Category Archives: Health/safety
Let me start by declaring right in the beginning I am a huge advocate of the pitching mechanics known as “internal rotation” or IR. While it may also go by other names – “forearm fire” and “the whip” comes to mind – it essentially involves what happens on the back side of the circle.
With IR, the palm of the hand points toward the catcher or somewhat toward the third base line as it passes overhead at 12:00 (aka the “show it” position), the comes down with the elbow and upper arm leading through the circle. From 12:00 to 9:00 it may point to the sky or out toward the third base line. Then something interesting happens.
The bone in the upper arm (the humorous) rotates inward so the underside of the upper comes into contact with the ribs while the elbow remains bent and the hand stays pointed away from the body until you get into release, where it quickly turns inward (pronates). It is this action that helps create the whip that results in the high speeds high-level pitchers achieve.
This action, by the way, is opposite of so-called “hello elbow” or HE mechanics where the ball is pointed toward second at the top of the circle and is then pushed down the back side of the circle until the pitcher consciously snaps her wrist and then pulls her elbow up until it points to the catcher.
Note that I don’t call these styles, by the way, because they’re not. A “style” is something a pitcher does that is individual to them but not a material part of the pitch, like how they wind up. What “style” you use doesn’t matter a whole lot.
But mechanics are everything in the pitch, and the mechanics you use will have a huge impact on your results as well as your health.
IR is demonstrably superior to HE for producing high levels of speed. The easiest proof is to look at the mechanics of those who pitch 70+ mph. You won’t find an HE thrower in the bunch, although you’ll probably find a couple who THINK they throw that way, which is a sad story for another day.
It also makes biomechanical sense that IR would produce better speed results. Imagine push a peanut across a table versus putting into a rubber band and shooting it across the table. I know which one I’d rather be on the receiving end of.
So when trying to defend what they teach, some HE pitching instructors will respond by questioning how safe it is to put young arms into the various positions required by IR versus the single position required by HE. They have no evidence, mind you. They’re just going by “what they’ve heard” or what they think.
Here’s the reality: IR is so effective because it works with the body is designed to work rather than against it. Try these little body position experiments and see what happens.
Experiment #1 – Jumping Jacks Hand Position
Anyone who has ever been to gym class knows how to do a jumping jack. You start with your hands together and feet at your side, then jump up and spread your feet while bringing your hands overhead. If you’re still unsure, Mickey Mouse will demonstrate:
Look at what Mickey’s hands are doing. They’re not turning away from each other at the top, and they’re definitely not getting into a position where they would push a ball down the back side of the circle. They are rotated externally, then rotating back internally.
Experiment #2 – How You Stand
Now let’s take movement out of it. Stand in front of a mirror with your hands at your sides, hanging down loosely. What do you see?
If you are like 99% of the population, your upper arms are likely touching your ribs and your hands are touching your thighs. In other words, you’re exactly in the delivery position used for IR.
To take this idea further, raise your arms up about shoulder high, then let them fall. At shoulder height your the palms of your hands will either be facing straight out or slightly up unless you purposely TRY to put them into a different position.
When they fall, if you let them fall naturally, they will return to the inward (pronated) position. And if you don’t stiffen up, your upper arms will lead the lower arms down rather than the whole arm coming down at once.
What this means is that IR is the most natural movement your arm(s) can make as they drop from overhead to your sides. If you’re using your arms the way they move naturally how can that movement be dangerous? Or even stressful?
When they fall, you will also notice that your upper arms fall naturally to your ribcage and your forearms lightly bump up against your hips, accelerating the inward pronation of your hands. This is what brush contact is.
Brush contact is not a thwacking of the elbow or forearm into your side. If you’re getting bruised you’re doing it wrong.
Think of what you mean by saying your brushed against someone versus you ran into them. Brushing against them implies you touched lightly and slightly altered your path. Bumping into them means you significantly altered your path, or even stopped.
The brush not only helps accelerate the inward turn. It also gives you a specific point your body can use to help you release the ball more consistently – which results in more accurate pitching. It’s a two-fer that helps you become a more successful pitcher.
Experiment #3 – Swing Your Glove Arm Around
If you use your pitching arm you may fall prey to habits if you’ve been taught HE. So try swinging your glove arm around fast and loose and see what it does.
I’ll bet it looks a lot like the IR movement described above. That’s what your throwing arm would be doing if it hadn’t been trained out of you.
And what it actually may be doing when you throw a pitch. You just don’t know it.
The more you look at the biomechanics of the IR versus HE, the more you can see how IR uses the body’s natural motions while HE superimposes alternate movements on it. If anything, this means there’s more likelihood of HE hurting a young pitcher than IR.
