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.
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