I recently watched an ESPN story on the injuries that plague our youth baseball pitchers. It brought back memories from years ago. I watched while a young Little League Pitcher was ruined.
My son began playing baseball when he was five years old. First, it was “coach pitch”. The kids learned the fundamentals of baseball, like where the bases were and which one to run to next. All parents of five-year-old baseball players have fun. There are laughter and joy at watching these wee ones kick dirt, watch every bird that is flying over-head and run to 3rd base instead of 1st when they actually hit the ball. After that first couple of years of fun, the training to be an athlete begins in earnest.
Who does this to a child?
When my son was old enough to begin playing Little League in the 9-12 years old range, he was a catcher. He was average height and below average weight, so he could pop up and down from a catching stance without problem.
There was one pitcher that he caught for that was terrific at that age. This kid was a strike out king at 10 years old. His fast-ball was amazing, however everyone knew what he was doing was not good for a boy that young, but his mom and our coach persisted and the rest of us were quiet. At that time we were more afraid of burn-out. We didn’t know about chronic injuries at such a young age.
This child was sent to every pitching camp he could go to. He trained with every pitching coach in the area and he was worked way too hard. By the time these boys were in high-school we never heard this boys name again. Never in the paper like the other kids playing high-school ball. He just seemed to drop off the end of the earth. He suffered permanent damage from overuse as a child and could no longer pitch.
Here’s what happens to a child that is over worked as a pitcher at such an early age.
A child is growing. His growth plates are maturing, but not yet matured. Their growth plates are weaker than the muscles they are attached to. If a child is instructed and taught to “work through the pain”, their growth plates can literally be ripped from the bones.
Major nerve damage can occur by disrupting the blood supply due to overuse. Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome can lead to dysfunction of the lower arm and hand. It begins slowly with pain and swelling in the forearm. Numbness and tingling of the fingers may occur. The best thing that helps in this chronic condition is rest, rest and more rest.
The problem begins with “year-round” baseball. Never a break to rest, not a time to recover. It’s not that these athlete’s aren’t being taught proper pitching technique or good mechanics, they are. The problem comes from high pitch counts (over 100) in over 85 games a year.
Does this type injury happen to every child? No. Would you want to risk your child’s future when he is only ten years old? Let kids play baseball in the Spring and early Summer. Then rest from it. They can play other sports, they just need to let those muscles learn a new way to move and allow the growth plates to mature naturally.
So, my advice would be. If you have a child who is an excellent pitcher at an early age, let him play multiple sports or let him rest. Do not allow twelve months of baseball. No travel ball or camps year round. Let them be kids. If he is a good pitcher at ten years old, he will be fantastic at sixteen and in high school, if he is allowed to let his muscles and growth plates mature. Please don’t ruin their potential career before they are even teenagers. Of course the child is an All Star and wants to travel and be with his friends. As parents we are responsible for the welfare of the child until they are of age to know what is good for them. Sometimes this means saying, “no” to the child, their coach and team-mates. It’s hard, but you must think of your child’s future when he can only see today.