Category Archives: Health/safety
Just about everyone knows how important it is to warm up before undertaking any athletic activity, both to prepare for the best performance and to reduce the risk of injury. (I would say “everyone,” but I still hear horror stories of players being thrown into games or or having their pitch/overhand throw speed measured at camps without any warmups at all.)
What apparently isn’t as well-known is that the type of warmup you do can have a significant impact on both performance and injury prevention.
There are basically two types of warm-ups: static and dynamic. Static warmups involve standing still and pulling on muscles. One example is shown in the (staged) photo at the top of this post, where a player lays her arm across her chest, places her wrist just above the elbow of that arm, and either presses on the arm or tries to pull it a bit. (This, by the way, is one of the most useless “stretches” you can do because it really doesn’t stretch anything.)
Other examples include all the players sitting in a circle with their legs stretched out in front of them, attempting to grab their toes while they sit and chit chat about their day, rolling up on your back and trying to touch the ground behind your head with your toes, and the ever-popular point your elbow to the sky and try to pull it past your head with the other hand.
Dynamic warmups involve stretching the muscles by increasing the range of motion as you make different movements. A few examples are butt kicks, cherry pickers, torso rolls, and shoulder circles. You can see a few more examples in this video from Jason Domnanovich, a trainer for the Chicago Bandits (courtesy of the NFCA):
What’s the difference? Probably the most important is that static stretching actually turns off your nervous system, making it more difficult to perform at a high level. In other words, instead of preparing you for competition it hurts your preparation. This process of turning off the connection between the mind and muscles also makes you more prone to injury.
Dynamic warmups do the opposite. They activate the muscles so they’re ready to perform. Muscles that are activated can run faster, throw harder, more laterally more quickly, rotate more powerfully – all the things we want do on a softball field. Warming up dynamically also prepares the muscles for the stresses they will face during a game or practice session, helping reduce the chance of injury.
I know from personal experience the difference dynamic stretches can make. When I was still coaching teams, we moved from static to dynamic stretching before all activities and rarely experienced an injury. Not that we had a lot to begin with, but the number of injuries fell even further. That’s good, because healthy players will contribute a lot more to your success than injured ones.
Does that mean you should never perform static stretches? No, not at all. They’re fine after the game or practice to help the muscles relax after being taxed and prevent them from tightening up as they recover. In fact, it’s recommended. Just don’t do it before the game or practice.
So how do you go about making the transition to dynamic warmups? What exercises/activities should you do?
This video from my friend Marc Dagenais provides an excellent, softball-specific resource. It’s the one I used to learn more about it, and to build a dynamic warmup routine. (No, I have no financial stake in you buying the video, I just know it’s good.)
There are plenty of others as well. Just search on “dynamic stretching softball” and you’ll find a wealth of resources that will help you build a warmup that will actually help your team gain a little extra edge while preventing injuries.
If you (or your team) is still standing motionless, tugging on muscles before the game, stop it! Make the transition to dynamic warmups. You’ll be glad you did.
Oh, and if you have any stories to share about dynamic versus static warmups, be sure to add them in the comments below. While you’re at it, be sure to hit the Like and Share buttons, and take some time to subscribe to Life in the Fastpitch Lane so you never miss a post again.
Interesting how times and opinions change. Last week while searching for something else I came across this old blog post. It dates back to May of 2008, and in it while I don’t outright oppose face masks I don’t exactly come across as supporting them either.
I have definitely changed my tune on that score, especially when it comes to pitchers and corner infielders (third and first base). Guess I’ve seen enough hard shots and needless injuries to now believe wearing a face mask should be the standard in fastpitch softball now rather than an oddity.
To me, the risks of damage to the face are simply too high to ignore. All it takes is one hard shot off a juiced-up bat to forever change a softball player’s life.
Not just in how they play the game either. I mean actual life. No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, how someone looks has an effect on how we react to them and often even whether they get a particular job or not. To put it bluntly, studies have shown that attractive people are more successful. A blow to the face from a softball could end up hurting one’s career chances.
This, of course, is on top of the immediate trauma and time lost in softball and other activities while injured.
The good news is, much of the stigma formerly attached to using a mask has gone away. Up until recently, high school-age players were told that wearing a face mask would be perceived as a sign of weakness by college coaches, severely reducing their chances of being recruited.
