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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Lower The Injury Rate By Strength Training

Weights Pic

Strength training helps to prevent injuries.

 

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.

Mark

 

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The Right Way

I have been very fortunate to have some great influences in my life.  I have had numerous family members, friends, and others help me out and show me the way.  I was also blessed to have several incredible coaches when I was younger.  They not only taught me the sport, but they taught me about  life.

There are two coaches that I will probably always remember.  One was a youth soccer coach and one was a high school football coach/ strength coach.

The soccer coach taught me two important lessons:

  • Work hard – As young kids, we probably ran more sprints than other teams that we played against.  While hard work isn’t always fun, it is necessary to get you better.  We learned to accept that and we had good teams as a result.
  • Nothing is given – I had my first sports injury experience while playing soccer.  I hurt my knee and the doctor had me sit out for two weeks.  I had been a starting forward before the injury.  My first game back I was told that I was going to be a starting midfielder.  I said “Coach, I’ve never played midfield.  I play forward.”  His reply, “You’ve been out hurt and you lost your spot.  You have to earn it back.”  That may have been the hardest I ever played in my life.  By the second half, I had my spot back at forward.  Lesson learned.

From the football coach, I learned too many things to count:

  • Hard Work – As a player, I learned even more about the importance of hard work and never slacking off.  I also realized how many people don’t like hard work.
  • Structure – I was also very fortunate to be part of a well-structured strength training program.  There was an intelligent plan and we followed it.  It took me awhile to realize how rare this is in high school programs, even today.
  • Program Implementation – Later in life, I got to work with my former coach for 8+ years.  He taught me an incredible amount about designing and implementing programs as well as many of the finer details of strength training.  He did a great job teaching and explaining why certain exercises should be done a certain way.  He also made sure that the whole program was sound and done correctly.
  • Working Around Injuries- One of the greatest things that I learned was how to work around an injury when training an athlete.  I really learned to look for alternative exercises instead of just having an injured athlete sit out.
  • Faith – I also have to give him credit for teaching me about many things other than coaching.  Tops on the list has to be all that I learned from him about my faith.

After thinking through all of the things that I learned from these coaches, what is the most important life lesson that I learned?  It has to be to do things the right way.  In life and in coaching, it is important to do things with integrity, to work hard, to not slack off, and to do your best.  Every day we can find examples in the news and in our own lives of people not doing things the right way.  It’s easy to avoid adding your name to that list – just do things the right way.

Mark

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They Can’t Run

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.

Mark

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Teen Athletes: Extra Recovery Needed?

sleeping teen pic

Is your teen athlete getting enough recovery time?

One two separate occasions recently, I have had some sort of discussion about recovery for teen athletes.  Once was with a coach and once was in response to a comment on my blog.  Both of these got me thinking about the demands that we tend to place on teenage athletes.  I don’t think that we always account for all of these when we plan out our training programs. As coaches, we often think that the athletes are only practicing or exercising when we see them.  However, that isn’t always the case.  So what does the “average” teenager do in a normal day?

  • School
  • Homework
  • Chores at home/job
  • Social time
  • Eating, showering, and other necessary things

So what about their sporting activities?

  • Practice for sport #1
  • Practice for sport # 2 (if applicable)
  • Travel time necessary for away games/practices
  • Strength training/conditioning
  • Miscellaneous sports activities – pick up basketball, PE classes, etc

While not all of these apply to every teen, this isn’t that uncommon for some teens.  I have talked to many teens who are involved in multiple sports for a large portion of the year.  They try to squeeze in as many practices, games, and strength & conditioning sessions as they can in the course of a year.  So where does that lead?  It leads to athletes who are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  It leads to athletes who aren’t happy, who suffer academically, and who end up a physical mess due to never getting enough breaks and recovery time.

So what should we do as a coach to help?

  • Get to know your athletes – Do they play other sports?  When?  How often do they practice/play?
  • Try to coordinate – I’ve seen too many times that a coach tries to keep their athletes going year round and never give them a break.  Try to work things out with the athlete and their other sport(s).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work out too often.  Usually it’s because the ADULT EGOS get in the way.
  • Give athletes ample recovery time – Plan it into your season and your training.
  • Educate your athletes – I realize that athletes (and parents) won’t always listen to you.  Regardless, you should still make every effort to educate them about recovery and overtraining.
  • Don’t be afraid to make an athlete take a break – The best thing for them may be to send them home for a few days and make them take a break.  Of course, you can’t control what they do during this time off, but hopefully they actually rest.

We can’t control everything that our athletes do, especially when they are away from us.  Also realize that we haven’t even touched on nutrition, sleep, the growth state that teens are in and how they affect recovery.  As a coach, we know that all of these things work together and drastically affect how our athletes recover and perform.  However, coaches need to focus on what they can control.  Make sure that you know all of the demands placed on your athletes, plan appropriately, and attempt to educate them.  Even though many things are out of our control, hopefully taking these steps will help.

