice-down with pitchers when they come out of the game.
GSI: Do you think Asian players are adequately prepared by teams to play in the U.S?
Robinson: Talking with some people in the baseball business, they agree that training differences can impact the transition of Asian players. I don’t think the preparation before coming to the States is adequate; guys need to start preparing and adapting their training regimens, before they come over here. When I was with the Astros, I saw the barrier between the Dominican guys and the American guys. You can show anyone how to do workouts, but a lot of guys lack the mental will to do so because they are unmotivated. Sports psychology aspect is huge with training. You have to understand where the guys are coming from.
Chia-Jen Lo, a RHP with the Houston Astros, had a pitching coach in the minors who had trouble motivating him. He didn’t give him the same attention as other players. I worked with Lo and his translator Justin, to really get to know him and implement a training plan. Lo is coming back to Taiwan for a few weeks, and we are going to workout together. I have an application which translates one liners in English to Chinese and vice versa. We use that to help us communicate. It’s all about establishing trust with players. It helps that I’m around their age. Lo would tell me about his season through translation, and I would just listen. Some Asian players just want an American friend who would listen to them.
GSI: Can you tell me about the differences in strength and conditioning styles in Taiwan and the U.S?
Robinson: 80 percent of the team had never lifted weights before. It was hard for them to have soreness and tightness without understanding why. I had to communicate with them about the changes they would be going through. During the first two days I was there, the weight room was empty. I had to ease the players into lifting.
GSI: Was it difficult trying to get Taiwanese players to embrace American style training methods?
Robinson: An article came out in a local paper quoting one of my players saying “the first week with of my training regimen was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.” Since then, players have embraced the new training methods after seeing the results.
People who are willing to come here and meet with these guys can change their whole view on training. These Asian guys come to the states and know nothing, and don’t understand what is going on. Even on my team here, I think we have 3 or 4 guys who could play in the States. They are fearful because they don’t know a lot about coming to the U.S and no one is looking out for them.
GSI: How do the pitchers and position players train differently in terms of strength?
Robinson: Pitchers are tough; they get caught up in wanting to stick to the same routine as always. Their routines are usually developed early in their career with an old coach or based on what they’ve seen other players do. I try to help them develop something new; I want them to figure out what works for them, and not be told what to do by others.
The coaches didn’t like this at first, but before games, I take pitchers aside and let them close their eyes for five minutes and just think about the game. Too often, these guys feel overwhelming pressure and don’t ever get the chance to just take a breather.
GSI: Does the language gap make it difficult for you to communicate with your players?
Robinson: I probably used my interpreter for the first month. Since then, I haven’t used him unless I really needed to. I try my best to communicate with my players on my own. They want to speak English and I want to speak their language, so we make it work. We use hand signals and a lot of non-verbal communication.
GSI: What is the team training equipment and facility like?
Robinson: When I came here, we had equipment from the 1970s. I got the team to buy some new equipment and I also made a deal with the “World Gym” workout chain, so our guys can use their locations when they are in the area of one.
GSI: Does the team provide the players with food? What kind of diet do they have?
Robinson: There are not a lot of options. Team gives them meals before and after games but they are not very nutritional. I changed a little bit of the food offerings, by getting the players fruit and peanut butter, things like that. But they eat their traditional food mostly, and I just have to adapt to it. A lot of food they eat is healthy, but it’s cooked in fatty oils. Players get some meal money as well, but they will use it on places like McDonalds.
GSI: How many foreign players are there playing in Taiwan? Are there any on the Rhinos?
Robinson: Every team is allowed three foreign players on their major league roster, and three on their minor league roster. So there are about 25 foreign players at one time usually. 12 to 15 foreign players were on the Rhinos this year, most didn’t stay very long. Some of the guys we had were Jesse English, Juan Urillo, Brad Thomas, and David Harden.
GSI: You mentioned Manny Ramirez played for the Rhinos in 2013, what was it like to work with him?
Robinson: Manny is a really good guy. He made sure all the guys felt welcome, and knew that he wasn’t more important than anyone else. He adapted very quickly. His contract ended in Taiwan at the end of June, Rangers offered him chance at majors so he signed with them and returned to the U.S.
GSI: What is the off-season training like in Taiwan?
Robinson: No off-season, winter ball and then they go back to it in the regular season. This year, we are in the Asian series until November and three days later guys start winter ball. After winter ball, they get nine days off before spring training. All they do is play baseball.
GSI: Do you think Asian players in the U.S could benefit from an off-season training program run in America that also assisted with training transition?
Robinson: I think that sounds amazing. I would love to be a part of something like that. It would help them greatly.
GSI: What is your philosophy on working with players?
Robinson: I want to give guys options, give them a chance to let loose. Mental edge is huge for these guys, I want to help build them up and give them confidence. Their old manager would yell them down all the time and never tell them they did well. They need someone to help take the pressure off them.
GSI: We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.
Robinson: You’re welcome.