The forced nature of HE is most likely to show up in the shoulder or back. Usually when pitchers have a complaint with pain in their trapezius muscle or down closer to their shoulder blades, it’s because they’re not getting much energy generated through the HE mechanics and so try to recruit the shoulders unnaturally to make up for it. That forced movement places a lot of stress on it.
They may also find that their elbows start to get sore if they are really committed to pulling the hand up and pointing the elbow after release, although in my experience that is more rare. Usually elbow issues result from overuse, which can happen no matter what type of mechanics you use.
The bottom line is that if the health and safety of young (or older for that matter) pitchers is important to you, don’t get fooled by “I’ve heard” or “Everybody knows” statements. Make a point of checking to see which way of pitching works to take advantage of the body’s natural movements, which will minimize the stress while maximizing the results.
I think you’ll find yourself saying goodbye to the hello elbow.
I have talked in the past about the dangers of the “it’s a natural motion” myth and how it can lead to overuse injuries. A quick search on the term will turn up article after article from orthopedic surgeons who have to deal with the aftermath of overzealous coaches who love to win and enthusiastic parents who just love watching their daughters do what they love.
How common are overuse injuries? While this study of 181 NCAA collegiate pitchers across all divisions is admittedly pretty old, it shows that 70% of the reported injuries were due to overuse. With the increase in the number of games that are now being played at the youth levels of travel ball, starting at 10U or even earlier, plus the even greater emphasis on winning, it’s unlikely this situation has gotten better.
But all of that is pretty abstract. That’s why I wanted to share this Tik Tok video from my friend and fellow pitching coach Gina Furrey, who talks about the overuse injuries she suffered as a pitcher. It is actually the first in a series, so be sure to watch all of them.
Gina currently gives pitching lessons in the Nashville, Tennessee area under the business name Furrey Fastpitch. If you’re in that area and looking for a great coach who will teach you proper mechanics be sure to contact her. You can also find Furrey Fastpitch on Facebook and on Instagram at @furreyfastpitch.
Before that, though, she was a player who played travel ball at the highest levels before going on to pitch at St. Mary-of-the-Woods college. In her first video she describes how she can probably count on one hand the number of games she didn’t pitch for her various teams throughout her career. That’s a LOT of pitching.
She then goes on to tell how her collegiate career was cut short by an injury attributed to overuse – the cumulative effect of thousands of hours practicing and pitching in games, often with very little rest. I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s Gina’s story to tell.
The biggest reason I think every coach and every parent of a pitcher should watch Gina’s videos, however, is to see her demonstrate her range of motion today. When you see what she can do with her non-pitching arm versus her pitching arm it’s pretty scary.
Not to mention the pain she deals with every day. In my opinion, all the plastic trophies and gaudy rings and plaques and championship t-shirts in the world are not worth trading for an ability to move your arm and shoulder in a normal way.
One caveat I’d like to add is that this caution isn’t only limited to pitchers with poor mechanics. Yes, having very clean pitching mechanics can help prevent injury overall, but over use is over use. Repetitive motions, especially high-energy motions that depend on sudden accelerations and decelerations, can take a huge toll on muscles, ligaments, tendons and other body parts.
Do yourself a favor. Please, please, please, watch Gina’s videos and hear her story. It could save you or someone you love a lifetime of pain and limitations that can easily be avoided.
Injuries have always been a part of participating in youth sports. Jammed fingers, sprained ankles and knees, cuts requiring stitches, even broken bones were an accepted part of the risk of playing. Things happen, after all.
Lately, though, we are seeing a continuing rise of a different type of injury. This one doesn’t happen suddenly as the result of a particular play or miscue on the field. Instead, it develops slowly, insidiously over time, but its effects can be more far-reaching than a sprain, cut or break.
I’m speaking, of course, about overuse injuries.
According to a 2014 position paper from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, roughly 46 to 54% of all youth sports injuries are from overuse. Think about that.
There was no collision. There was no tripping over a base or taking a line drive to the face. There was no stepping in a hole in the outfield or catching a cleat while sliding. The injury occurred while participating normally in the sport.
And here’s the scary part. As I said, this report came out in 2014. In the six years since, the pressure to play year-round, practice more, participate in speed and agility training and do all the other things that go with travel ball in particular has only gotten worse.
You can see it in how one season ends and another begins, as we recently went through. Tryouts keep getting earlier and earlier, with the result that players often commit to a new/different team before their finished playing with their current teams.
It’s not that they’re being bad or disloyal. It’s that they have no choice, because if they wait until the end of the current season there won’t be anywhere left to go because all the teams have been chosen.
What is even crazier is that there literally was no break for many players from one season to the next. I know of many for whom their current season ended on a weekend and their first practice for the next season was the week immediately after. Sometimes they were playing their first game with the new team before their parents had a chance to wash their uniforms from the old team.
