Is this youth pitcher going to end up as an overuse injury statistic?
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.
What is the most important function of a strength training program? To get stronger to perform better? To get faster? To be able to jump higher? Guess what? It’s none of these. The most important function is to help prevent injuries. I’ve mentioned this many times before in my other posts. Here’s a doctor who is delivering the same message. It’s a short read but worth your time. You can share it with others to help teach the importance of strength training for young athletes. I hope that you enjoy it.
One of the problems that I see when watching youth sports is that many of the athletes have poor fundamentals. The major thing that many of them lack is the ability to run effectively and efficiently. Obviously Strength and Conditioning Coaches notice things like this. What gets me is, why doesn’t anyone else notice it? Don’t the sport coaches see it? What about the parents that sit at every practice and game? It may take an expert to fix the problems, but it doesn’t take one to recognize that there is a problem. When I watch young athletes run, I see arms flying in all directions, bodies out of control, etc. Nobody notices this? Even if the coach can’t fix it, he should realize that there is a problem and refer the kid to someone who can. Or he can ignore it and let the kid continue to use poor movement patterns. This leads to inferior performance and injury issues. So why doesn’t someone do something? I guess it would make too much sense.
One of my favorite magazine/journal covers ever comes from an old issue of Training & Conditioning. I love the title “Barbie Doesn’t Play Sports”. To me, it promotes a hard working, tough image. To me, that sums up my feelings about successful female athletes. They aren’t afraid to work hard. They aren’t afraid to work hard on the court or the field. They aren’t afraid to work hard year round. However, as important as it is, sometimes it is hard to get these same females into the weightroom. Why is this? I think that this is largely because of it being an area that they are unfamiliar with. Strength training is scary for a lot of females. Many of them have been bombarded by images from female bodybuilders. These pictures always depict some lady who is loaded up on every supplement (legal & illegal) that she can pump into her body. Unfortunately, this is the image of strength training that gets burned into many females minds. They quickly decide that if lifting weights makes you look like that, they don’t want any of it. Unfortunately, females need to be in the weightroom. Why?
Injury prevention – Just like male athletes, females need to develop strength to help prevent injuries and limit the severity of those that they do get.
Improved performance – A stronger athlete can run faster, jump higher, accelerate quicker, and decelerate more effectively. These all lead to better sport performance.
Correction of weaknesses – Females who haven’t ever taken part in a solid strength training program tend to have various muscular weaknesses. These then add to injury problems and limit their performance potential. Strength training can quickly start the athlete down the road to correction.
College preparation – Any high school athlete that wants to go on to play in college needs to strength train. Not only will it help their performance (and therefore their recruiting), it will make them stand out once they get to college. If the first time that an athlete has ever lifted is when they show up to college, they are already behind. In my mind, if a female shows up on day 1 and is already comfortable and proficient in the weightroom, she has set herself apart from many of the other incoming freshman athletes.
So, how do you get females into the weightroom? Educate and market. You may have to teach them about the benefits and get them to realize that they won’t end up looking like the female Hulk. You are also going to have to really make a motivated effort to get them started. Once they start to see some benefits, the marketing should take care of itself.
The 2012 Little League World Series ended yesterday, with Japan winning impressively. Of course, with youth baseball always comes some debate about arm injuries. Should young pitchers throw curveballs? Should the pitch be banned in Little League? Do pitchers throw too much? Are neither of these factors to blame when a pitcher gets hurt? Are both of them to blame? It’s always interesting hearing the different sides of this issue. Let’s look at a few facts:
Breaking Pitches – Many people place the blame for arm injuries on kids throwing curveballs. Is this really a factor? There is evidence that certain pitches (especially sliders) can place more stress on the elbow joint. There are some who believe that the curveball argument is valid, and some that don’t. In my opinion, while the curveball may not be fully to blame, it certainly isn’t helping things.
Round and Round – Is year round baseball to blame? It certainly seems to be a factor. In my opinion, a major factor. Kids need a chance for their arms to rest and recover. They can’t do that when they play baseball (or softball) 10+ months a year.
Keeping Count – Do pitch counts help? Most youth baseball leagues have some form of limit on how much a player can pitch in game and in a week. These are steps in the right direction. They also need to be in place since some youth coaches probably are less concerned about the long-term health of their players than they should be. However, a short term limit on pitches may not solve all of the problems. One study of MLB pitchers recently showed that the cumulative effect of high pitch counts affects the pitcher long term more than one outing may affect them in the short term. This ties in with the whole year round argument.
Well Hello Tommy John – The number of “Tommy John” surgeries to repair elbow ligaments has risen dramatically in recent years. This surgery used to rarely be done for young athletes. Not surprisingly, it is now done much more often.
What To Do?
To save us all some time, I’m going to list three things that we can do to stop this arm abuse epidemic:
Stop having kids play baseball/softball year round
Get kids on a strength and conditioning program that will develop their overall athleticism
Stop teaching young pitchers the curveball
Will this stop all arm and shoulder problems in young pitchers? Probably not, but it should definitely help reduce them.
