My previous post on pitching injuries was aimed to provide general knowledge on what to avoid for many youth pitchers. This will be more specific on what volume of throwing is too much and how to avoid injuries altogether. A vast majority of baseball injuries are from overuse. Overuse can result from players throwing too much, playing too many games, and engaging early specialization. Let’s dive into these ideas.
First, lets discuss the position your child plays after pitching. Due to the fact that adherence to pitch count guidelines (chart posted at the end of this article) is vital to pitcher safety, pitchers should be removed from the game when they have met their pitch count recommendation. They should be given time to rest during the remainder of the game. Of course, he can bat if the rules allow, but he should not go back out to play in the field. Going back out to play in the field can be a costly, dangerous mistake. Pitching is exhausting in itself. Imagine having to go play a different position after that! Having to throw even more after being taken off the mound can be dangerous to a tired arm. However, in some situations, it is unavoidable (tournaments). If this is the case, make sure that the pitcher avoids one fielding position: catching. Catchers are the second most injured player on a baseball field. Think about it…they throw just as much as a pitcher does. Even though it may not be at full force, the catcher still has to throw the ball back to the pitcher after EVERY pitch. That is an incredibly high volume of throwing that will undoubtedly wear out your player. Playing while fatigued often causes a player to use poor mechanics. With the use of poor mechanics, a player has an increased likelihood of injuring himself. The importance of proper mechanics will be discussed in future blog posts, so keep an eye out for it.
Traveling teams are another way a player can end up at risk of overuse. Parents sometimes think, “Wow, that player on that traveling team is really good! Maybe we should have our son play on a traveling team so he can get better.” This is not necessarily a bad idea. Often times athletes can improve by playing against better opposition, and working with better, different coaches. Players who play on traveling teams as well as a school team end up playing up to 70 games or more in just a matter of a few months. If your player is accustomed to playing less than 30 games in a year, 70 games can be too much for a young arm, no matter what position they play. This is an example of high volume of throwing in a short amount of time.
Another difficulty that players face involving high throwing volume in a short period of time arises from tournament play. Despite the fact that tournaments give your child opportunities to play against people from other areas of the country and experience baseball outside of the state many times, the format for tournament play often places a pitcher at risk for injury. Tournaments require teams to play several games in a short time frame, requiring a team to plow through their pitchers in a short amount of time. If the team does not have enough pitchers to have each one pitch only once or twice per tournament, your son may end up pitching on shortened rest. This means the player does not get the recommended rest between pitching appearances. As long as there are enough pitchers for the schedule, a tournament can be a valuable, memorable experience for a young player.
In addition to a high volume of throwing in a short amount of time, it is also important to take into account high throwing volume over the course of a year. Think about what playing on a travel or club team does to your child’s schedule as well as their body. Many teams expect your player to begin practicing in the winter to prepare for spring ball. Then they play all spring and summer. In addition to playing in the winter to work towards the spring/summer ball season, your player may be expected to play fall ball to maintain their skills. Now go back and count how many seasons your child participates in baseball activities (Hint: 4/4). In addition to the risk of a player becoming burned out, this year-round play can limit your child’s athletic growth.
Playing baseball, or any sport really, year-round, is called specialization. I know what you are thinking: “If my son practices playing baseball all year, he will get a leg up on the other players and be able to play on better teams.” This strategy may work for a short period of time, but the risk of injury skyrockets because the player is constantly using the same muscle groups and always performing the same tasks. College coaches and professional scouts don’t care how many games a player has played, or what team he played fall baseball with. In fact, some don’t even want players who only play baseball. Good coaches and scouts are aware that this kind of specialization can cause damage to a player. Do you think a scout wants to pick a player at risk of being “damaged goods” or a strong player and well-rounded athlete? If you google “best athletes of all time” 3 of the first 5 results are Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Jim Thorpe. What do these three guys have in common? Drumroll……They are all multi-sport professional athletes. They never specialized, and became the best athletes in the world. Evidence shows that pitching more than 8 months out of a year makes your son 5 times more likely to need a surgery on his throwing arm, as determined in a 10-year prospective study. Having your player stay away from throwing for 3-4 months is the current recommendation. Specialization is more appropriate once your player reaches high school. Until then, let your son enjoy all that sports have to offer, playing soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and any other sport that will keep him strong, active, and healthy.
It is so important for parents to know and understand that many baseball injuries can be avoided with proper awareness for a player’s safety and quality coaching. No parent wants their child to become burned out or injured, so take the steps necessary to prevent these things from happening. All it takes is some research before sending your player out there on the field. Remember, scouts want happy athletes, not damaged goods. In addition to encouraging your son to get involved in other sports, one of the most important choices you can make is deciding which coach is best for your son. There are some coaches who aware of the importance of pitch count limits; which pitchers need rest and which are able to safely throw today. Seek these coaches out. A good coach will know that there is a huge risk of throwing too much, and will make decisions that take into account the safety of your player. Afterall, your child’s safety is paramount.
If you have any questions about this topic please feel free to ask them in the comments section. If you would like me to come speak with your players, my contact information is available on the website
Fleisig GS, Andrews JR. Prevention of Elbow Injuries in Youth Baseball Pitchers. Sports Health. 2012;4(5):419-424. doi:10.1177/1941738112454828.
Glenn S. Fleisig, James R. Andrews, Gary R. Cutter, Adam Weber, Jeremy Loftice,Chris McMichael, Nina Hassell, Stephen Lyman.Risk of Serious Injury for Young Baseball Pitchers: A 10-Year Prospective Study Am J Sports Med February 2011 39 253-257; doi:10.1177/0363546510384224
Chart acquired from: http://m.mlb.com/pitchsmart/pitching-guidelines