Apparently even that stigma is going away, as evidenced by the fact that Kelly Barnhill, a freshman pitcher with two-time WCWS champions Florida, wears a mask when she pitches. And she is just one of a growing number of college pitchers who are wearing masks not simply because of injury but as a permanent choice.
If a masked pitcher is acceptable to the 2X champions, it should be considered acceptable at all levels of play now. At the Rick Pauly Elite Pitching Clinic in Indiana, no less than former Georgia pitching coach Rick Pauly himself flat-out said pitchers should wear masks as well. If he’s saying it, players should be listening.
The only thing left, I suppose, is to make face masks mandatory. I know there are those out there who oppose it, just as people opposed face cages for hitters when they were introduced. No doubt some opposed catcher’s gear back in the day too. But as the risks and liability costs continue to rise, it probably won’t be long before the only pitchers not wearing masks will be those grandfathered in under the old rules.
Does every player need one? I still don’t think so. For me the dividing line is how much damage a ball to the face will do. A hard ground ball that takes a bad hop on a shortstop will be painful and leave a mark, but it’s unlikely to crush an orbital bone. A hard shot back to a pitcher or corner, however, could do serious, permanent damage.
But here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter what I think. If you’re a player, it’s your face. If you’re a parent, it’s your daughter’s face. Get the facts, make the best decision and don’t let what anyone else says be the determining factor. Better to have the protection and never need it than to need the protection and not have it.
First of all, thanks to Jan Pauly and Jennie Hughes Janda for sharing this story via Facebook. It’s definitely worth a read.
The story is on the nagging question of our times in youth sports – should young athletes play multiple sports if they want to be successful, or should they instead focus on one sport? The prevailing attitude (especially among coaches) these days seem to be specialization is not only better but necessary.
Yet when you look at what’s going on today, that may not be the right answer. First, you have the rise in injuries among youth athletes over the last few years. While there will always be some injuries in sports, many of them are now being attributed either to overuse or over-training.
Constantly doing the same thing over and over, especially in high-level competitive situations, places a lot of wear and tear on the body. The evidence suggests that the lack of variety is a major contributing factor to the injury situation. Athletes who play different sports use different muscles and muscle groups, and stress them in different ways, which seems to contribute to better overall development.
A second factor is what happens when you look at some of the top athletes of our time. The article mentions Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and several others. All top performers, and all multi-sport athletes through high school. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were multi-sport athletes in the pros, although they are exceptions.
Then there’s the crossover of skills between various sports. Things you learn in one can be applied in another. Look at mixed martial arts practitioners. They incorporate training from a wide variety of styles to help make themselves less predictable and therefore gain an edge. If this sort of synthesis works there, why wouldn’t it work in other sports?
The reality is we may be doing our young athletes a disservice by not giving them the opportunity to play multiple sports due to the crazy level of commitment now being demanded by all the individual sports or teams. Especially when you consider, as the NCAA ads say, most of those athletes will be going pro in something other than sports.
That’s not to say they have to abandon the sport entirely. But there’s no need to treat the off-season as though it’s mid-season. Youth athletes can work on their own, taking lessons and/or practicing skills when they can while participating in other activities. They don’t need to spend two hours a day, four days a week, in a team setting. And they (and their parents) should definitely set aside some time to shut down from the sport completely – for a month, six weeks or longer – to give their bodies time to heal, their brains time to refresh, and their spirits the burning desire that often flickers by the end of a long season.
Perhaps it’s time to start dialing back the expectations and give our youth players the opportunity to become well-rounded. It just might do more to up their games than expecting the high-level, 12-month commitment many are demanding now.
A new infographic from Ohio University’s Masters in Athletic Administration program provides some very interesting information regarding injuries in youth sports. While not softball-specific – in fact, fastpitch softball is fortunately NOT called out as one of the top sports for injuries – it does provide some eye-open statistics regarding injuries generally.
For example, it says 62% of organized sports related-injuries occur during practice. That may come as a surprise to some. You would think that the intensity of games would be more likely to lead to injuries than the more relaxed atmosphere of practice – even if the practice does have a level of urgency to it. But not so.
For me, one of the more interesting stats is that 66% of high schools have access to athletic training services. That seems low to me. My high school had a trainer, and all the high schools in my area have them. But apparently one out of three high schools in America do not. It also says that all but 13 spent less in 2013-2014 than they did five years previously.
The most common types of injuries are sprains and strains – 43% in practice, 41% in competition. The next highest is concussions at 16% in practice and 26% in competition.
