I got a chance to talk to an old college friend of mine today. We hadn’t talked in awhile and it was great to catch up. Part of our talk was about his experiences coaching his son in youth baseball. This lead us into a discussion about sports specialization, year round baseball, etc. If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you know my thoughts on both of these topics. If you haven’t seen some of my other posts, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of year round specialization. It leads to burnout and more importantly to unnecessary overuse injuries.
My friend got to tell me how his 13 year old son ended up with a shoulder overuse injury to his growth plate. Fortunately the injury was discovered very early and they got excellent medical advice. They were advised to rest his son for a period of time to allow for proper healing. What did my friend do? He went above and beyond this advice. He shut his kid down and has kept his shut down. His son took the summer off and isn’t playing this fall. In a couple of months, he’s going to start his son on a gradual progression of throwing. In the spring, his son will return to baseball.
The amazing thing about this is that the coaches have taken steps to prevent this sort of injury. Their pitching coach isn’t just someone’s dad who watched a youtube video about pitching. He pitched at a major D1 University so he has a background as a pitcher. While this doesn’t automatically make someone a great coach, he probably has more knowledge than many youth coaches. Their team also hardly throws any curveballs. They throw almost 100% fastballs and changeups. How many teams of thirteen year olds can say that? Probably not too many.
So what are the take home messages from this story?
- Injuries Happen But – When we are involved with athletes, injury prevention is always the priority. Any program for sports skill training or sports performance training should take steps to prevent injuries. This includes quality coaching and preventative exercises for the specific sport. Unfortunately, injuries still happen in all sports. If coaching and training could prevent all injuries, there wouldn’t be any injuries in the highest levels of sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, & Olympics). These athletes have the best sport coaches and strength & conditioning coaches. They also have spent years training their bodies to perfect their sport and prevent injuries. As we all know, injuries still happen to these athletes. (Before you start to think that injury prevention doesn’t work, think about the number of injuries that ARE prevented due to proper training. With no training the injury numbers would probably be through the roof).
- See the Big Picture – When an athlete does suffer an injury, keep the big picture in mind. It is NOT next week’s big rivalry game, that upcoming playoff game, or that showcase with all of the college coaches in attendance. The big picture is the long term health and well being of the athlete and his/her career. My friend took this view with his son’s injury. His son is 13. He should have lots of baseball left to play in his life. Missing out on a summer and/or fall isn’t going to ruin his chances at college or getting drafted in 5+ years. It is going to let him heal fully and get him ready to play next season with no lingering issues. It’s unfortunate that many coaches and parents don’t take the same approach.
- Evaluate Early & Often – My friend is taking some time to evaluate the dilemma of sports specialization in his son’s life. Is the injury to his son related to playing too much baseball too soon? It’s probably hard to say, but he definitely doesn’t want it to create another injury for his son or the other kids that he coaches. It’s also to get any injuries evaluated early by an Athletic Trainer or Doctor. While it may just be “sore”, for certain injuries “soreness” can be a sign that a worse injury is about to happen. As an example, the handful of athletes that I know who have suffered apophyseal fractures at the hip/pelvis had pain in the days leading up to the injury. Unfortunately, they never said anything to the Athletic Trainers at their high schools. Within a week, both had fractures and were out of sports for about 2 months.
When dealing with young athletes, it’s important to try to take care of them. They need to be taught both skills and preventative concepts. Extra efforts also need to be made to communicate with them. They don’t always know what is things they need to tell their coaches and parents so we have to make a strong effort to ask. It’s also important to always remember the big picture – their future.