And it wasn’t just one practice a week. Teams are doing two or three in the fall, with expectations that players will also take lessons and practice on their own as well.
That is crazy. What is so all-fired important about starting up again right away?
Why can’t players have at least a couple of weeks off to rest, recuperate physically and mentally, and just do other things that don’t require a bat, ball or glove? Why is it absolutely essential to begin playing tournaments or even friendlies immediately and through the end of August?
I think what’s often not taken into consideration, especially at the younger ages, is that many of these players’ bodies are going through some tremendous changes. Not just the puberty stuff but also just growth in general.
A growth spurt could mean a reduction in density in their bones, making them more susceptible to injuries. An imbalance in strength from one side to the other can stress muscles in a way that wouldn’t be so pronounced if they weren’t being used in the same way so often.
Every article you read about preventing overuse injuries stresses two core strategies:
- Incorporating significant periods of rest into the training/playing plan
- Playing multiple sports in order to develop the body more completely and avoid repetitive stress on the same muscles
When I read those recommendations, however, I can’t help but wonder: have the authors met any crazy softball coaches and parents?
As I mentioned, I’ve seen 12U team schedules where they are set to practice three times a week – in the fall! And these aren’t PGF A-level teams, they’re just local teams primarily playing local tournaments.
Taking up that much time makes it difficult to play other sports. Sure, the softball coach may say it’s ok to miss practices during the week to do a school sport, but is it really?
Will that player be looked down on if she’s not there working alongside her teammates each week? Probably.
Will that player fall behind her teammates in terms of skill, which ultimately hurts her chances of being on the field outside of pool play? Possibly.
So if softball is important to her, she’s just going to have to forego what the good doctors are saying and just focus on softball, thereby increasing her risk of an overuse injury.
This is not just a softball issue, by the way. It’s pretty much every youth sport. I think the neverending cycle may be more of a softball issue, but the time factor that prevents participation in more than one sport at a competitive level is fairly universal.
In the meantime, a study published in the journal Pediatrics that pulled from five previous studies showed that athletes 18 and under who specialize in one sport are twice as likely to sustain an overuse injury than those who played multiple sports.
The alarm bells are sounding. It’s like a lightning detector going off at a field but the teams deciding to ignore it and keep playing anyway. Sooner or later, someone is going to get struck.
What can you do about it? It will be tough, but we have to try to change the culture.
Leaders in the softball world – such as those in the various organizations (including the NFCA) and well-respected college coaches – need to start speaking up about the importance of reducing practice schedules for most of the year and building more downtime in – especially at the end of the season. I think that will help.
Ultimately, though, youth sports parents and coaches need to take responsibility for their children/players and take steps to put an end to the madness. Here are a few suggestions:
- Build in a few weeks between the end of the summer season and beginning of the fall season for rest, recovery and family activities. There’s no reason for anyone to play before Labor Day.
- Cut back on the number of fall and winter practices. Once a week with the team should be sufficient. Instead, encourage players to practice more on their own so they can fit softball activities around other sports and activities.
- Reduce the number of summer games/tournaments. Trying to squeeze 100+ games into three months in the summer (two for high school players who play for their schools in the spring season) is insane bordering on child abuse. Take a weekend or two off, and play fewer games during the week.
- Plan practices so you’re working on different skills in the same week. This is especially important when it comes to throwing, which is where a lot of overuse injuries occur. Work on offense one day and defense another. Or do throwing one day and baserunning another. Or maybe even play a game that helps with conditioning while working a different muscle group.
It won’t be easy, but we can do this. All it takes is a few brave souls to get it going.
Overuse injuries are running rampant through all sports, including fastpitch softball. With a little thought and care, however, we can reverse that trend – and keep our kids healthier, happier while making them better players in the process.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
Yesterday I had the opportunity to join in on an NFCAonline mentoring session. While several of the topics that came up were more oriented toward college programs, there was one in particular that was pretty universal: how to get players back into softball mode.
For many, these past three months may have been the longest layoff they’ve had from a formal practice/workout routine since they were pre-teens. That’s especially true for players above the Mason-Dixon line (not to be confused with the Mendoza line, which is a whole different issue), where the weather has been spotty at best, and sometimes downright uncooperative.
With not just indoor facilities but many parks closed, it’s likely many players have spent far more time than they would have otherwise making Tik Tok videos, streaming movies and TV shows, sleeping, eating junk food and doing whatever else is popular among young people these days.
I get that, too. It’s tough to get motivated when you don’t know whether your next game will be next month, next fall, or next year.
