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.
Just like many of you, I’ve spent part of the last week watching the Olympics. There has been a big deal made about Ryan Lochte’s training and some of the unusual things that he does to prepare. These include tire flips, keg tosses, and using ropes. Some other S & C coaches have given their thoughts on his workouts. Some of these were positive and some not so much. Some of us might not feel comfortable putting an athlete through strongman type activities. Ryan’s S & C coach, Matt Delancey, does. I’ve heard Matt speak on a few occasions at clinics, including one lecture on the use of strongman exercises with athletes. I also had an opportunity to watch him at work. Matt is a former strongman competitor so yes, sometimes strongman exercises make it into the routines he uses with his athletes. One thing that you may not know is how much Matt emphasizes correct form. He is much less worried with how much weight someone can lift than he is with developing and maintaining proper form. His number one rule for strongman exercises is that as soon as the athletes form breaks down, you stop the exercise. I believe that having a full understanding of an exercise how to perform it correctly is crucial to being a good S & C Coach. While many of us might not feel comfortable including strongman exercises, often that is due to our background and a lack of knowledge about the exercises. While some might not agree with using these exercises with a swimmer, his coach is very comfortable with it. He is also very competent to teach the exercises and keep them safe. Whether we agree with the program that Ryan does or have some issues with it, we need to keep one thing in mind: every coach is different. Every coach has different backgrounds and experiences, different styles, and different levels of comfort with certain exercises or methods. That’s one of the neat things about strength and conditioning. While there is a lot of science that we rely on, there is also room for each of us to be unique and create our own program. Just because a program is different than one we might design, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
Here’s a sample of Ryan’s Training.
Strongman Exercises For Everyone?
One post I read a few days ago stated that Lochte’s training would have a negative effect on many clients. The author felt that many of their clients would come in begging to include tire flips, etc in their training. He’s probably right. I’m sure that due to the publicity, many athletes and coaches will suddenly want to include these in their training. Guess what? In general, that’s probably not a good idea. Remember, training programs should be individualized based on many factors including what the athlete is capable of. There also needs to be consideration given to what the coach can safely teach the athlete. This is where my greatest fear is. I hope that coaches stick with what is right and with what they can safely teach. Unfortunately, some won’t and they will end up needlessly injuring some athletes.
While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published. The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players. I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.
Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:
The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing. They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail. They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso. The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback. While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement. Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.
So, what are the take home points?
Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements. Remember that some people are visual learners. Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks. What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics? What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them? What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday? I’m sure that the results would be more significant. As they say, “practice makes perfect”. What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball? I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.
No question that it will go fast. But how does it stop without crashing?
I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries. I thought that I would expand on that somewhat. We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries. I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse. If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics. This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL. Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.
So, what can be done to help? We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast. In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs. It should be the same with athletes. We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running. The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly. Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat. You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill. We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps. However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land. Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything. Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.
Want to see the effect that proper landings can have? Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics. They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics. The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm. The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).
I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes. Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.
So how should the athletes land?
Should land on their toes
Keep their knees flexed
Keep their head/shoulders up
A good way to check on their landings is to listen. The athlete should “land softly”. If you hear a loud landing, it’s a good sign they they landed on their heels and probably had their knees straight. This type of landing puts too much force through their ankles, knees, and hips.
As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired. We all get sloppy when we are tired. Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.
In my previous post on post-season recovery, I discussed why it is important for athletes to recover after their season concludes. Now lets discuss some guidelines for how to accomplish sufficient recovery.
First off, remember that these guidelines are based on an ideal situation. As we all know, those rarely happen in the sports world. Since the NBA Finals are going on right now, we’ll use them as an example. In case you’re not paying attention to the finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing the Miami Heat. If that series goes the full 7 games, their season won’t finish until June 26th. Obviously making the finals is a great achievement and no team would trade that for anything. At the same time, teams that didn’t make the playoffs finished playing their last games on April 26th. That’s two months before the Heat and Thunder will be done. To fully put things in perspective, last year NBA training camps were originally scheduled to open October 3rd. That was before the lockout ended up shortening the season. If the dates stay similar in 2012, that means that the teams that didn’t make the playoffs will have as much as two extra months to strength train for next season. It also means that they will have more time to recover from the rigors of the 2011-12 season. The odd twist is that the teams that had the best seasons and played the most games will have the least amount of time to recover. As a strength coach you have to be prepared to work around multiple issues, especially if the length of your off-season can be drastically shortened by your teams success.
So what guidelines should you follow during your recovery?
Heal Up – during a season, almost every player ends up with some bumps and bruises. No matter how my we work to prevent them, it’s going to happen. Many of these can be healed up with some rest. For more significant injuries, make sure to continue rehabbing them. With no time devoted to practice and games, you should be able to make some serious headway towards getting well.
Check For Imbalances – Checking for imbalances ties in closely with rehab. Over the course of a season, players can develop numerous strength and flexibility imbalances. As an example, baseball pitchers tend to develop greater external rotation in their pitching shoulder during the season. Some people believe that this can lead to other problems if it is not addressed in the off-season. Step one to solving these problems is to identify them right after the season. Then the player can begin to work on them during the recovery phase.
