A Youth Baseball Overuse Injury

Youth Pitching Pic

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.

Mark

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Throwing Curveballs?

Little League Pitcher Pic

Is his arm in danger?

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:

  1. Stop having kids play baseball/softball year round
  2. Get kids on a strength and conditioning program that will develop their overall athleticism
  3. 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.

Mark

Here are a few related posts:

Year Round Sports – Agggghhhhhh!!!

Youth Training & Development

The Sports Specialization Solution

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Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why?

Rugby Tackle Pic

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.

See you then.

Mark

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Don’t Skip The In-Season Training Program

Sometimes sports coaches amaze me.  Over and over again, I see them emphasize the off-season training program.  They push the kids to lift, run, and lift some more.  While most of these programs are “voluntary”, participation is always highly encouraged.  So what about once the season starts?  That’s a different story.  Guess what the first thing to get cut out is?  Yep, the strength program.  During the season, the priority is to spend time practicing and prepping for games.  However, why does the strength program always seem to get cut out?  Take a look at the average sports practice.  How much time is wasted due to poor planning & coaching?  A lot.  Yet instead of making practices more efficient so that a coach can fit in the in-season strength program, they just eliminate it.  So what does this do for the kids?  Nothing positive.  The two major things skipping the in-season program does are both huge negatives:

  1. Decrease in strength – During the season, an athlete is going to get worn down, banged up, and possibly lose some strength.  If they don’t lift during the season, they will definitely lose strength.  So what do you do?  Keep them lifting.  While the kid may lose some strength during the season, the stronger they stay late into the season, the better that they can play late in the season.
  2. The injury factor – It’s widely accepted that lifting weights helps to decrease the chance of injury.  Guess what?  It may also help to decrease the time missed if a player does get an injury.  Research on high school football players compared time missed by players who received similar injuries.  It was found that those who were participating in an in-season strength program missed 1/3 of the time of other players with similar injuries.  Not all injuries can be prevented, but most coaches, players, and parents should be willing to take steps to limit the time lost from injury.

I think that these two factors are good enough reasons to make the in-season program a priority.  Why don’t sport coaches feel the same?  I guess that S & C coaches just have to keep looking for opportunities to educate sports coaches.  Maybe one day things will change.

Check back next week for more on how to design a good in-season program.

 

Mark

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Plan Management

Planning Pic

Sometimes you've got to go to plan "b"

A Kink In The Plan

Have you ever been several weeks into a team’s off-season training program a new kid suddenly shows up?  Sometimes its a kid that has moved into the area, but a lot of times it’s a kid who is coming from another sports season.  He or she has been playing sport B while his teammates in sport A have been putting in time and effort in their strength and conditioning program.  We all like working with multi-sport athletes, but it does create some interesting challenges for us as coaches.

Things To Consider

There are several things to keep in mind while trying to get these “newbies” up to speed with the rest of the group.

  • Recovery – If these athletes are coming in from another sports season, they are probably already tired, worn down, and “dinged up”.  Oftentimes these kids are rushed into the off-season program for another sport.  As a coach, I’d rather give a kid a few days off before they get started on their training program with me.  An athlete who is worn down can’t give 100% and is more likely to get hurt.  Giving them even just a week off between seasons can be beneficial.
  • Differences in training levels – Even if these athletes are “in shape” for the sport that they just finished, they won’t be in shape for the sport that they are going to.  Each sport has different physical and physiological demands.  These athletes usually can’t be expected to start off at the same level as the athletes who are currently in the off-season program.
  • Adjust the plan – When we create an off-season plan, we put all of our knowledge and know-how into it.  And now we have to change it because of one kid?  Yes.  To build on the previous point, an athlete that is coming into your program will need to be eased in ,unless he is coming from a sport that has a solid in-season program.  He won’t be able to complete the same sets, reps, and intensities as the other athletes.  Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  He or she will catch up to the other athletes soon enough.
  • Focus – While it is sometimes difficult to do, try to find a way to focus on these kids.  If they haven’t been lifting regularly or doing the same program, there should be an emphasis placed on technique.  That way once they catch up to the other athletes, their technique will be good.  This is especially important in lifts such as the squat, clean, and snatch.  You should also get plenty of feedback from these kids on how they feel.

What To Do?

When you have a large group of athletes, it becomes difficult to integrate a new kid into the mix.  However, for the good of the athlete, you must pay attention to these “newbies”.  All too often they show up and just get tossed into the mix with the other athletes.  While it may take some creativity to integrate them properly and at the right pace, it will benefit them in the long run.

Mark

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The Athletic Position For Sports

The Athletic Position

No matter what sport the athlete plays I’ve always been a big believer in teaching them the role of the athletic position (or stance) while training them.  It plays a huge role for athletes in sports such as volleyball, football, baseball, tennis, and basketball.  While I think that many coaches try to get their athletes into this position, I’m not sure that they try to explain the importance of this stance to them.

