Overuse injuries in youth softball growing
Saw an article today that my local paper picked up from the San Francisco Chronicle , talking about how injuries have exploded in youth sports in the past few years. The big culprit? Overuse, driving largely by kids specializing in one sport year-round rather than playing different sports.
That’s certainly an issue in the fastpitch softball world. I hear these stories all the time about the schedules even 10U players are playing. The goal seems to be to get in at least 100 games in a season. In the Northern climes, they’ll play 5-6 tournaments in the fall – basically from the start of September through the end of October. Then there are some indoor games, followed by a tournament every weekend from the first weekend in April through the end of Jly.
Down South, where the weather stays warm year-round, they basically take off December for the holidays and that’s about it.
I don’t know about where you live, but where I am the high school season can be even tougher. Games every day, Monday – Friday, and often a double-header on Saturday. If you only have one pitcher, she’s going to see a lot of action. For those whose high school seasons are in the spring, that heavy schedule is then followed by playing pretty much every weekend in June and July.
That’s a lot of repetitive motion, which is generally how overuse injuries occur. According to the article, what makes it tougher for softball, baseball and golf is that these are very arm and shoulder-oriented sports, so they put a lot of stress on the joints.
According to the article, this didn’t happen so much when kids were playing different sports throughout the year. The motions for, say, basketball are different than those of softball, so the body had a chance to rest and recuperate from the softball-specific stress.
And no, this isn’t a “girl thing.” It’s actually more pronounced in baseball because of the overhand throwing motion pitchers use. But since this is a softball blog (at least most of the time) we’re sticking with that.
In today’s culture, it’s getting tougher and tougher for kids NOT to specialize. There’s the pressure to be on the “right” (read: most competitive) team so they can get some of that college money. If you’re not willing to devote 24×7 to that high-level softball team, they don’t want you, and by implication you’ll never get that D1 scholarship.
But what toll is it taking? An organization called Stop Sports Injuries is trying to provide some answers. They’re going to medical professionals, especially those who specialize in youth sports injuries, to find out about the trends and get their recommendations. You can see their softball-specific data sheet here.
One thing they recommend, which is going to cause all sorts of anguish among coaches who believe winning is everything, is some pretty strict pitch count limitations for pitchers. That old myth about the softball pitching motion being “safe,” which means you can ride one pitcher game after game for an entire tournament, is just that – a myth. At 10U-12U they recommend a limit of 65 pitches per game, and no more than 95 pitches a day over two days. No pitching at all on the third day. At 15U and above, the numbers “only” go up to 100 pitches per game, 140 total per day in the first two days, and 100 for the third day. That’s way less than a lot of pitchers actually pitch during the season.
Again, this isn’t only for pitchers. Catchers and other position players are running the same risks, just with different body parts. Our bodies weren’t designed for the type of repetitive motions being demanded of youth players these days. The kind of cross-training created by participating in multiple sports rather than spending all your time on one encourages better overall development, and protects players from wearing down – mentally as well as physically.
Whether you agree with the exact numbers, this is important information for both parents and coaches to understand. There needs to be a mindset/cultural change if we’re really going to help our kids become all they can be – and keep them healthy. I recommend that all parents and coaches follow the links in this post and become better-informed about the risks. It might just be the best thing you do for your daughter/players this year.