As Spring Training is underway in Florida and Arizona, it won't be long until high school and youth baseball fields are filled with the unmistakable sounds of metal bats and gloves popping.
Unfortunately, there has been a significant upswing in the number of youth baseball injuries in recent years. However, many of these injuries can be preventable with awareness and vigilance from coaches, parents, and players.
Although coaches need to watch pitch counts, fatigue, etc; parents and players must also be responsible for communicating with coaches if something feels off. I encourage all parents and coaches to read the recommendations from USA Baseball, STOP Sports Injuries, Pitch Smart and a host of other organizations. The following guidelines are crucial to minimizing the risk of injury for youth through high school baseball players:
1) Do NOT pitch with arm fatigue. A young pitcher should not feel tired during a game or over the course of the season. According to the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), adolescents pitching with arm fatigue were 36 times more likely to undergo shoulder/elbow surgery in their lifetime.
2) Follow inning guidelines — daily, weekly, and yearly. Parents should log every pitch and inning their child throws. This can be done easily on your phone. If your child pitches for multiple teams, throws a scrimmage or showcase, you need to count those pitches and communicate them to your coaches.
3) Take a break. Players should take at least two to three months off from throwing and four months off from pitching each year. ASMI research found that pitching more than eight months of the year increased the risk of surgery by five times.
4) Follow pitch count restrictions. According to research by the MLB's Pitch Smart campaign, pitch counts in Little League Baseball have reduced shoulder injuries by 50 percent. Note that these will change with age. Some pitchers may mature slower or may be new to pitching
5) Refrain from pitching on consecutive days. Following pitch count restrictions will often restrict pitching on back-to-back days; however even if you only threw a few pitches, it is best to have at least one day off to recover.
6) Youth pitchers should avoid throwing curveballs and sliders. Throwing a curve ball or slider often changes mechanics in younger pitchers and this may lead to injury. Instead, work on your fastball, change-up and hit your spots.
7) You should only play for one team at a time. But if you are going to play for multiple teams, you should only pitch for one team to allow full recovery. Make sure you have enough recovery time between pitching.
8) A pitcher should not also be a catcher. Catching is the second most throwing position in baseball. Catching and pitching led to 2.7 times great risk of major arm injury, according to ASMI data. Pitchers need to recover and if they catch or make too many throws following a pitching outing, this will not give them adequate recovery time. The player should choose between the two positions and be careful how many throws he makes at any other position.
9) If you have an injury, you should not pitch. This should be obvious if you have an upper body injury; however if you have an injury to your core or lower body, you will likely change your mechanics which may lead to injury. Pitching with pain is NEVER ok. There will be another game.
10) Participate in a sport-specific strengthening program. Using a program designed for football or another sport will not help prevent injuries in baseball pitchers.
11) Avoid using a Radar Gun. Pitching with a Radar Gun makes it more likely that you will throw too hard, increasing your risk of injury.
Although following the guidelines above will not prevent every injury, it will certainly make it more likely that you will stay healthy as a pitcher. Most importantly communicate and speak up if you feel your child is being over used. Baseball is a great game, let's work together to keep our players healthy, having fun, and pitching for a long time.