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Youth Baseball

The other night I went out to the Kroc Center in South Bend to watch two of my grandsons (ages 8 and 4) play coach-pitch youth baseball and it struck me that youth baseball might be an interesting topic for a column.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission reports that in 2010 more than 414,000 Americans were treated in hospitals, doctors offices and emergency rooms for baseball related injuries, and just over 282,000 of the players treated were 18 and under.

Younger players are physically immature and more susceptible to training errors so they are at risk for overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow. Additionally, while baseball is considered a noncontact sport, most injuries are the result of contact with a bat, a ball, a base, or another player.

As you’ve read in many of my prior columns, prevention is key. Players need to stretch, warm up with light running or calisthenics, hydrate, and not only wear protective gear but also wear it properly. Batting helmets should be worn at the plate, in the on-deck circle, and while running the bases. Boys should wear protective cups and girls padded bras.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that all youth leagues emphasize proper technique. On the base paths, they recommend that players under age 10 not be taught to slide, and when coaches teach sliding technique they should begin with breakaway bases. Ideally, all youth leagues should use breakaway bases because a large proportion of baseball injuries occur while sliding. Mike Trout, center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels, and Wladimer Galindo, third basemen for the South Bend Cubs, are just two big-timers who’ve missed significant time with sliding injuries this year. Unfortunately, breakaway bases are expensive, so not commonly used.

A watchful eye should be kept on the number and type of pitches thrown, according to age. As an example, the USA Baseball Medical and Safety Advisory Committee recommends the following:

Pitch-Count Limits

AgeMaximum pitches/gameMaximum pitches/week
8-10 50 75
11-12 75 100
13-14 75 125
15-16 90 2 games/week
17-18 105 2 games/week

Ages for Learning Types of Pitches

Fastball 8
Change-up 10
Curveball 14
Knuckleball 15
Slider 16
Forkball 16
Splitter 16
Screwball 17

And coaches and parents should be responsive to young pitchers who complain of arm, shoulder or elbow pain, especially if it doesn’t go away with brief rest or returns every time a youngster resumes pitching.

Lastly, because of the repetitive nature of the game, be aware of the risk of overuse injuries. Many young athletes now focus on one sport, and train and play it year round, or play on more than one team during the season. Teams with overlapping schedules put the young thrower at risk for pitching on consecutive days – something to be avoided – and at risk for excessive pitch counts. It’s actually more prudent to limit excessive one- sport participation because many athletic educators feel that taking regular breaks and playing other sports aid in skill development, physical maturation and injury prevention.

A wonderful book dealing with the development of young baseball players is Jeff Passan’s “The Arm.” If you’re interested in the topic, I’d say it’s a must-read.

See you in August.

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