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IR Won’t Put Young Pitchers in the ER

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:

The only being who has ever been happy about doing these.

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.

These guys get it.

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.

Reality check

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.

Do you really know who’s coaching your child?

Watch our for who is coaching your kids

Normally I like to keep things focused strictly on topics that relate to the game itself. But this is a subject that really should be of concern to any parent whose kids – male or female – are participating in activities where they have long periods of exposure to adults.

It was sparked by this article, sent to me by my friend Tim Boivin. The article is about the revenge a dad in Pennsylvania was able to extract after one of his daughter’s coaches not only touched her inappropriately (smacked her on the behind, even after being asked to stop) but then tried to smear the dad’s name in the local town. He did it by using his long standing with the league, and the fact that he’d lived there in that town his whole life, to get the dad looked at as an outsider. It’s a pretty good read, and a good lesson about being careful who you mess with, no matter how much power you think you have.

But it also brings up a bigger point. During tryout season, the focus is on making a team. Sometimes it’s the “right” team, and sometimes it’s just any team. But after the stress of tryouts are over and you’re feeling the relief, there’s another question that needs to be asked: how much do I really know about the people who will be coaching my child?

The usual reaction when you find out something terrible about a coach (or other authority figure) is “I had no idea.” Of course you didn’t. Someone who acts like a predator, or a person who will dole out inappropriate physical abuse on players, doesn’t walk around wearing a t-shirt that advertises the fact.

He/she also doesn’t act that way in front of the parents. If he/she did, he/she wouldn’t get access to kids and thus be able to satisfy whatever needs or urges he/she has. Just like a con man trying to convince people to give them money, coaches who want to do terrible things to kids must appear to be completely trustworthy.

Many of them put in the effort to learn the game, too, further helping them hide in plain sight. I remember a guy about 15 years ago who used to contribute regularly to the old eTeamz softball discussion board. His signature phrase was that he would always talk about teaching the FUNdamentals.

The message, of course, being that coaches shouldn’t take themselves too seriously, and remember that it’s a game and games should be fun. Just the kind of person you want coaching your child, right?

Well, one day he just sort of disappeared from the board. Eventually it came out that this guy was arrested, tried, and convicted of several counts of having sexual contact with minors. Now the only FUNdamentals he needs to worry about is watching his back in prison, as many prisoners don’t take too kindly to child molesters.

That’s an extreme case, but it illustrates a point. Not all concerns are around sexual predators, however. For example, would you want a known felon with a history of violence toward women coaching your daughter? Probably not. Or what about someone who had punched a player (or a parent, or an umpire, or an opposing coach) in a fit of anger?

These are all legitimate concerns. Your daughter will be spending a lot of time with the coaching staff in the coming year, especially now that fastpitch softball tends to be a 12-month sport. How can you find out if any of the coaches (not just the head coach) have any skeletons in the closet you should know about?

One way is to ask if the organization does background checks with the state police on everyone who will play a coaching role or be on the bench with the team. If it does, don’t just take their word for it that everything is ok. Ask to the see the reports.

If there’s nothing to hide, they should be more than happy to do it. If they are reluctant to share the information for “privacy” reasons, that could be a red flag. No matter.

You don’t have to be an organization to request a background check on someone. Anyone can do it. If you have any concerns, request it yourself. The cost for a state check is generally $10-$20, while the cost for a nationwide check is typically $25-$45. When you think about what you’re paying to play, it’s worth a few dollars more to gain peace of mind if you have any concerns.

In most cases, the background check is going to turn up clean since it only covers criminal known criminal acts, and despite what the headlines may lead you to believe the people who commit them and get into coaching are rare. Still, there are some out there.

If the organization runs background checks and still allows someone who shouldn’t be there to coach, you might want to re-thing your decision to play for that organization. Clearly they don’t care now. How much are they going to care if you find a problem later and bring it to their attention? It’s obvious that letting that person coach is more important to them than protecting their players.

If the organization doesn’t run the background checks but you do and find something, you should bring it to their attention. Their actions from that point will tell you what you should do. It’s up to you, but if your daughter is going to be coached by someone you don’t want her to be around, and you allow it to happen, you will share in the blame if something happens later on.

Here’s the other thing. As I mentioned, background checks only catch those who have already been caught. You may want to do a background check of your own via Google or another search engine to see if there are comments from past players or parents out there that might give you an indication of the person’s character.

Does this coach have a reputation for being abusive to players, physically, verbally, or emotionally? Is he/she the type of person that will cause excruciating pain to young players despite their screams, as in the story of this cheerleading coach? Will this coach help your young player grow and become the type of person you want her to be, or will he/she teach life lessons you don’t want your daughter to learn?

When you’re with a new team where you don’t know the coaches, one other good idea is to hang around at practices for a while to see how they’re conducted and what the coaches’ approach to interacting with players is. Understand that practices should be hard, and it is not only good but necessary to push players to improve. But there is also a limit to it. They shouldn’t be doing things that are abusive or patently unsafe.

At the same time, understand that you will be going there as a silent observer. It is not your place to offer advice or suggestions, or really do much of anything to interject yourself into the practice unless something truly illegal or inappropriate is occurring. And you’d better have proof.

If you’re told you’re not allowed to watch practice, especially with younger teams, that may be another red flag that something’s not quite right with this team, coaching staff, or organization. As long as you’re silent no one should have a problem with you watching. Heck, it’s probably a good thing, because then you can reinforce what they’re teaching when you work with your daughter on your own.

Again, you hope that none of those bad things are happening. But better safe than sorry. Knowing who is coaching your kids is an important step in ensuring sports/activities participation is a good, positive, and safe experience for your child.

Photo credit: Vetustense Photorogue via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Infographic on injuries in youth sports

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. Safety infographic

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/.

The Risks Of Ankle And Knee Injuries When Using Metal Cleats On Poorly Maintained Fields

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.Field photo

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. 

 

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