Watching the current Little League World series and the amount of pitching that these kids are doing prompt me to write this blog. It is becoming more often that young children and teenagers are specializing in just one sport instead of playing a variety of them throughout the year. This commonly happens with baseball, which attracts teenagers and young children that have natural talent in the sport for the potential to become a professional baseball player someday.
However, is specializing in a sport this young a good thing?
Specializing in one sport can lead to bone and growth plate adaptations and can increase your risk for overuse injuries. In baseball, that is usually the case from pitching and throwing too much too young.
Organizations like the American Sports medicine Institute and Little League Baseball have recommendations to prevent overuse injuries. You can visit their website at https://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/.
Based on my experience with MLB, some of my recommendations to prevent injuries for teenagers and young children that decide to specialize in baseball include:
Pitch counts: In my years with MLB (side note, every MLB organization is different but this is the most common pattern you see in MLB), Pitchers that were in the high A ball level (average of 22 years old) didn’t throw more than 75-85 pitches a game if they were a starter. If you were a reliever, a 30 to 45 pitch count was the maximum that you would pitch. This was different once you reached Double A, where your pitch count was closer to 100 a day as a starter and 45-50 as a reliever.
Parents need to remember that teenagers and kids are not adult professional players. Kids 7-8 years old should not be throwing the same amount of pitches than a 22-year-old. I have seen some of these young kids throw close to 100 pitches per game. My recommendation is keeping your teenagers and young children under 50 pitches a game until they reach 15 and increase that to 65-75 from 15-18 years old. The more they throw does not mean they will become stronger or their chances to getting signed by a pro MLB team increase; it just puts them at a higher risk of injury.
Rest: Studies show that if a child under 14 years old throws 100 or more innings in a year, they increase their risk of injury by 3.5 times. Likewise, pitching competitively for more than 8 months a year increases your risk by 5 times. This shows the importance of rest between seasons AND between outings.
If your kid threw more than 50 pitches during a game, he should have at least 4 days of rest. If your kid threw between 35-50 pitches during a game, he should at least have 2 days of rest. If it is below that, they should still have a day off from competitively pitching. The less rest in between outings, the more stress your elbow absorbs that could potentially cause injury.
If your season is more than 8 months in length, you need to get at least 2 months off from no throwing activities to allow the body to rest and heal. Overuse injuries occur the most when teenagers or young children are fatigued, which is mostly likely going to happen after an 8-month season. Notice that I said resting from “throwing”, this does not mean being inactive or not working out for 2 months.
Pitching mechanics: A lot of injuries are a direct correlation between poor pitching mechanics, inadequate rest, and excessive pitch count. Developing early good pitching mechanics is key to reducing stress on the shoulder and elbow.
Also, developing your fastball before you try other pitches that increase the stress on your arm like curve balls, sliders, or knuckleballs is key. I see a lot of pitchers in the Little League World Series that are throwing sliders and curve balls and their fastball has a lot of work to do still. Kids elbows are not ready for the stress that these pitches put on their arm. It is not recommended to start learning and overthrowing these pitches until you are at least 14-15 years old.
Get Physical Therapy help early: There are many different things that Physical Therapists can do to prevent injuries for kids and teenagers that like to perform well in baseball. You should see a physical therapist as a teenager so he/she can perform a full movement evaluation and strength assessment to determine what areas of your body need to be more mobile, which ones need to be stronger, or what needs to be more flexible to decrease your chances of injury. Getting into an early routine of injury prevention will prolong your career for a long time.
For more information and to see how Physical Therapy can help your situation, visit us at www.performancesportphysio.com or call us at 727-826-7142 to schedule a FREE 30 min consultation so we can explain how we can help you!