Protecting the Innocent :
The Abuse of Young Baseball Pitchers
As a father of two young boys, one of my absolute true joys in life is to watch them both play baseball. Fortunately both of them share this love for the game with me and play on pretty competitive travel teams. This has allowed me to see them be exposed to some great training and coaching, as well as talented competition over the past few years.
Unfortunately, I have also had to watch some disgusting displays of overzealous parents who are willing to trade today for tomorrow and sacrifice the health and well-being of their own sons all in the pursuit of a championship.
Yesterday was Father’s Day and in my younger son’s game, I saw a coach have his pitcher, who is 9 years old, throw well over 100 pitches. This is the day after he threw 50+ pitches in the game the day before. If that wasn’t bad enough, do you know who the coach brought into relieve him? A boy who had pitched 90+ pitches the day before to throw 50 more that day. The Little League suggested limits for a 9 year old are 75 pitches maximum per game, followed by one full week rest. My first thought as a father was “how do these kids fathers allow this to be done to their sons???”. Then I realized. Their fathers were the coaches putting them out there. Ironic how it was Father’s Day and what lessons were these men imparting to their boys???
As parents, we need to protect our children from coaches like this before they become cautionary tales years later. I have seen the other side of these stories all too many times of kids as young as 13 years old have come into our facility for rehab after getting reconstructive elbow surgery, torn labrums and rotator cuff repairs. All of these could have easily been avoided if they had not been pushed through a “win at all costs” mentality in their formative years. Most youth leagues such as Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth and Little League have strict parameters on how many pitches or innings that a pitcher can throw based on their age, as well as how much rest is required before they pitch again. Unfortunately in some travel leagues and tournaments, it is left to the coach’s discretion, which leaves the door wide open for the abusive practices I gave an example of before.
Pitch and innings restrictions are a big part of injury prevention, while the other is pitch selection and mechanics. My older son who is 11 played in a tournament recently where the pitcher he faced threw 88 pitches, which is within reason, considering the max limit set by Little League for an 11 or 12 year old is 85 per game. The problem? At least 40 of those pitches were curve balls. Kids are not mini-adults and their structures, specifically the ligaments of the elbow, cannot withstand the stress of throwing a breaking ball. Don’t get me wrong, he threw a great curve ball, which made me think even more: Someone must have taught him this and worked with him consistently on it, which means they thought it was fine and a good idea. Even though some recent research has come out to dispute the risk of breaking pitches, please read the data below from Dr. James Andrews, considered by many as one of the leading authorities on sports injury in the world.
Is it ignorance? Do these parents simply not know the dangers of throwing curves or too many pitches?
Is it negligence? Is the assumption that arm injuries happen to other kids and not my kid?
Is it selfishness? Maybe it has become more about the coach or Dad’s pride than the child’s safety
Whatever the impetus, this happens all too often on fields all over America every weekend. As parents, we need to be aware and informed so we can protect our children and preserve their health so they can play as many years as their talent and desire allows because a young boy’s arm is an awful price to pay for a cheap plastic trophy.
Here’s some data to review:
A 2002 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine2 found:
- roughly half of the 476 youth pitchers studied reported elbow or shoulder pain at least once during the season.
- For each additional 25 pitches thrown after reaching the 50 pitch count, the percentage of pitchers experiencing pain increased.
- The risk of shoulder pain was 2 and a half times greater for pitchers who threw more than 75 pitches per game
- The risk of elbow pain was 3 1/2 times greater for pitchers throwing more than 600 pitches per season
- For pitchers who self-reported pitching while tired, the risk of elbow pain was 6 times greater and the risk of shoulder pain increased four-fold.
- Youth baseball pitchers who threw curveballs or sliders were at an increased risk of elbow and shoulder pain (Note: while two recent studies suggest that throwing a curveball actually puts less stress on the elbow and shoulder than throwing fastballs, some experts, such as world-reknowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), still believe throwing curveballs at an early age can be dangerous)
The epidemic of arm injuries suffered by youth baseball pitchers is reflected in the dramatic increase in the number of shoulder and so-called Tommy John elbow (ulnar) ligament-transplant operations performed by Dr. James Andrews at ASMI:
- 9 Tommy John elbow operations from 1995 to 1998
- 65 over the next four years
- 224 from 2003 to 2008
- 2001-2002: total of 13 shoulder operations on teens
- Over next 6 years, 241
- A five- to sevenfold increase in high schoolers requiring UCL reconstruction since 2000.