With the summer season coming up, there’s also some great information about recognizing and preventing heat stroke. I’ll just add that athletes aren’t the only ones at risk for heat stroke at weekend-long tournaments. Coaches, umpires and even parents should be aware of the risks and take preventive measures. Heat stroke can make you very ill, and in extreme instances it can kill.
There’s plenty more great information on the infographic, and worth a look not just for your softball players but for any athletes you know. You can view it at http://athleticadminonline.ohio.edu/resources/infographics/player-safety/.
Guest post by Shana Brenner, Marketing Director of CoverSports
According to recent reports, injuries to teenage athletes across all sports are on the rise. In particular, there has been a significant increase in knee injuries among teen athletes, specifically ACL tears, and females under the age of 18 are believed to be at a higher risk than their male counterparts. While softball might not seem like an inherently dangerous sport, knee and ankle injuries are common and account for the majority of injuries requiring time away from the sport.
The good news (and bad news) is that many of these knee and ankle injuries in softball are unnecessary and could easily be avoided if fields were maintained properly. That’s right — often times, the biggest hazard in softball is the field itself.
How can a poorly maintained softball field lead to knee and ankle injuries when using metal cleats?
For proper performance, athletes require a smooth, resilient playing surface that affords them sure footing and the right amount of friction between their metal cleats and the ground. As you might imagine, stepping into a rut or hole while running full speed during a game or practice is an easy way to roll an ankle or twist a knee. Likewise, if an athlete is trying to plant her foot to make a throw but the surface isn’t sturdy, her foot could go one way while her body goes another, causing joint tension, which could lead to a serious knee or ankle injury.
Proper Maintenance Can Prevent Field-Induced Injuries
Without a doubt, the top priority for field-maintenance crews is player safety. A well-maintained field can help athletes stay safe while also improving the overall quality of the game.
With that in mind, there are some important areas to focus on when maintaining your softball field to create a safe playing environment.
- Regular mowing — Throughout the year, you should keep the grass on your field cut so that it doesn’t overgrow around the edges and harm the field’s performance. Not only does regular mowing preserve the integrity of the playing surface, but it can also help you identify any issues, like holes or uneven surfaces, that might be obscured if the grass was too long.
- Replacing top dressing — Over time, top dressing deteriorates. It’s unavoidable. This happens because of a combination of things, like wear and tear from on-the-field play, weather and poor maintenance. Top dressing needs to be refinished and leveled occasionally to maintain a safe, healthy playing surface.
- Dragging and raking — Dragging and raking the field helps create a smooth, uniform surface. Doing these things regularly helps fill in any ruts, holes and eroded areas, making the field much safer for play. You could even use a roller after dragging the field for optimal results.
- Lip maintenance — The lip is a hump on the field that forms where the grass and dirt meet. An unmaintained lip can cause ground balls to take nasty, unpredictable hops that can put fielders in serious danger. A power washer or hose is a great tool for knocking down the lip on your field, provided it’s not too large.
- Mound maintenance — The pitcher’s mound is one of the areas exposed to the greatest wear and tear. During every game and practice, the pitcher’s mound gets damaged from routine use. The pitcher needs a smooth, resilient surface where she can plant her foot to make her throws. If the mound has any ruts or wear, the pitcher could easily hurt her ankle or knee when planting or attempting to field a ball. Regular mound maintenance can keep athletes safe and even reduce the costs of renovating this heavily trafficked area. Here are some simple tips to properly maintain your pitcher’s mound:
- Sweep away any debris from the mound, particularly the landing area in front of the rubber.
- Tamp uneven clay before watering.
- Use a small roller to smooth the mound area.
- Lightly water the clay to create a stronger bond between new packing clay and existing clay.
- Add new clay to damaged areas. Tamp into ground.
- Water the entire mound thoroughly. Let dry.
- Place a mound cover over the area until its next use.
- Batter’s box maintenance — As batters dig in throughout practices and games, the batter’s box degrades and can develop severe wear and tear. Adding mound clay and infield mix to fill in holes and create a level surface should be a regular part of field-maintenance duties. Make sure to rake down newly repaired areas to create an even surface.
Proper field maintenance can go a long way to keeping softball players safe from minor and major knee and ankle injuries, especially when wearing metal cleats. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Shana Brenner is the Marketing Director of CoverSports, an American manufacturer of baseball field tarps and protection with roots tracing back to 1874.
