I’ve coached Little League for 25 years and do clinics all over the Northeast every year. During the question-and-answer sessions I always get asked what I see as the biggest difference coaching now versus when I first began twenty-five tears ago. I see a lot of differences, but two really stick out to me. The first is the competition baseball has with Lacrosse, which is growing like crazy and taking away many really good athletes from baseball. Lacrosse leagues are popping up everywhere and their season seems to coincide with youth baseball. The second difference I see is the tremendous popularity of baseball travel teams.Travel teams can be started by a local batting cage or even by one or two ambitious parents. They have to recruit kids, get teams to play, and secure an insurance certificate. There are a lot of other details, but with the emergence and growth of the Internet, travel leagues and tournaments are easy to find. And many times in the course of a season one or more parents who are not happy, for a number of reasons, will splinter off and start their own travel team, recruiting their own players. The first place they look to recruit from is the team they just took their son off. Multiple reality television shows can be made about what goes on with baseball travel teams. Along with this never-ending popularity comes other negative issues that are very damaging to the physical well-being of many of these youth players, such as the fact that many premier youth pitchers are on multiple travel teams, along with their school team. I have covered this issue before in my article about Burnout In Youth Sports in Baseball Chronicles One. Since I wrote that article, the situation for youth pitchers have gotten worse. It is at the point of epidemic proportions. Here are a few suggestions that parents should follow to protect their kid’s pitching arm.
1. Multiple League Common Sense I love baseball! When I was a youngster I loved it more than any other sport, but was never really very good at it. If I was 13 or 14 years-old today I would sign up for as many leagues as I could. This is what many of the kids do today. Some sign up for multiple leagues with the “encouragement” from mom and dad. If kids who pitch want to play in multiple leagues, and are being recruited, parents should choose only one league for their kids to pitch in. They should play another position in the other league(s) they participate in. Parents should have in writing from the coaches that they will not pitch their son for the team. If, for example, a parent’s son is on the Knights and the Red Birds, he’ll pitch for the Knights and play another position for the Red Birds.
2. Play Two Sports If your son pitches, then have him play two sports.This will help take the stress off using the same muscles over and over again in baseball-related activities. If he has an interest in soccer, that would be great. He’d be using the bottom half of his body.
3. Parents Track Pitch Count Parents must track the pitch count and cannot deviate from it once a number of pitches is determined per week. If your pitcher son plays on multiple teams and has a gifted arm, coaches will try to convince you that it is okay to sneak in a few extra pitches. Don’t do it. Stick to your guns on this one and make sure you express your restrictions at the beginning of the season.
4. Warming Up Is A Must When I coached young players, I was not a true believer in the importance of having players warm up before practices or a game. However, all the research studies in the past few years have stated only positives coming out of players warming up. Even for players as young as tee ball. If a player does not warm up, no matter how young, this may have future negative physical effects.
5. Rest It has been proven that for long distance runners at least one recovery day a week is beneficial to long-term training. In the world of sports in general, the saying, less can be more, is also very true. Many believe that the body actually repairs and strengthens itself between workouts. In youth sports, especially pitching, youngsters are so enthusiastic about something they are good at that it is hard to get them to rest. As parents you must insist upon it. There is nothing wrong with going away for the weekend without baseball. If you do this though, be fair to the coach and team and don’t do it during playoffs. Nevertheless, rest is extremely important.
6. Honor System You must convince your son that if he feels any slight pain at all, he must speak up. There is no negotiation with this. And if he feels something in his pitching arm during the game, he must tell his coach and come out of the game. There is no such thing as, “After this batter or inning, I’ll take you out.” If the coach won’t take him out, and you know about it, you can go right up to the field and call, “Time Out,” and walk on the field to take your son off. No one will question you once they know why you did it.
7. See Your Doctor If your son does have any pain, go see your doctor. If you are not confident in your doctor, go to an orthopedic. Doctors know, and should look out for the well being of your son.
These are just a few recommendations to follow to protect your son’s arm We all get caught up in the competitiveness of baseball with hopes of that college scholarship to USC or Arizona State. As parents we have to take a look at the complete situation and do what is in the best interest of your son in the long run.
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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