Coaches are Ruining Young Arms

Outrageous pitch counts from selfish coaches putting wins above arm health

  
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As we (hopefully) begin to move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an epidemic right here in youth baseball - and it’s worse than ever!

This is a relatively new issue that has been exacerbated by the increased participation in “travel” and “select” baseball, and coach’s increasing desire to chase wins and trophies (or rings).

I talked a few weeks ago about how weekend tournaments are ruining youth baseball, and a large part of that is how chasing wins leads irresponsible coaches to overuse young pitchers.

If you missed that one, go back and check it out, but subscribe now for free so you won’t miss anything else!

I’ve had this on my mind a recently, and I’ve seen example after example of overuse being shared on social media.

GameChanger box scores are being shared showing 9 and 10 year olds throwing 80+ pitches. 9 year olds are throwing complete games on Saturday and then again on Sunday.

I see it here locally all the time. And it’s not just one team or coach. There are some that are worse than others, but the bottom line is, we have to do better!


⚾ Why is it bad?

There are volumes and volumes of research and publications from orthopedic surgeons calling for less use and plenty of rest in young arms, so I won’t bore you with the details - but the bottom line is elbow surgeries in young baseball players have skyrocketed.

Sports medicine experts have called it an epidemic driven by the expansion of youth sports leagues, the rise in the number of kids focusing on just one sport and playing it year-round, competitive pressure, and myths about the procedure.

The bigger issue for younger players is they probably won’t see the negative effects right away. In fact, it could be years down the road.

That’s what makes this even worse to me. Youth coaches are so selfish, they’re abusing young arms in games that don’t matter, and when the kid gets to a level where it does matter, his arm (and possibly his career) is ruined.

⚾ How to stop it?

The best way to handle this is for coaches and parents to just use common sense.

Throw a responsible number of pitches and then ensure there is plenty of rest before throwing again.

But let’s talk about some specifics.

Pitch Counts

The very first effort to limit overuse came in the form of regulating innings pitched. A few leagues and tournaments still do this, but a lot of leagues and tournaments are using pitch count guidelines.

Even if a tournament only tracks innings pitched, we should all be using our own pitch count tracking as well.

I’ve added a nice inexpensive pitch counter to my product idea list on Amazon. Check it out here.

While some flexibility can be given depending on the kid and the circumstances, there are plenty of guidelines available that you can use.

Major League Baseball has a Pitch Smart program where they list the following notes for coaches and parents of 9-12 year olds:

  • Focus on athleticism, physical fitness, and fun

  • Focus on learning baseball rules, general techniques, and teamwork

  • Do not exceed 80 combined innings pitched in any 12 month period

  • Take at least 4 months off from throwing every year, with at least 2-3 of those months being continuous

  • Make sure to properly warm up before pitching

  • Set and follow pitch-count limits and required rest periods

  • Avoid throwing pitches other than fastballs and change-ups

  • Avoid playing for multiple teams at the same time

  • Avoid playing catcher while not pitching

  • Players should not pitch in multiple games on the same day

  • Play other sports during the course of the year

  • Monitor for other signs of fatigue

  • Pitchers once removed from the mound may not return as pitchers

  • No pitcher shall appear in a game as a pitcher for three consecutive days, regardless of pitch counts

They also have a table that shows maximum pitch counts and how many days rest a pitcher should take after pitching. Here’s a screen shot:

Pitcher Development

This is a tough one. Everyone, even adults, want a quick win, instant satisfaction.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen when developing pitchers.

While I understand all 11 or 12 guys may not be pitchers, you’d be surprised how consistently teaching and practice can develop some of the guys you didn’t think were pitchers.

What happens is your best pitchers at these young ages are typically your best athletes. That’s it. So of course they tend to be the best candidates for overuse.

But as coaches, it’s our job to develop other guys who can come in and fill up some innings.

Don’t wait, start this week in practice working with 3 or 4 more guys who might be able to give you some innings during the week.

Find a New Team

Here’s the controversial last ditch effort option.

I’m a huge fan of good parent-coach communication, and if there was ever a time for it, this is it!

The first step is to have a conversation. Do it right. Try to call during the week away from a game and away from other players. I like to always assume the best in people. Let’s hope the coach just doesn’t know any better (even though that’s highly unlikely).

I would shy away from saying anything during a game, however if your child’s daily max is exceeded, there’s nothing stopping you from telling the coach in the middle of the game. This is almost one of the ONLY times I would EVER condone talking to a coach during the game.

Even then, I would only do this if there was a trend emerging. If the “guidelines” say a daily max is 65 pitches, I wouldn’t go down and talk to the coach when your kid hit 66 for the first time without a history of this type of thing.

Just be smart and use common sense.

And if this doesn’t work, it’s time to find a new team. Any coach that puts short term youth wins and trophies ahead of player health and safety shouldn’t be allowed to coach. And as a parent, you shouldn’t put up with that!

⚾ Let’s Recap

  1. Use common sense with safety first

  2. Limit pitch counts

  3. Intentionally develop additional pitchers

  4. Communication, then find a new team

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Hit reply or leave a comment and let me know what you think!

If you have a crazy story about pitch counts or arm health, share that as well!