Sure, teams have been doing Zoom meetings to try to hang together, and various activities such as the Facebook videos where it looks like they’re throwing the ball from one player to the next. But none of that requires a whole lot of physical exertion or delivers much preparation to get out and play.
Now that summer leagues and travel ball is beginning to open up again, however, it’s important to ensure players who have been idle for the last few months are given the opportunity to ease their way back into playing. Otherwise there is a risk of even more time off due to injuries.
Here are six tips to help ensure players stay healthy as they start working to shake off the rust.
- Limit overhand throwing for the first few weeks. Arm and shoulder injuries due to improper throwing mechanics were already a problem, even before the Great Layoff. It’s unlikely the underlying issues have magically gotten better. While the time off was good for healing old injuries, it also means players can be highly prone to new ones. That’s why it’s important to ease them back into throwing overhand. Pay even closer attention to throwing mechanics during warmups, and spend a little more time than normal on shorter, lighter throws. (If you don’t know what to look for in terms of mechanics, check out Austin Wasserman’s excellent High Level Throwing programs.) During fielding drills, save arms by having players toss the ball to the side or drop it in a bucket at times rather than throwing the ball to a base. When you do start having players throw full-out, set a limit and stick to it. This is especially true for catchers practicing throwdowns. Remember it’s been a while. Do maybe 10-12 at most to start, and work your way up from there.
- Put more emphasis on stretching. I shouldn’t have to say this but I’m going to anyway. Players who have been largely inactive for the last couple of months likely have tight muscles. Even those who have been putting in some practice time on their own are probably not as limber as they were when they were more active with school, other sports and activities or anything that required more effort than shifting positions on the couch. They need to get those muscles, tendons and ligaments working properly again. For the first few practices be sure you plan extra time for dynamic stretches to begin practice, and watch to make sure they’re doing those stretches properly. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched teams slop their way through various stretches and then expect they’re ready to play.) When you’re approaching the end of practice, be sure to leave a little time for cool-down stretches too. This is important at any time, but especially right now. Get those muscles, tendons and ligaments loosened up properly now and you’ll face far fewer injury issues down the road.
- Condition intelligently. There’s a good kind of sore, where you know you fatigued the muscles well so they can strengthen and improve, and there is a bad kind of sore where you over-worked the muscles and now it’s going to take some time to recover. Unless you are a certified strength and conditioning coach you probably aren’t sure of the where that line is. It’s going to be tempting to try to get your team into peak game shape in one or two practices. Don’t succumb to that temptation. Remember that young people can have all kinds of stuff going on beneath the surface – Osgood-Schlatter Disease, growth plates, chronic tendonitis, etc. – that can affect their performance and cause pain. Overconditioning early on can exacerbate these conditions. While there may be a desire to get them into mid-season shape right now, resist it. Ease them in and build to it, just as you would in any other season. It will pay off in the long term.
- Limit repetitions. One of the keys to all of the above is to limit repetitions in the early rounds. Overuse injuries are essentially caused by performing more repetitions than the body is capable of safely handling. After a period of inactivity that number may be a lot lower than you’re used to in a practice setting. Deal with it. There are actually two benefits to it. First, variety in activities helps work different muscle groups. That’s why so many college coaches say they like multi-sport athletes. The kids they get are in better shape and less likely to be damaged. The second benefit is that you have a lot of ground to make up. Focusing too much in any one area means other areas are being ignored, and you know those other areas will come back to bite you. Fewer reps means less time spent, which means you have time for other areas.
- Hydrate early and often. If your players have mostly been laying around doing nothing they probably aren’t going to be used to the physical exertion of stretches, much less a full-fledged practice. As a result they can dehydrate quickly. Be sure to take frequent water breaks, especially for the first couple of weeks, and keep an eye out for signs of dehydration. Better yet, let them bring their water with them from station to station or area to area. After all, it’s unlikely that 12 or 14 or whatever number of players on a team will all need the same amount of water at the same time(s).
- Remember the mental side. While the most obvious challenges will be physical, the mental side of the game will also need to be worked on if your players are going to be game-ready when it’s time to go. You may be all softball all the time, but most (if not all) of your players are not. That means they may have forgotten things you expect them to know (especially in the younger age groups), so be sure to go through those mental aspects as well. Walking through coverages, backups, special plays, rules and rule changes, etc. helps get their minds back in softball mode while saving their bodies. If players aren’t performing at the level they remember themselves being at before, they may experience stress or anxiety on top of what they’re already experiencing. Pay attention to those aspects as well, because they may not be able to compartmentalize their worries and concerns as well as you wish they would. Keep them focused, keep them positive and keep them engaged and they will bounce back to where they should be much faster.
Once you get back on the field it’s going to be tempting to just jam down the accelerator and take off right away. Resist that temptation.
