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.
The British Medical Journal just published an interesting study about sports performance products. They looked at a variety of products that are marketed in the sports performance world. No matter if the product was a supplement, a shoe, a sports drink, or any other item, the scientists checked to see what claims the product made. They then tried to find research that validated the claims. Guess what? In many cases there wasn’t any published research that supported the product claims. Even if research did exist, many times it wasn’t enough to scientifically conclude that the advertised benefits were in fact true. Is this surprising? Probably not. While this study was conducted in Britain, I would guess that similar results would be found in the United States. Several notable American companies (Nike & Powerade) were included in the study because they market and sell in both countries.
In the U.S., the FDA thoroughly evaluates any new drug before it is approved for use. I’m sure that Britain has a similar process in place. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t try to regulate supplements. They only step in if there are numerous complaints and/or health risks (who remembers ephedra????).
Here are a few surprising facts from the study:
Over 50% of all product websites that made product claims did not provide any references for studies that would support these claims
When contacted, some companies were not willing to share their research (In reality, this may not be that surprising)
Once company believed that simply providing a video of their product being used was “sufficient”
So, what is the reality? Just like with many other products, companies tend to make impressive claims about the benefits of using their products. Unfortunately, these claims often aren’t supported by solid research. Regardless, due to marketing to a gullible public, many people don’t question the claims and just buy the products without further investigation. This tends to work out great for the companies who keep putting money in the bank. So what should consumers do? Remember the old P.T. Barnum quote “there’s a sucker born every minute”. Don’t be a sucker!!! Don’t believe everything that some company tells you about it’s newest diet pill, muscle growth powder, sports drink, shoe, shirt, or anything else. Be smart and do some research. While it is great to be able to just hop on the internet and Google something to get info about it, realize that not everything you read on the internet is true either. Make sure to get info from good sources. If you’re not sure where to start, Pubmed publishes abstracts from numerous scientific journals related to health, fitness, exercise, and medicine. Start there and see what you find.
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.
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.
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
I spent this past weekend at a volleyball tournament. Most of the players were 12 – 14 years old. With so much volleyball to watch, I tried to use it as a chance to gain a better perspective of the sport. I was trying to look at it from both an ATC viewpoint and a strength and conditioning one. I made several observations, some of which I’ll post later this week.
Today I thought that I would discuss the one that stood out the most. One team had a player that I feel is a recipe for a future ACL injury. First off, I hope that I’m 100% wrong. Now for the facts. The girl was already wearing a knee sleeve on one knee, and probably not by coincidence, she had a bad habit of landing only on that same leg after a jump. She was also somewhat overweight. Now, please don’t read too much into the fact that I said that she’s overweight. I don’t believe that fact itself guarantees a torn ACL. I do however believe that it could contribute if other factors are present. My major concerns revolved around her landing mechanics. While I don’t know the girl or her medical history, I would guess that poor mechanics have led to previous knee problems. My question is this: has anyone else realized this? Have her coaches noticed during the endless hours of practice and games? What about her doctor, assuming she saw one about her knee? The next question is when will they work on her landing mechanics? We all know that poor landing mechanics lead to bad things, especially for female athletes. Unfortunately, the first time this gets addressed may be in rehab after an ACL repair. The sad thing is that a good jumping / landing program might be able to lessen the chance of a serious knee injury ever occurring to this girl.
If you deal with high level athletes, overtraining is always a concern. Of course, even with younger athletes it can become an issue especially if the parents are pushing the kid. While there is a certain level of work that has to be put in for an athlete to maximize their potential, more isn’t always better when it comes to training. Overtraining can cause decreases in performance and leave athletes with an increased chance of injury. Obviously this is the opposite of what we are trying to do. Overtraining occurs over of a period of time when the athlete is not able to adequately recover from training. It doesn’t happen just because you have one hard workout.
So how can you monitor your athletes for overtraining? Here are a few ways:
Pay attention during the warm-up – If your athlete just doesn’t have that “bounce in their step” that they normally do, it could be a sign of overtraining. Watch the drills that the athlete performs and see if it’s just a day that the athlete is taking a little longer to get up to speed or it is a sign of a real issue. Of course, this tip goes right along with the next one.
Talk to your athlete – Want to know how your athlete feels? Ask them. Of course, sometimes it helps to know your athlete well. We’ve all worked with athletes that always feel great and with ones that always have something wrong. Make sure to talk to your athlete especially before the workout and during the warm up. This a great time to find out valuable info about eating and sleeping habits and many other factors that can affect their training and recovery. Ask some questions and if your get some strange responses then make sure to ask more questions.
Check their vertical jump – Some coaches advocate using the vertical jump test to evaluate overtraining. The idea is simple: an athlete that is overtrained won’t jump as high as they normally do. This is quick and easy way to check an athlete.
Use a questionnaire – Some coaches use a simple questionnaire to get info from the athlete. The questions are similar to ones that you would ask verbally (ex – “how did you sleep last night?”) but are given in paper form. While slightly more formal, this can be an effective way to get answers. It can also enable you to ask some different questions that you might not normally ask during the warm-up (about moods, depression, menstrual changes, etc). Because of this, it might be a good idea to find or create a questionnaire that can be used occasionally just to get a more complete view of your athletes recovery.
While there are other more expensive ways to monitor for overtraining, such as blood testing, for most of us these are not feasible or necessary. If you use the above methods you will be able to do an effective job of monitoring your athletes. This should enable them to continue to improve without any issues.
There was a good article published recently about developing young athletes. It focuses on sports specialization in young athletes. Besides the normal reasons I have used to put down the practice of early specialization, it cites another major one. It points out that according to much of the work on Long Term Athletic Development, if a child specializes at too early of an age, they will fail to develop basic athletic skills. The lack of these skills will then limit their overall athletic potential. I believe that this is 100 % correct. I recently watched a high school sporting event. While I was at the event, I spent time analyzing the basic athletic skills of some of the athletes (running form, agility, etc). While some of the players were certainly gifted, it was obvious that many of them had never been coached on basic running form and footwork. Many of the athletes on the field were getting by purely on natural ability. I saw some of the fastest players on the field display poor form. If they had been trained to run well previously, they would have been much faster. Not only would they have made their team better, they would have been better individually. Obviously that should appeal to those who are chasing college scholarships.
So, while early sport specialization can increase the chance of injury for your child, it can also actually limit their overall athletic development. Ironically, isn’t that the opposite of what certain people keep saying? It seems that many coaches continue to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the way to go. My advice when you hear statements like this – don’t believe it!!! Give your child a chance to try other sports, train to develop their overall athletic skills, and last but not least, to be a kid.