Mark

 

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Football Might Have It Right

Football Has It Right Pic

Is football doing it better than any other sport?

Football might have it right.  What do they have right?  The sports development model.  The sport of football is probably doing it better than any other sport simply because they only have one defined season.  The American football season starts in August/September and plays out over the next several months.  There aren’t opportunities to play organized tackle football year round.  While college and some states do have “spring football”, that isn’t quite the same thing.  Spring football is generally about three weeks of organized practices.  It isn’t the same as playing a true spring season.  It’s not like soccer, softball, baseball, wrestling, volleyball, and lacrosse players that play travel ball and participate in tournaments during the 8 months that their school team isn’t in season.

So how does this help football player development?

  • It cuts down on overuse injuries – what do you think causes all of the arm and shoulder problems in baseball?  Year-round throwing maybe?
  • It forces coaches to work on other things during the off-season – lifting, speed, agility, etc.  According to most sport development models, there should be a defined “off-season” where these skills become the focus.
  • It makes the football season more special for everyone – when you play year round on multiple teams, how much does each win or loss matter?  The legendary John Wooden didn’t want his players playing in the off-season partially for this reason.

It’s too bad the so many other sports have taken other approaches to sports development.  I’m not sure that playing year-round is good for the athletes and is the best way to develop them long-term.  Unfortunately, there are a few youth football leagues that are starting to have a true spring season in addition to playing in the fall. Hopefully this concept doesn’t become the norm in football.

Mark

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Female Strength Training

Barbie Pic

The cover says it all.

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.

Mark

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Concussion Prevention For Football: Strengthening The Neck

Football Tackle Pic

Is this a concussion happening?

Concussions In Football

One of the hot topics in sports medicine the last few years has been concussions.  It seems that every where you turn, concussions are being discussed.  Many articles and news stories have been run covering all aspects of concussions – testing, treatment, prevention, even the possible limited lifespan of American football as we know it.  One idea that has received some mention is the concept of neck strengthening to help prevent concussions.  Since football season is underway, I thought that I’d address this topic.

Why is neck strength important?

Almost any type of impact in sports can cause a concussion.  These impacts can come from other players, the ground, or even a ball.  We usually think that you have to get struck in the head to get a concussion.  That’s not entirely true.

Youth Football Tackle Pic

Even a blow to the body can cause a concussion if the forces are great enough

Anything that causes a sudden movement of the head can cause the brain to accelerate inside the skull.  Of course, after it has accelerated, it strikes the inside of the skull which causes a concussion. Having strong neck muscles can help to limit the dramatic forces that can take place when struck in the head or elsewhere.  While not all concussions can be prevented, anything that we can do to keep the head more stable should help to decrease the chance of getting one.  Years ago, I was taught that it was important for football players to strengthen the neck to prevent neck injuries.  It’s also an important to part of concussion prevention.  Some college football programs have placed a renewed emphasis on neck strengthening.  Has it helped reduce concussions?  Several of these colleges have reported about a 50% decrease in concussions.  While these weren’t scientific studies, I think that  we should all take note and realize that include neck training in the programs for our teams.

What To Do

So, what should you do to train the neck?  You should focus on exercises that work the neck in six directions:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Flexion (right & left)
  • Rotation (right & left)

These exercises should be done twice per week for 2-3 sets of 10.  If you have access to one, you can use a 4-way neck machine for everything except the rotation movements.  Other possible methods to complete the exercises include:

  • Manual resistance (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with a towel (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with an exercise band (individual or partner)
  • Neck Bridges

While it is important to train all of these specific neck motions, you must also train the trapezius muscle.  The trapezius helps to extend the neck and can help to add stability if it is strong.  The best exercises to use are shrugs and upright rows.  These exercises should be included twice per week also.  Shrugs can be done for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.  I usually keep upright rows to 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

One more thing that can be done is to add in some perturbation movements.  Many times in football, an athlete doesn’t see a block or hit in time to prepare his body for the impact.  These movements can help  improve neck stability during these unseen impacts.  To do perturbations, have an athlete in a seated position with their eyes closed.  Their neck should be held in a neutral position.  Have their partner suddenly but gently push their head in random directions.  The athlete should respond to the push by attempting to stop the head motion using their neck muscles.  I would suggest doing one set of 20 repetitions.

I have always believed in training the neck to prevent neck injuries.  With the  rash of concussions that seem to be happening in football, it has become even more important to train these muscles.  Make sure to find time in your program to include these exercises.  I know, none of us ever have enough time to fit everything in our strength programs.  Now there’s one more thing to include?  Just remember, while it may be important to do the bench, squat, clean, etc,  there is nothing more important than preventing potential injuries.  Make neck strengthening a priority in your program.

 

Mark

P.S.  While the info in this post was related to football, it applies to many other sports also.  The same program can be used for athletes that play soccer, lacrosse, and many other sports.  It can be especially vital for females to strengthen their necks.  Experts in concussions have begun recommending neck strengthening for females after realizing that they tend to have less neck strength than males.

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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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