If you ease into it instead, with an intelligent plan that builds on itself, you’re far more likely to find success in both the short and long term. Good luck!
For those who read this in future years, as I write this post we here in Illinois we are still bracing for what is expected to be the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses are shuttered (including practice facilities) and we’ve all been told to stay home and practice social distancing.
Although it may not seem like it at times, eventually the danger will pass and our worries will go back to whether a runner was safe or out at home, how much playing time our daughters are getting and whether that six-foot-four flamethrowing pitcher on the other team is really 12 years old. So rather than letting players’ softball skills deteriorate completely (even as they become incredible at making Tik Tok videos) many instructors (including myself) have started offering online lessons.
(I know there are people who have done that for years, especially when distance has been an issue, but it’s new to me and I know it’s new to many others.)
It has definitely been a learning experience. Which I suppose is good because nothing keeps the mind sharp like having to learn something new.
For those who are wondering, I’ve been using Zoom. I tried a couple of other options, but if you want to use FaceTime you cut out everyone who doesn’t have an Apple product, and Skype requires both parties to have an account.
With Zoom the only one who needs an account is me. I create the meetings and send the links. The families just have to click on them when it’s time. And it’s free, which is nice.
So far I have found some good and, well, not bad but maybe less-than-ideal things about it. Let’s take a look at both.
We’ll start with the positives because everyone can use a little lift these days. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits to me is the ability to really focus narrowly on specific aspects that need work.
In a live setting there is often a tendency to try to cover a lot in a short amount of time. Working something over-and-over can be tough, especially with today’s hyper-stimulated kids and their eight-second attention spans. (Yes, I know that figure is up for debate but it makes the point.)
In an online lesson, though, it is much easier to get hyper-focused on specific aspects such as posture or release for pitchers or maintaining the sequence for hitters. It also makes it easier to convince players (and parents) who are anxious to go full-distance with skills to stay in close and really work on the nuances – which is where elite players actually spend a lot of their time.
I haven’t done this yet, but Zoom offers the option to record each session. I’m definitely going to try that soon. It would be nice to have a reference to go back to with a lesson later.
I use video a lot, but it’s usually more of a snapshot in time of a couple of repetitions. If I had my own facility and could have a permanent set-up like Rick Pauly I might record every lesson in its entirety. But I already have a lot of set-up to do each time I go to a facility or field so I’m not looking to add more. Online lessons makes that option easy.
Accessibility is another big plus, especially for families with multiple children involved in multiple activities. It’s a lot easier for a working parent to squeeze in a half hour from home than it is to drive 40 minutes each way, plus the lesson time itself, when their other kids need to get to and from their activities. Although honestly that isn’t so much of an issue right now.
Finally, as an instructor it is forcing me to think of new ways to convey the same information. I can’t just rely on what I’ve always done, because some of the options (such as demonstrating a skill) aren’t as available.
Yes, I can back off my camera and sort of show what I’m talking about for small skills. But trying to demonstrate leg drive visually doesn’t work as well so I have to find other ways to produce the desired results. Which I believe will make me a better instructor in the long run.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing but for the time being I spend most of the lesson sitting in a comfy chair instead of walking around. And there is no heavy equipment to carry to a field or set up. If you’re lazy, and aren’t we all sometimes, it’s certainly the easy way to go.
There are just some things that work better when you can demonstrate them. It’s kind of tough to do a good demonstration when you’re tied to a computer.
While I am still able to capture video on Coach’s Eye during the lesson, it’s kind of a kluge process. Basically I use my phone to shoot the video I see on my video monitor. When I want to play it back for the student, she has to get in close to her device, then I have to hold the phone up to my laptop’s camera and angle it so there is no glare. It gets the job done, but it’s night ideal.
The other video aspect is that my view of the student is limited to the camera’s point of view. If I want to move from looking at the student from the side to looking at her from the back I can’t just walk behind her. I have to ask someone on-site to physically move the camera, then fine-tune it so I can see what I want to see.
That’s not too bad with a phone or a tablet. It can be a little less convenient with a laptop because of the size. Regardless, it works best if you have a dedicated person for the camera so the moves can be made most efficiently.
One bit thing I miss is being able to take speed readings of every pitch, which is something I started doing recently. Unless the family has a set-up like mine, where you can run the radar continuously and have some sort of visible display you’re not going to be able to do it too easily. It’s always nice to see if the adjustments you’re making are having the desired effect.
Then there’s the personal relationship aspect, which I believe is critical for generating optimal results. One of the most important things any coach can do is create a personal connection with the people he/she is coaching. This is true not only in softball but in many aspects of life.
