Protecting Young Arms
This is usually the stage of the little league season when young player’s arms – especially pitchers – start getting tired. With a long pre-season here in Southern California and playoffs/all-stars often running well into June, it’s extremely important that we do everything we can to protect young arms. Here are few thoughts:
1) Throw less at practice!
While Little League International is doing a better job of instituting pitch counts for games followed by mandatory rest guidelines, I often see young pitchers throwing too much in between game appearances, essentially undoing any benefit of the league-mandated rest. For those of you who take pitching lessons with me during the season, you know the FIRST question I ask when one of my players enters the cage is, “When was the last time you pitched, and when is the next time you’re going to pitch?” and then decide how many pitches to throw accordingly. It’s not always easy to get work in at practice while not overdoing it between games, but it’s definitely something all parents should be more aware of.
2) Listen to your arm!
Our bodies are pretty incredible machines and when we feel pain or fatigue, that’s our body (and in this case specifically the arm) sending us a signal – we need to listen! Arm soreness or fatigue does not necessarily mean the arm is injured. But it does mean that something is going on that we need to be aware of. Parents: if your son says his arm hurts, listen to him and try to monitor how much throwing he does and make sure his arm gets ample rest before pitching again. Players: it’s OK for your arm to hurt. Telling your parents or coach that you’re in pain does not make you a wimp and if you need to come out of the game you are not letting your team down. Listen to your arm and be willing to speak up if it’s bothering you.
3) Only play on 1 team at a time!
With Summer and the Fall Ball seasons fast approaching, please make sure you’re only playing on 1 team at a time. What good are “pitch counts” if coaches on separate teams don’t know (or worse, don’t care) how many pitches you’re throwing with your other team. There is never a reason to be playing on two teams at once, and this overuse can be dangerous for all player’s arms, not just pitchers. We monitor how much throwing our players do very carefully during Summer Camp and Fall Ball for just this reason.
4) Stay away from “Club Ball!”
The worst cases of arm abuse that I hear year after year come from the local Club Ball teams. Too many travel team coaches are pre-occupied with winning and will put that above all else, including your child’s health (Does it really matter that your U4 travel team placed 17th in the South Bay Diaper Derby?). And even for the teams with coaches who are not intentionally abusive, it is simply not possible to take care of young arms when a roster of 10 players (usually only consisting of 3 pitchers) is expected to play 5 or 6 games in a 48 hour weekend tournament. 30-36 total innings in a weekend is WAY too many pitches thrown, from WAY too few pitchers, on WAY too little rest. And to make it worse, the players on these teams who are asked to pitch multiple times in a weekend are then also going to play another defensive position when not on the mound. I literally can’t think of anything worse for a young pitcher’s arm than participating in these tournaments on a regular basis. Just Google “Tommy John Surgery in Youth” and you’ll find pages and pages of articles about the alarming increase of severe arm injuries in young ballplayers. You’ve been warned!
Best of luck the rest of the season and I can’t wait to see you all at Summer Camp!