Just read an interesting and worthwhile article by Arizona coach Mike Candrea for his Liberty Mutual Play Positive monthly column. The topic was sports injuries and how to prevent or at least minimize them.
In the column Candrea talks about some of the causes, especially in softball. He says most injuries in our sport are not the result of something occurring on the field, but of overuse. He points to his own experience where a career-ending elbow injury requiring surgery was the result of over-use in Little League.
One of the big points he brings up, and the one I want to focus on today, is the need for rest and recovery. Today in youth sports there seems to be a focus on playing as many games as we can. When we’re not playing we’re practicing, and when we’re not practicing we’re expected to be conditioning, or doing speed an agility, or doing something else to get better.
All of those are good things, but you can get too much of a good thing too. The importance of rest and recovery time cannot be overstated. This article from the American College of Sports Medicine says, “Rest is a critical component to any good workout routine and time spent allowing the body to recover is a great way to prevent injuries. A rest day must occur at least one to two times per week. Even small breaks during a workout are sometimes required to get the most out of the workout and prevent injuries.”
This article from Stack gets more into the specifics of overtraining. Among the points it makes is that muscles that are worked hard tend to have their proteins break down. If the athlete isn’t allowed to rest the protein continues to break down and put the athlete at risk of injury.
While these things apply to any athlete, they particularly apply to youth athletes whose bodies are still growing and changing. They need recovery time – rest, not just a lighter workout – to avoid injury.
As parents and coaches, it is our responsibility to ensure our athletes have the rest and recovery time they need – even if that makes us unpopular, or goes against the grain of what everyone else is doing.
If you’re an athlete you need to listen to your body. Don’t just try to “tough it out.” You’re not training to be a Navy SEAL or Army Ranger. Speak up if you can’t go. Again, it might not make you popular, and it might cost you playing time today. But better that you’re still able to play a few years from now than to allow some fanatic to ruin your career.
It’s not being lazy. It’s being smart. Listen to the experts. A few less games or practices might be just what the doctor ordered.
Following is a guest post by Nathan Friedkin, founder of Maximum Performance Yoga. It presents some ideas for using yoga to help build the strength and flexibility required to play at your peak level. Keep in mind these exercises are best used during off-times or after a game. For pre-game warm-ups you’ll want to stick with dynamic warm-ups.
Softball involves quite a bit of twisting, during which the lower body stays grounded and still while the upper body rotates. Twists are involved in batting, throwing, and even trying to steal a base. A stable foundation in the lower body (strong glutes and thighs) and flexibility in the spine are the keys to executing a safe and healthy twist, which are not only important in a strong performance
but in preventing back injury. Yoga postures such as Revolved Crescent Lunge promote leg strength through isometric muscle contraction and spinal flexibility through a sustained twist.
Yoga is also helpful in maintaining both strength and flexibility in the shoulder girdle, which are incredibly important in pitching. A good pitch requires not only a great deal of power, but an extensive range of motion in the shoulder joint. By stretching the shoulders in postures such as a wide legged forward fold with interlacing the hands behind the back, and strengthening them in postures such as Chaturanga Dandasana (essentially a narrow-arm push-up), yoga may be helpful in improving pitching
performance and reducing incidence of injury.
Here are some key postures for preventing injuries for softball players:
- Four legged staff pose (chaturanga)
- Standing Bow Pulling Pose
- Chair Pose
- Half Lord of the Fishes
- Standing Head-to-Knee Pose
- Seated Head-to-Knee Pose
- Revolved triangle
- Balancing stick
- Supine hand to foot
- Revolved side angle
- Prayer twist
- Wide legged standing forward fold with bound arms
- Cow face pose
- Half pigeon
- Eye of the needle
- Side plank
Nathan Friedkin is an entrepreneur, yogi, video producer, and proud father of two sons. He is also the founder of Maximum Performance Yoga® MPY crushes convention, smashes stigma and brings the benefits of power yoga training to student athletes.
Join the evolution! http://www.MaxPerformanceYoga.com, FB.com/MaxPerformanceYoga, Twitter.com/MaxPerformanceYoga
A couple of posts ago I wrote about the problems of overuse injuries in youth sports, including fastpitch softball. It’s a phenomenon that’s growing, often due to a combination of specializing in one sport too early and not taking breaks.
Since that time I’ve found a couple of other articles that also talk about this issue. Both are from the Science Daily website. The first is this one, which quotes some sports medicine specialists who talk about the value of playing multiple sports.