Supplement Use By Youth For Sports Performance Improvement
I found a news article a few days ago about the usage of nutritional supplements by kids. The article discusses a study that was originally published earlier this year. It focused on the use of supplements by children and adolescents for the purpose of improving sports performance. So what do I think about all of this?
So what are my thoughts on the study? I decided to put my them on video. Here they are:
Help your young athletes to make good nutritional choices.
I spent the past week working at a sports camp for young kids. The camp used a large local park that was open to the public. During several of these days, I saw a local Strength & Conditioning coach working privately with a young athlete (about 13 years old). During my breaks I tried to sneak a peak at what drills they used. While I didn’t see anything new, what I saw did make me think about working smart vs just working hard. What I saw each day wasn’t smart work, it was just hard. I saw lots of repetition of drills, but very little teaching and correction. While working hard can be the focus of certain days or certain drills, it seemed to be the focus of every day for this athlete. While I wasn’t close enough to hear what the coach was saying to the athlete, I didn’t see the coach trying to demonstrate or correct any technique. What I saw was a series of drills run over and over until the kid was exhausted. Most of the young teens that I have trained need a lot of fundamental drills and a lot of technique work so that they can develop their basic athletic skills. That is working smart. That is also smart coaching. S & C coaches get paid to develop athletes. Yes, sometimes that involves working them hard. However, when dealing with young athletes, there should be a lot of smart work. That should be what differentiates a S & C coach from the average person – the ability to teach an athlete, not just run them through some drills. A great coach is a great teacher.
Here are 2 other related posts that you might enjoy:
Do you think they might need some recovery time after a season of plays like this?
I’m a huge believer in athletes getting a chance to rest and recover after a season is over. I’ve seen too many times when kids go directly from one season into another season or into hard off-season training. Most often this happens when the kid goes from a school sports season right into a club season. Many times people don’t see the reason for kids to take a break. The reasoning is that the kid is young, they can handle it. Many times they don’t handle it as well as we think that they do. Giving them a break between seasons can help in numerous ways. Why to the kids need a break:
Physically banged up – after a season, an athlete is physically banged up. They have aches, pains, and injuries that they have played through. Before they move into their next season (or heavy training), a short break can help them to heal up these aches and pains. They won’t be able to perform or train at 100% if they don’t get well.
Mentally/emotionally tired – a sports season is also tiring in non-physical ways. Several months of being on the go with practices, games, travel, homework, and everything else can wear on an athlete mentally and emotionally. We often forget all of the stresses that happen during a season. If you have a bad game or practice, it can be hard to just forget about it and move right into doing homework or whatever else you have to do. Just like with adults, “bad days” can go home with kids and affect other areas of their life. Add in the constant emotion of games (and the occasional “team drama” that occurs) and it can wear athletes out (and coaches and parents too).
To enjoy life some – I remember talking to one athlete who played her sport year round. She loved her sport and wanted to get a college scholarship. To accomplish her goal, she played on her high school team as well as several travel teams. She had to ride 1 1/2 hours each way to travel practice twice a week and then play on weekends. Part way through the school year she was exhausted, had numerous aches and pains, and wasn’t having much fun. Look, even pro athletes take a break after the season to spend time with family and friends, travel, and relax. If they can do it, why should we expect younger kids and teens to go year round without a break? Let the kids have a little fun sometimes.
Now that we know why athletes need to recover, the next questions are things such as how long? What should they do during this recovery period? What shouldn’t they do? This will all be answered in my next post.
I found this article about sports specialization for softball players. If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of kids specializing in one sport. Two points from the article did encourage kids not to specialize:
College coaches want multi-sport athletes because they are more well rounded
“…multi-sport athletes do tend to be more well-rounded and often out-perform those who focus only on a single sport. Often the skills from one sport translate into an advantage in another, such as explosiveness in basketball or agility in soccer.”
These two statements probably don’t come as a surprise to most strength and conditioning professionals. Unfortunately there are numerous other things in the same article that try to discourage multi-sport athletes. I won’t get into all of the details, but I do have one question. If playing multiple sports helps a person to develop into a more complete athlete and makes them more desirable to college coaches, why are so many athletes still playing a single sport year-round??? To add to this, many of the athletes who specialize become physical trainwrecks before they ever make it to college. Lets also not forget to mention those that mentally burn out. So if it’s not benefitting the kids, who is this helping? There are only 3 parts to this equation – the athlete, the parent, and the coach. We’ve already decided that specialization isn’t helping the athlete. That only leaves the adults. When did sports stop being about the athletes themselves?
So, what’s the solution? It’s very simple. Stop trying to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the only way to go. Not only is there another way, playing multiple sports is the best way to develop athletes. Maybe if athletes weren’t being “encouraged” (forced) to focus on one sport, it would solve a lot of issues.