My Take: Youth Baseball, Tommy John, and the Future of Baseball

Wow.

I have been inundated lately with discussions on arm care and youth sports, and it has become a national sensation with the rise of injuries of young pitcher in the MLB this season, so I decided it was time I put a position statement out there.

This is a cultural issue

Less play time, more specialization and decreased physical education of the masses. There isn’t one thing that has caused this increase in injury rates, but it is possibly the systemic application of the wrong ideas that is keeping it going.

How do we change it in athletes that are 24 and are competing professionally? Not much.

This pitcher has already gone through the process of beating themselves up and pitching tremendous amounts over the life of their arm. With ever increasing velocity and a rise in abuse of arms at young ages, they are nearly too far gone.

Does this predict each of these pitchers WILL have this injury? No, but it improves the likelihood of it happening.

How do we help those we can save?

Athletes need strength, and proper movement and coaching. They need play time, and less structure. Pitching off a mound is stressful and should be limited, throwing with a friend can be a great way to develop the arm long term.

Athletes that I see in my facility often come to me with little to no ability to do pushups. I have two division 1 pitchers that started off with 2-3 reps, and they were throwing in the mid 80’s in high school!

With advancing coaching methods, and training, and mechanical adjustments, athletes are getting to their physical limits faster, and are ignoring strength training and physical therapy like the plague. The idea of a stiff athlete from weight training is dead. If you/your athlete do not learn to move their ENTIRE body and lift weights effectively, they are at an increased risk of injury and WILL be left behind physically.

This is not a maybe. This is a certainty.

School budgets have contributed

Between common core and loss of state income, we have seen a drastic drop off in what a school system can provide physically for our children in this country. Forget science and math, we are being left behind athletically as a nation.

In my school days we did gymnastics at a young age, played tag, climbed ropes and did calisthenics. Today it is yoga and archery. We have limited the physical culture to keep kids from feeling bad about their selves physically.

We hide physical loss but we do everything to flaunt their mental ability. Why the double standard? Shouldn’t a well-rounded person be both physically and mentally capable? Not in America anymore, and this is where we now see the toll of what we have created.

Without the school having mandatory physical education at young ages, and without playtime on their own, today’s athlete is left weaker and worse off than at any time in our nation’s history.

Fighting Back

My job as strength and conditioning coach is to stem the tide. Each day, we take athletes from various backgrounds and teach them movement skills that are diverse and challenging. We make baseball players do movements with their other side to balance imbalance. We tell basketball players they need to be strong to be explosive; we tell gymnasts they must be strong to stay loose.

Baseball is falling behind faster

Baseball is a game of history. In its history it has been slow to change, this issue seems to be no different.

If you truly want answers, here is a list:

Age Time Dedication Suggestions
<8yrs Only Play and Practice – no games Teach movement first (running, jumping,tumbling,throwing,hitting)
9-12yrs 6 Months of Baseball activites Keep movement training, introduce games, lessons can begin
13-15yrs 8 months of baseball activities Keep playing other sports/varied movements, strength training begins
16-18yrs 9/10 months of baseball activites Strength training is essential, Long Toss, can begin to specialize
19-22yrs Same as above Increased Coaching, More games, specialize completely
Professional 9 months Take time off completely, training rebuilds body, on mound 6 weeks before spring

If you want to listen you can help kids get better and stay safe, or you can keep piling on, like this kid who threw 194 pitches in a single game.

The choice to me is obvious, but if you follow the trends, it’ll just be another injury waiting to happen.

Billy

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