Protecting Young Arms in Youth Baseball
Arm overuse and abuse is an epidemic in youth baseball, and it's going to take every single one of us to stop it!
Every week I write an email and record a podcast discussing how we can make youth baseball better for our kids. If you would like to receive it directly in your inbox, subscribe now. Read this week’s email below, or listen to the audio version with more detail above.
In my last episode I was extremely blunt about how youth Coaches are Ruining Young Arms.
I knew it had the potential to be a controversial post, but instead of controversial, it seemed to have resonated with thousands of parents and coaches across the country - so I decided to do a follow up with some information on how to protect these young arms.
In less than a week, it’s already my second most downloaded episode since I’ve been doing the show. It’s also the most shared on social with more than 500 shares, more than 1,500 comments, and more than 3,000 reactions - on Facebook alone!
99.9% of everyone that commented or responded agreed with my message, which is great news for the future of arm care! Now we just have to keep the momentum going, and continue to shine the light on this epidemic.
I also plan to do additional episodes where I interview professional coaches and sports medicine doctor’s to discuss at a more granular level. I already have an SEC pitching coach and SEC team physician (from different schools) lined up to appear on the show.
If you’re not subscribed, do so now for free, and I’ll send you a quick email when those are published!
After reading and responding to hundreds of comments, emails, and messages, here’s a few additional thoughts regarding arm health in young baseball players.
What About the Parent’s Responsibility?
The most common comment in response was that parents are more to blame. They should step up and not allow coaches to continue overusing their kids.
While I agree with this in theory, here’s why I’m targeting coaches.
Coaches are the ones in a position of authority. Coaching a team of children (yes, that’s what they are) is an enormous responsibility, and not one we should take lightly.
Coaches are the ones making out the lineup. I may have been influenced by parents a time or two in my early coaching days, but I’m the one that penciled in the lineup - not a parent.
As coaches, we’re supposed to know better. A parent literally hands their kid over to us for many hours every single week. It’s our responsibility to keep them healthy and safe.
Now, parents do play a major role. Parents should not stand idly by while coaches abuse young arms.
As I mentioned in the last episode, there’s a way to handle parent-coach communication, and I would ALWAYS start with handling this like adults and away from the field.
But if a conversation about arm health and overuse doesn’t work, you must put your foot down. If that means finding a new team, then so be it.
It’s Not Just Pitching
There are many more factors that should go into keeping an arm safe and healthy than just pitch counts on game day. Other throws matter too! For example, catchers are at high risk for elbow problems as well
Here’s a few things to keep in mind to maximize arm health and minimize injury risk:
Understand what the kid does during the week. Does he take a pitching lesson? I’m not a fan of pitching lessons during the season for ‘most’ kids, but for some it’s okay. As a coach, get to know your players’ routine. Talk to the parents and try to get the lesson on a day that optimizes rest.
It’s not just pitches. When looking at overuse, you must look at the entire body of work - or throws. A guy that plays first base only, or maybe outfield, who comes in to pitch probably can have a little longer leash than the kid who played shortstop in game 1 and plans to catch in game 2. He probably shouldn’t pitch much (or any) in game 3. Look at ALL throws. I don’t mean add them to the pitch count, but consider other stress on the arm.
Age, body type, athleticism, development, conditioning - these all play a role in the arm health and overuse conversation. Simply put, some 9 year olds are okay throwing 60 pitches on a Sunday. Others might need to hang around the 40 pitch mark. Maybe even less than that for others.
Use common sense. Incorporate a good warm up and arm care routine, and use common sense when it comes to pitch counts and potential overuse.
As a reference, here’s the link to the MLB Pitch Smart guidelines I referenced in the podcast.
Be Proactive Instead of Reactive with Arm Care
The one thing I always hear when talking about arm care is rest. Rest is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do, but that’s after the arm has been used. What about before?
This is definitely an age-specific topic as these programs can become more advanced as kids get older.
But even for the young guys, there are several things coaches and parents can do to promote healthy arms that are more resistant to pain and long term issues and injuries.
All players, not just pitchers, should have a solid and consistent warm-up routine that prepares their body for pitching and playing. The guys over at Ultimate Baseball Training have a great video talking about arm stretches during warm ups.
Resistance training (don’t think lifting weights) can increase arm strength and help the body protect its elbow and shoulder. Besides injury prevention, this aids in recovery after pitching and playing. One of my favorite tools for this are the J-Bands by Jaeger sports. While there are several knock-off versions, Jaeger also provides tons of resources to increase your knowledge of arm care, injury prevention, and recovery. Here’s a quick link to some J-Bands on Amazon - they also come with a workout sheet to make things easier (pictures below)!
Communicate. Make sure and spend time talking with your players about arm health and the importance of taking care of their arm. It’s THEIR arm and they must let you know how it feels. Coaches and parents should ensure players feel safe and comfortable letting you know if there is ANY pain at ANY time. Also, talk about your approach to arm health and make sure expectations are set prior to having any issues.
Here’s the J-Bands by Jaeger I mentioned above. You may have seen them at the ball field.
They also publish quite a bit of educational content about arm care for baseball players. Here’s an example of the workout sheet that comes with a set of their J-Bands:
This is the hard part, but parents, coaches, tournament directors, and anyone else with influence must hold each other accountable and protect the future of our young baseball players.
Tournaments not currently using pitch count guidelines should begin to do so immediately. Tracking innings pitched is essentially useless.
Coaches, you should educate yourself on the dangers of overuse and the importance of proper arm use and care. Put your players’ futures ahead of winning today.
Parents, educate yourself on the same dangers of overuse and the importance of proper arm use and care. Often coaches coach a kid for one season and they move on. You’re that kid’s parent forever!
Also, at any point if you notice anything that doesn’t look, sound, or seem right, bring it up! Have conversations early and often and ensure you’re on the same page!
Our kids’ futures will thank us later!
Talk to you next time!
P.S. If someone sent this to you, be sure to subscribe so you’ll get the next one right to your inbox! Also, check out my new Instagram account where I post box scores showing extreme examples of overuse in young pitchers.