Creating that connection would be less effective, I think, if it was solely over an online system. Don’t get me wrong – it’s better than nothing. But there’s nothing like being together in the same space.
Fortunately, I already have that connection (or at least believe I do) with my current students so it’s not really an obstacle right now. I know them and they know me, so a video conference works. But it would probably be a lot tougher to build that same type of relationship with a net new student. (That said, if someone wants to give it a try let me know in the comments or contact me directly!)
Speaking of space, that can be one additional challenge for families versus going to a facility. Particularly right now while the weather is sort of iffy.
Today may be a beautiful day to go out into the back yard and throw a ball. Tomorrow and the next three days might be horrible between the rain or snow and the cold. If the student doesn’t have room indoors to throw, hit, whatever there’s not a whole lot you can do except work on strategy and the mental game until the weather gets better.
So there you have it – a few quick thoughts from my limited experience. The good news is those who have tried it so far seem to like it – especially the focus on specific aspects. They’re happy we’re able to continue working, even on a somewhat limited basis, so they’re ready for the season whenever it eventually comes.
Now I want to know what you think. Have you tried online lessons yet (not just with me but with anyone)? What did you like, and what didn’t you like? Is there anything you’ve liked better about online than in-person lessons?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And remember to wash your hands and stay safe!
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Goldfish photo by Gabriel P on Pexels.com
The debate over whether young athletes should play multiple sports or focus on one to develop their skills – often framed around the best way to earn a college scholarship – has been going on for quite a while now.
Up until a few years ago it wasn’t much of a debate. Nearly all kids played multiple sports, and each sport had a season. These days, with nearly all club/travel sports becoming year-round commitments, it gets tougher and tougher to be a multi-sport athlete.
Some new research published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS), a scientific, peer-reviewed publication, weighs in on the topic. Since reading the actual article would require you to purchase it, here’s a press release that provides a pretty good summary.
The article defines early sports specialization (ESS) as “the intensive training or competition in organized sport by prepubescent children (under the age of 12) for more than eight months per year, with a focus on a single sport to the exclusion of other sport and free play.” Does that sound like anyone you know?
The article goes on to point out that the “lack of diversified activity in youth leads to increased risk of injury and burnout.” No surprise there. Young bodies are still developing, and the constant repetition and wear-and-tear in the same ways can certainly take a toll.
As I like to explain, any sort of repetitive motion, done enough, can cause issues. Just look at carpal tunnel syndrome.
Clicking a mouse is hardly intense activity, yet 3-6% of adults in the U.S. acquire it at some point, often leading to surgery that costs thousands of dollars. Now imagine a much more robust series of activities repeated over and over on a body that hasn’t fully developed.
But what about the pursuit of excellence (and more specifically college scholarship opportunities)? The authors of the study state that ESS “may not be necessary for elite athletic achievement, but rather early diversification of sports leads to superior results.” They also say those who diversify show more enjoyment of sports in general, have a lower frequency of dropout, and have “fewer signs of chronic stress, higher levels of motivation and a gradual independence.”
I know I’ve seen the value of diversification in the athletes I’ve worked with over the years. For example, I love working with gymnasts, tumblers and cheerleaders. They have tremendous strength, especially in their core, as well as excellent body awareness that enables them to learn new athletic skills quickly. Skaters also tend to fall into this category.
Basketball, soccer, volleyball and lacrosse players are usually in great shape and very quick. No need to do a lot of conditioning or speed and agility work with them – someone else is already doing that heavy lifting for you. They tend to make excellent middle infielders and pitchers.
Those are just a few examples of how the skills and athleticism gained in other sports translate to fastpitch softball. Feel free to add more in the comments.
Of course, at some point athletes do have to start specializing to some degree if they’re going to pursue higher level play. By the time they reach high school age the time demands for club/travel players make maintaining a competitive level in one sport tough, much less two or three. Although it can still be done if the adults are adults about it and willing to accept that a multi-sport athlete may not make it to every practice and team activity.
By that age, players may also self-select out of multiple sports. They may recognize that they’re better at one than another and decided to focus on it, or may lose interest in some sports they liked in the past. Of course, a few will want to continue playing more than one, at which point they will likely have to choose which to do at a high level and which to do at more of a recreational level.
At the younger ages, however, participating in different sports should not only be allowed but encouraged. Parents and coaches should work together to build a schedule that’s best for the young athlete as well as the team – including total time off from everything now and then so the kid can be a kid.
Coaches can also take heart from the fact that many of the basic skills from other sports will transfer to softball, helping players become better than they would have been otherwise.
Now, if your child isn’t interested in other sports it doesn’t make sense to force him or her into them just for the sake of cross-training. But most kids aren’t that narrowly focused.