The more interesting one to me, though, was this one, which says that nearly 30 percent of all college athlete injuries are a result of overuse. It goes on to say “a majority of overuse injuries (62 percent) occurred in females athletes, according to a new study published in the current edition of the Journal of Athletic Training, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association scientific publication.” And, it says, field hockey, softball, soccer and volleyball have the highest rates of overuse injuries.
Think about that. We’re not talking about young children anymore. These are collegiate athletes, many of whom are no doubt getting money for school in exchange for playing. Their muscles have matured, as have their bone structures – and their knowledge of their own bodies.
How does this happen? A big part of it is coaches driven to win because their jobs depend on it. They run drills over and over, and conduct extended practice sessions – as much as the NCAA rules will allow. They throw their #1 pitcher game after game, because of course the fastpitch pitching motion is “natural” and therefore requires no rest. Yeah, right.
The big problem is not just the injury itself according to the article. It’s also the toll it takes psychologically on the players. Once these overuse injuries occur, they can affect recovery time and performance.
We’re not talking about sore arms after the first practice. While that’s not a good thing, it can happen if your players aren’t in game shape. But they can recover quickly from these problems with a little rest. Overuse injuries tend to linger, though. And the more you over-use, the worse the issue gets.
If you’re a coach, it’s important to be aware of these risks. Conducting brutal four-hour practices may not be getting you where you want to go; it may be hurting you. Instead, try running two-hour practices that are more efficient in their use of time.
If you’re a parent and you’re seeing this type of injury in your daughter, don’t just sit idly by. Speak up. Show the coach some of these articles and let him/her know the risks. Because if you don’t and your daughter ends up unable to play, the coach will find someone else. The game must go on. In the meantime, your daughter will be watching from the sidelines. Perhaps in a sling.
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.
By now it’s been pretty well established that dynamic stretching — stretches that have the body in motion — are far better for preparing teams for athletic competition than the old static stretches where you assume a position and hold it.
The big revelation is that static stretching does nothing for injury prevention (beyond adding a little flexibility), and actually turns the nervous system off, making players slower and less able to respond. Dynamic stretching turns the nervous system on, which is particularly important in a speed game such as fastpitch softball. Here’s a link to an article that explains it much more detail. (Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Softball Performance as administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum community, but have nothing to do with the DVDs shown.)
Even if you buy into it as a coach, though, you may find it’s only half the battle. The tough part sometimes is getting your players to buy into it and change their old habits.
Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t think that 12 or 14 or even 18 year olds are so set in their ways that it would be difficult. But I’ve been there and know the kind of resistance you can face.
One thing you’ll often hear when you’re showing them the new, improved stretching routine is “I feel stupid.” Not sure why being in motion would make them feel any stupider than standing there holding a stretch but it often does. Perhaps it’s that your team is the only one flailing around like that, while the others do what they’ve always done. In truth that’s good news for you, because it’s giving you a competitive advantage. But only if your team is doing it.
Make the transition requires some effort on your part. First, you don’t ask the team if they want to do it. You just tell them this is what we’re doing. You’re the coach, make it mandatory, just like every other rule you have. I doubt you give players the option of whether they get low on a ground ball. Tell them this is the way it is and have done with it.
That’s how you get them to compliance. To really get the benefit, though, you have to make sure they’re really putting the effort in. Static stretching is really easy to do; it takes little effort, and your players won’t break a sweat. Dynamic stretching, however, requires a great deal more work, which is another reason they may resist. So you have to stay on them.
If I see players just going through the motions, I will stop them and demonstrate what I want done. I can still do a straight-legged kick in front and get my toes up even with my shoulders. Not sure how I can do that but I can. So I show them what I can do and tell them if they can’t beat a fat, out-of-shape old man then they’re pretty pathetic. That usually gets their attention, and they start pushing themselves more. Which is what you want.
The last thing you might hear is “It makes us too tired.” If that’s the case, tell them it sounds like they need to work on their conditioning, so you’ll be doing ladders and poles for the first part of every practice from now on so they’re not too tired to stretch properly. That usually ends that discussion. If it doesn’t, be prepared to follow through.
There are a great many benefits to dynamic stretching — too many to ignore. Make it an absolute, and pretty soon it just becomes accepted as the way your team does things. You not only get to win the battle; your team gets to improve its performance and prevent injury. It’s a victory for everyone.