Beach Volleyball Pic

What is an athletic position?

An athletic stance is one in which your feet are about shoulder width apart, your weight is centered on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips are flexed, your torso is leaning slightly forward, and your head and shoulders are up.

Why Is It Important?

While for many athletes, being in an athletic stance my come somewhat naturally, that may not be the case for all of them.  Athletes need to be comfortable in this stance and they need to be able to get into (and out of) this stance quickly.  Why?  Because this stance is involved in many sports.  This stance is the one that athlete get into before jumping vertically, it is a defensive position in basketball, it is part of a power clean, and the list goes on and on.  If you look at the beach volleyball picture above, the 2 players that are on the ground are in variations of an athletic stance.  It’s true that neither one is a perfect example, but we are also looking at an isolated picture.  Think about the position that the two other players were in just one second earlier. Right before they jumped, they both would have been in an athletic stance so that they could maximize their vertical jump.  Athletes may only stay in an athletic stance for a brief time, but they must be comfortable getting into and out of that stance. If not, it will impact their speed of play and efficiency.

Make sure 

Make sure to include teaching of the athletic stance in your training.  It plays a vital role in many sports and your athletes need to be comfortable in the stance.  They also need to understand why this stance is important, not only for their specific sport or position, but also the role that it plays in jumping and other skills.  With today’s athletes asking “why” more and more, this may help them to understand the importance of this position better.

Mark

 

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Building The Agility Toolbox

Tools Pic

Are you giving your athletes the right tools to succeed?

Many times when I talk about agility training to my athletes, I explain to them that I am trying to give them a set of “tools” to help them to compete better. I like using the analogy of tools because I feel that it works well for what we are trying to accomplish.  As I tell the athletes, most of us have a toolbox at home.  It usually has a hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc.  If I need to hammer a nail, I go and get the hammer.  If I need to loosen a bolt, I grab a wench.  In some situations I don’t need the hammer, and in some situations I don’t need a wrench.  I pick the most appropriate tool for the task and use it. It doesn’t matter what sport an athlete plays – football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, or anything else, many of the agility movements are hard to predict and practice for.  My job is to give athletes the tools (skills) and teach them how to use them.  I explain to them that once they are in a competition, I want their body to be able to react by instantly making the most efficient movement possible at that moment.

How do I accomplish this?

  • Evaluate the athlete and the skills that are needed for their sport
  • Teach them the basic skill(s) that they need to learn
  • Have them learn simple drills using the skills
  • Once they have begun to improve, make the drills more complex

It’s really just basic coaching/teaching.   I do try to show my athlete what I want them to learn out of each drill and help them to understand why the skill is important in their sport.  When they have gotten better at a particular skill or drill, I will make the drill more complex.  I do this by either adding a reaction component or incorporating another skill at some point in the drill.  Either of these will make things more difficult for the athlete and will further begin to cement that skill into their “toolbox”.  As the drills get more complex, it also takes them closer to the point of being sports specific.  I know, the only thing that is truly sports specific is playing the sport itself.  We still need to strive to get drills as close to what may happen in a sport as possible.  This definitely includes making the athlete react to something as part of a drill.  (I’ll write more about this in a later post).

When you plan out agility training, make sure that you are stocking your athletes toolbox with tools that they can use.

Mark

 

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Go Speed Racer

Speedy
Is speed important?

The old saying is “Strength thrills, speed kills.  If he’s even, he’s leavin’ “. How true is that saying?  Is speed the most important skill for an athlete? It probably depends on the sport, but for most athletes, speed plays a huge role in how competitive they are.  Isn’t speed largely genetic?  Can you really make someone faster with training?  Yes!!!

Every year, potential draftees for the NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues spend lots of money to work with sports performance experts prior to the draft.  Their goal is to improve their strength, speed, and other measurable factors so that they can get drafted higher.  While some of these athletes have track backgrounds that have helped them out, many of them have gotten by on genetic speed ability alone.  Once they focus on speed training for 4-6 weeks, it isn’t uncommon for some of them to shave .2 of a second off of their 40 yard times.  Keep in mind that these are some of the best amateur athletes in the world.  They have been training hard for years and they are still able to make major improvements in their speed when they receive focused training on their form.

How does this apply to other athletes?  Try this for starters – the next time you go watch a youth sporting event, pay attention to how many times a kid gets beaten by two steps or less.  In soccer, how many times does a kid get beaten to a free ball?  In baseball, how many baserunners get thrown out by a step or two?  In football, how many times does a player need an extra step or two to get by (or catch) another player?  From watching all of the sporting events that I have in my life, I can say that it happens A LOT!! One or two steps often makes all of the difference.

So, is speed the most important skill for an athlete to have?  It is more important in some sports than others, but in most sports the fastest athletes have a distinct advantage.  When you compete don’t you want to have that extra step or two?  I’d bet that you do.  Keep this in mind when you train.

Mark

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