As a society we need to dial back our obsession with youth sports (and college scholarships for 10 year olds) and instead focus on helping our kids establish a solid foundation and love for athletics that will carry them through their lives. The evidence increasingly shows it’s best for them in both the short and long terms.
It’s always interesting (at least to me) when you discovered something you thought you “knew” is actually incorrect. I’ve had several of those moments along the years.
I used to have pitchers start their warm-ups by performing wrist flips. Not anymore – they’re useless at best, and at worst counter-productive to what you’re trying to get to happen.
I used to have players do static stretches – the ones where you stand and pull on a muscle to stretch it, like that one everyone loves where you place one arm across your chest, place the other just above the elbow, and pull. Or where you bend down and try to touch your toes without moving. Then I found out dynamic stretching is far more effective at preparing players to play and prevent injury, because it turns the nervous system on instead of turning it off like static stretches.
Now the latest revelation is that automatically icing after pitching (or any sports activity where there is normal wear-and-tear) may not be such a hot idea (pardon the pun) after all.
This article from Stack, a company focused on training and conditioning, talks about baseball pitchers, but the principle is the same.
The conventional wisdom has always been to ice arms, elbows and shoulders after pitching to help them heal faster and get ready for the next game. But it turns out ice may actually have the opposite effect, slowing the healing process and making a pitcher more prone to ongoing soreness and injury.
The reason is that ice constricts the flow of blood to the affected area, yet blood flow is what is needed to bring healing nutrients to the site, and carry away waste products that get in the way of healing. Again, the article goes into much more detail into the science behind it.
What’s interesting is that most of us have probably heard the acronym R.I.C.E. for treating an injury. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Yet now even the physician who coined the acronym, Dr. Gabe Mirkin, has retracted his support for using ice to treat injuries after seeing the research. He’s also retracted his recommendation for rest, preferring movement instead.
It’s the same for “preventive” icing as many pitchers still do after a game, or a day at a tournament in the case of youth sports players. While ice may temporarily relieve pain, it will also slow down recovery. So just automatically icing an arm, shoulder, elbow or other body part for that matter should be removed from a player’s routine.
This makes sense to me because I remember one time when I was in high school and went to the weight room (something I didn’t take advantage of nearly enough when it was free!). One day I overdid it on curls, and a couple of hours later I couldn’t move my arms. Literally.
I thought they were going to be stuck that way forever. What finally helped was taking a very light pole and going through the curling motion. It hurt at first, but it helped break down whatever was happening in my biceps and forearms and I was finally able to move my arms again – mostly pain-free.
So what should you do instead to help arms heal properly? It ain’t rocket science.
Basically, according to the Stack article, the three keys are light activity/exercise, proper nutrition and getting enough sleep. So when your daughter falls asleep in the car on the ride home she’s not being lazy or tuning out your expert post-game evaluation. She’s healing.
You may also want to speak with a physician, trainer or other professional who is up on the latest information and can give you more specific advice. They’ll know a lot more about it than I will, or Dr. Internet for that matter.
But based on the research, the one solid recommendation I will give is that going forward, leave the ice in the cooler. It’ll be better for everyone.
The season is over. Tryouts are over (at least for the most part.) What to do now?
Gung-ho fastpitch softball families (are there any other kind?) might be tempted to start going at it hard and heavy to get ready for fall ball and the upcoming spring season. After all, if you’re not working to get better, your opponents probably are.
But I have another idea. Take a break. Not just lighten up the workload to three days a week, but take an actual break.
Give your body a chance to rest, recover and build itself back up. Give your brain a chance to let go of whatever was happening before and get rejuvenated.
But it’s not just psychological. It’s also physical.
These days it seems like there is a secret prize for the team that plays the most games in the shortest period of time, and everyone is going for that prize. You’ll see programs bragging that their teams play 100 or even 150 games in a year (with a 12-player roster). Much of that playing time is compressed into September and October in the fall, and then April-July in the summer.
High school-age players may even have a heavier workload, because they have their school season and then their travel/summer season. Except Iowa, where high school is the summer season for whatever reason.
What all this has led to is a rash of overuse injuries. Not just for pitchers, although we are seeing more and more of it as this article points out. A pitching staff that throws 90 pitches a game (a conservative number for most) across 100 games will have thrown 9,000 pitches. Divide that by a three-person rotation and it’s roughly 3,000 pitches each.
That’s a lot of pitches – especially when you consider that typical college pitchers in one study, who have the benefit of daily weight training and conditioning run by a professional staff, threw an average of just 1,243 pitches during the season.
Now, Rachel Garcia, the NCAA D1 player of the year and winner of this year’s Women’s College World Series did throw 3,178 pitches total this season. But do you really think the 12 or 14 year olds you know are comparable in strength and conditioning to Rachel Garcia? Doubtful.
