HOW TO DERAIL A YOUNG PITCHER’S POTENTIAL CAREER
At ASMI (American Sports Medicine Institute) Orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and biomechanists all work together to study how to prevent injuries in pitchers. They are one of the few institutions that do research on youth baseball players and pitchers.
They fix a lot of shoulder and elbow injuries but they devote a lot of time, effort and money in researching how to prevent those injuries. To me, it shows a lot about the character of the man who heads the institute, Dr. James Andrews. He could just sit back and do all those surgeries on all those arms. But he cares. He has seen the looks on many young faces when they realize their pitching days are over.
And he feels many of those injuries could have been prevented.
We are going to explore situations that lead to injuries here…
- Parents who are “over the top.” Many are misguided into believing their son is going to be the next superstar. Dr. Andrews told the story of the parents of a SIX year old youngster who played tennis. They came to Dr. Andrews wanting to know the name of a good agent for him. He was enrolled in a tennis school in Miami.
Dr. Andrews has had parents who have asked him to perform Tommy John surgery on their son even though he was not injured. They had heard many pitchers have come back stronger than ever after UCL surgery. (What they didn’t know was that many pitchers do come back stronger but that is because for the first time in their life they are in terrific shape. Because of the physical therapy and training they get after elbow surgery they get into the best shape of their careers. That is what makes them stronger, not the surgery.)
May years ago a physician once told me this and I have never forgotten it. “Surgery is a medical failure. Medicine has not come far enough to fix certain illnesses without invasive procedures.”
I believe all proud parents have surrendered to some form of self-satisfaction when their son does well in sports. But we should never let it interfere with his development to the point that he is injured.
- Year ‘round baseball. Here’s an interesting fact:
Almost all of the elbow surgeries that ASMI does are performed on young kids from warm weather states; where they can play baseball all year. The majority came from Texas, California and Florida.
We are overusing our kids. They are wearing out at entirely too young an age. They play fall ball, summer ball, spring ball and winter ball. Some are quite skilled and look like miniature big leaguers.
But they are not. They are kids whose growth plates have not closed and whose tendons and ligaments haven’t had a chance to mature and strengthen.
- Showcases. Here’s one I didn’t think of.
These winter showcases where scouts have their radar guns and kids “cowboy up” to throw their hardest. It’s November and Tommy just got through with playing quarterback on his football team. He has not thrown a baseball since August. He warms up a little and sees all those radar guns and POW! (Dr. Andrews believes they should throw away all the radar guns. He believes they are detrimental because kids overthrow trying to put up big numbers.)
Baseball is developmental and a youngster can’t jump in and out of the sport. He needs a proper warm up and strengthening phase; one measured in weeks, not days.
- Uninformed and EROT Coaches.
(EROT- End Results Oriented Thinking.) Grab the hardware and the glory as opposed to thinking about the kids’ welfare.)
These guys are easy to spot. Watch and listen.
- Do they constantly talk stats?
- Do they yell at kids for a physical error?
- Do they get on kids that strike out swinging?
- Do they insert a pitcher with one or two days rest into a championship tournament game? “Tommy’s got to go in. We have to win this game.”
- What do their practices look like? Do you see a lot of kids standing around while one kid takes batting practice?
- Does this coach bring in kids to pitch directly from a position without throwing a bullpen?
- Winning over development is paramount with these people. Keep your child away from them if you can.
- Breaking Pitches. Much has been written about the perils of throwing breaking balls.
Curveballs, wait until 14- sliders not until 18. This is a very difficult standard for a young pitcher. There is pressure to get hitters out from youth coaches and these coaches ‘teach’ the curve ball as a means to an end. The irony of that is while the young pitcher is getting youth hitters out he is retarding the development of his fastball- the most important pitch in has arsenal when he matures.
- Travel and Multiple teams
Little Johnny pitches on Monday and Thursday for his LL team. Then on Saturday he pitches for his travel team. That simply is not enough rest for any pitcher. All the stress a pitcher puts on his arm is cumulative and it will wear out. Parents, follow pitch count and rest recommendations. Don’t let a youth coach ruin your son’s chances for a possible future baseball career.
- “Not on My Watch!”
This is a beauty. Have you seen the youth coach that has his kids throw curveballs and doesn’t pay any attention to pitch counts? Then he brags that none of his kids have ever had an arm injury while they were playing for him.
What the uninformed don’t know is that most of the time shoulder and elbow injuries will not manifest themselves right away. They won’t show up until high school or even later. Most injuries occur because of the repetitive stress placed on the joints over time.
A kid may hear a ‘pop’ when he blows out his UCL but that ‘pop’ occurred because of the cumulative stress he placed on his elbow over the years. It is the straw that broke the camel’s back sort of thing.
The only defense for a parent is to become educated and keep control over their son’s youth pitching. More than likely no one else is going to.
- Mechanics. What you don’t know can hurt your child. Our advice is to learn all you can about pitching mechanics and to help your son learn a sound delivery.
There is a dilemma, however. So much has been written on the Internet and in books about pitching mechanics. Everywhere you look there are pitching instructors. Seems like there’s one on every corner. It can get very confusing.
A parent has to make up his own mind about what is right for his son.
I would consider these things:
- Who and how many players (have gone on the play in college or professionally) has the instructor worked with?
- Does what he teach make sense biomechanically? Proper athletic movements must follow the laws of physics. Not that you have to become a physics student but think about what the instructor teaches and ask yourself if it makes sense.
- A parent should attend every session. Don’t use an instructor who doesn’t believe that. You must learn as your son is learning.
- Ask questions. Think about the answers he gives you.
- Does this instructor seem to have your son’s best interest at heart? In my opinion you should stay away from a pitching instructor who teaches a youth pitcher a curve ball.
- Hard throwers. It is the kids who throw with the highest velocity that are most at risk. These kids should be nurtured. Pitch counts, days rest, innings pitched and outings should be carefully monitored. Young growth plates are exposed to incredible stresses when a kid has above average velocity. But sadly, it is these at-risk kids that get overused and it is because of their velocity that they are so dominant. Ironic isn’t it?
Parent should understand the difference between throwing and pitching. Pitching is a very stressful activity. Throwing builds arm strength. We believe kids don’t do enough throwing. Every baseball player should have some sort of throwing program.
Throwing program, bullpens, game day pitch counts, minimal number of (or no) breaking pitches, good mechanics and adequate days rest between pitching outings. This will give your pitcher his best chance for baseball health.