Stay Active – This phase is a recovery phase, not a sit on the sofa and be lazy phase. In many of the publications on periodization, this phase if called “active rest”. Athletes need to stay active to some extent, even during recovery. Staying active doesn’t mean going to the gym for a two hour lift-a-thon. It does however mean doing something physical. This is a great time for athletes to participate in other fitness or sports activities that they enjoy. I read once that Arnold Schwarzenegger used to enjoy riding bikes and playing volleyball after he competed in the Mr. Olympia each year. I believe that it can be beneficial for athletes to follow the same sort of plan. Find one activity (or several) that you enjoy doing that will help you to exercise. Then participate in this activity several times a week. The idea is to keep yourself active, break a sweat, use your muscles, and get your heart and lungs going. If you do choose to lift weights, keep things light – 3 sets of 10-12 at bout 70% of your one rep max is a good guideline.
Rest – Yes, you should rest your body during this recovery time. Get plenty of sleep and relax some. This is not the time to stay out until all hours of the night partying it up. Enjoy time with your family and friends but just remember, the crazier you get with your lifestyle, the harder it will be to get back into peak shape later.
The big question now is, how long should the recovery phase last? Periodization models tend to recommend 1-2 weeks. I have always like Arnold’s recommendation. He said that he would stay out of the gym until he really got the itch to go back. He figured that was his body’s way of telling him that he was ready to start training again. I believe that two weeks is a good starting point. If you communicate with your athletes, you may find out that some of them need more time and some need less. You can always tweak the length of time if you need to. If you are dealing with younger athletes, it may be necessary to provide some structure for them during this time. If you tell them to “go rest but stay active” you will have athletes doing all sorts of things based on their own interpretation. A structured plan may be better for them. That way you can have some control over what they are doing for recovery.
Regardless of what the circumstances are, a post season recovery period can be very beneficial to your athletes. Make sure to include one in your planning.
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.
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:
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.
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.
A few months ago, my wife convinced me to join a coed softball team with her. I’m not really a softball person, but she knew several members of a team and they needed a few players. I figured out that I could fit it into my work schedule so I agreed to play. I thought that it would be good since I haven’t played anything competitive in awhile. Little did I know how much softball would help me.
I can honestly say that I’ve had fun playing. I’ve also enjoyed the competition and the personal challenges. Being a little older I tended to get more bumps, bruises, and dings in my body than I seem to remember from my younger days. Some things haven’t changed much though: I still get frustrated when I make mistakes and excited to make good plays and win games. So what has all of this done for me? It’s made me really examine each bump and bruise, each mistake, every high and low. You know what? It helped remind me what it’s like for my athletes when the same things happen to them. It made me remember why athletes don’t want to “sit out” when something hurts. It reminded me of the emotions that play such a large role in sports. While I know that coed rec league softball isn’t exactly the Olympics, it still helped remind me what it’s like to have a little “inner fire” inside.
While I hadn’t really forgotten any of these things, it was still good to experience them again. When we deal with athletes we can’t afford to forget what it was like to be one. If we do forget, we won’t ever be able to truly connect with them and understand them.
The May issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research has an excellent article called “The Junction Boys Syndrome”. The syndrome title is based on the book and movie called “The Junction Boys”. These both tell the story of the year that “Bear” Bryant took over as head coach at Texas A&M. He took his players off-campus for a brutal pre-season camp. Numerous players were injured and/or quit the team during the camp.
The article by Scott Anderson discusses the fact that modern football “training regimens are too often built on tradition versus based on science and place players at-risk”. He then gives us information and facts about the 21 nontraumatic deaths in NCAA FBS football since 2000. Sixteen of these deaths occurred during strength and conditioning activities.
Is Anderson right? Yes, Are many of these deaths caused by the “tradition” of intense work making tougher and better football players? Unfortunately, yes. Why is this? There are numerous resources available to help people design safe and effective training programs. There are also qualified Strength & Conditioning coaches to design and implement the programs. We even have Certified Athletic Trainers who can help monitor athletes for signs of medical problems during workouts and then care for them if necessary. So why do we still have deaths? I think that there are three main reasons:
Influence of the Football Coaches – The S & C world is full of stories of sport coaches dictating how they want the strength and conditioning program run. While some of this has to do with trust and respect, if the S & C Coach is qualified and competent, let them do their job. If they aren’t qualified and competent, then hire someone who is.
The “I’ll Make You Puke Mentality” – While I understand the get tough mentality, I think that if a S & C Coach uses puking as the goal for the workouts that he designs, it’s sad. With all of the research and knowledge at our disposal, there should be a better goal that they can come up with. Vern Gambetta has discussed his thoughts on work and makes a good point “…puking at the end of a workout is not the measure of a good training.”
Tradition – It is true that in some instances, football training is still in the dark ages. Top this with the fact that there are still numerous veteran coaches who believe in doing things traditionally, and it leads to problems. New research is published all of the time to help show what works and what doesn’t. S & C Coaches should constantly be trying to learn and use this knowledge to make their programs better. As for the football coaches, see #1 above.
Should we still have nontraumatic deaths during football training? No. The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen. Scott Anderson ends his article by saying that it is time for these deaths to stop. I don’t see how anyone could disagree.
P.S. If you want to know how we believe that training should be, click here to find out Sports Upgrade
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.