It’s not just about pitchers, however. Position players can also get overworked, especially when it comes to throwing. Even if you have great mechanics, the effort and stress placed on the shoulder throwing overhand a hundred times a day every day in practice can cause wear and tear that needs to be addressed.
Overuse injuries such as tendinitis and small tears in soft tissue can easily build up over time. They may not be bad enough to require surgery, but they can cause pain. And as the pain builds, the mechanics break down to work around the pain.
Over the course of a season things can get pretty sloppy. If you just launch right into the next season those issues aren’t going to magically get better. They’re going to get worse.
Finally there’s the mental side. If you’re working hard (as you should), it’s easy to become mentally fatigued as well. That’s not good either.
Taking a little time off – like professional players in all sports do, incidentally – can help recharge the ol’ batteries and get you ready to tackle new challenges.
So my advice to you is to walk away from the practice field (or area) for a bit and let your body heal itself. See a doctor or a physical therapist if you need to. But one way or another, give yourself a break and go do something else for a little while. You (and your body) will really be glad you did.
Guest post by Chris Salise
Everyone likes a good game of fastpitch softball, but no one likes to be taken out of it prematurely due to an avoidable injury. Unfortunately, whether it’s due to improper stretching and calisthenics, or faulty equipment, too many people find themselves laid up before they can round the corner to home.
Don’t let it happen to you. What follows is a list of the 5 most common softball injuries and how to avoid them. A little preparation and a good dose of common sense are all you need to keep you in the game and playing at your best.
Tendinitis is most commonly associated with wrist injuries, but in its most literal form, it’s simply an inflammation of a tendon. This means that pretty much any part of your body where bones connect to muscles is vulnerable to tendinitis. For softball players, that mostly means the wrist, shoulder, and elbow.
Tendinitis can most easily be avoided by doing the proper stretches before a game. Increasing the endurance of your muscles through strength training can also lower the odds of straining your tendons. But in both cases, make sure you’re doing your exercises in proper form—stretching and lifting out of whack can cause tendinitis all by itself!
Ankle sprains are annoyingly common and a big risk for softball players. This is because whether you’re running the bases or trying to catch a pop fly, softball requires a lot of sudden stops and starts in your lower extremities. This puts sudden strain and weight on your ankle joints and can cause them to buckle without warning.
It may surprise you to learn that one of the main causes of ankle sprains in softball, however, is sliding into bases. As such, observing proper sliding techniques can heavily decrease your chances of spraining your ankle. And, of course, don’t forget to stretch!
Rotator Cuff Injuries
The rotator cuff is a series of muscles between the shoulder blade and the upper arm bone. Injuries to this part of the arm are common in fastpitch softball players because the overhand throwing motion puts a lot of stress and pressure here. Most rotator cuff injuries are one-time deals, but they can chronically weaken your shoulder if not treated properly.
To avoid these types of injuries, it’s important to learn and maintain good form, warm up before each game, and always make time for rest and recovery between sessions. Good conditioning is also essential, so don’t neglect your exercise, training, and practice. These simple habits won’t just help prevent shoulder injuries; they’ll improve your game as well!
Hamstring tears are already pretty common among the general population, but even more so for sports players and especially softball athletes. If you’re dehydrated, if you don’t stretch properly or if you’re wearing shoes that aren’t catered to the shape of your feet, all of these will contribute to the chances of you tearing a hamstring before you even make it to first.
Besides keeping hydrated and stretching, a big help for reducing the chances of tearing your hamstring is to make sure both your hamstring and quadriceps have the same level of strength. Ensuring that each part of your leg is as strong as the other will make it so that one muscle doesn’t have to take on more of a burden than the other. You don’t know how right they are when they tell you not to skip leg day at the gym!
These thankfully aren’t quite as common in softball as in sports such as soccer, volleyball, and basketball, but they do tend to occur more frequently in female athletes than their male counterparts, largely due to differences in the angle at which the hips connect to the thigh bones (aka Q angle). Still, they can be terrible to deal with when they do happen.
Tears in your ACL most often occur when you rapidly shift directions while running. These injuries are extremely painful and can cause long-term damage.
You can help prevent ACL tears by training with plyometric exercises to get your body more used to bursts of activity. It’s also a good idea to train with a wobble board to improve your balance. Endurance and coordination are the keys to not falling prey to an ACL injury.
You also might want to avoid injury by taking shorter practice sessions and making sure your goals and exercises are evenly paced. Softball injuries happen all the time, but they don’t have to be a fact of life.
Chris Scalise is a freelance writer and fitness enthusiast from Los Angeles, California who writes about sports and health topics for a wide range of publications and brands, including SportsBraces.com.