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Are We Destroying Our Kids?

Ken Krause

Administrator
Admin
May 7, 2008
3,633
83
Mundelein, IL
unrecognizable woman showing pain spot on back in doctor office


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:

  1. Incorporating significant periods of rest into the training/playing plan
  2. 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

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Dec 11, 2010
2,892
113
They need rest. They need to be normal people sometimes. They come back better when you let them do it. I came to understand this, and that understanding did not come easily or naturally.

I had two athletes on my summer team with throwing shoulder problems. Both are three sport athletes that never get any kind of break. One is scheduling surgery, one is delaying the inevitable. Volleyball might be more insane than softball, they never leave those kids alone and it seems to be surprisingly hard on shoulders.
 
Sep 17, 2009
1,581
83
Here's the problem: spend a lot of time practicing things the wrong way versus less time doing things right. It's a catch 22. Girls never get better so coaches/parents think they have to practice (the wrong things) even more, and they get injured and also never improve. So the answer must be more practice/work.
 
Jun 8, 2016
7,517
113
One of the problems to me is the number of organized games kids play now. Different kind of stress on the body then playing ball all day at the park all year long but only playing 20 games per season for whatever sport was in season.
 
Last edited:
Feb 10, 2018
200
43
NoVA
It is crazy. My DD is a pitcher, so it is arguably an even worse dynamic. Once COVID-19 restrictions were eased in northern VA in mid-June, our then team played about 25 games in a shade less than 6 weeks, including multiple days a week on consecutive days. At the same time, we were searching for a new team, including guest playing. My DD probably had closer to 35 games in that 6 week period. We played our final game with our previous team on 30 July and, by then, we had "signed" with our new team.

I gave my daughter the first two weeks+ of August off. We went to the beach. But the new team was already practicing for the fall season and playing friendlies and tournaments trying to make up for "lost time" from the spring. But my DD had been throwing 3-4 days a week during the entire pandemic-wrecked spring. As soon as we came back from the beach, we were right back in the grind. Two practices/bullpens during the week (4 hours end-to-end for each practice including travel time) and tournaments or double-headers every weekend through at least the end of October. We've already have had to come up with our own approach to the 45 minute bullpen sessions because the other girls warm up briefly and then just start wailing away from 43 feet for about 35 minutes straight. Even if you give a very generous 20 seconds between pitches, that's easily over 100 full pitches and very likely more. This is 14U.

I am more determined this year to give my DD a full month totally off after the fall season. I also think she should have been able to take the entire month of August off. But as Ken suggested, it is very tough to balance this stuff when the entire enterprise is driving you to more, more, more to keep up and "stay competitive."
 
Last edited:
Jul 14, 2018
512
63
DD’s pitching coach is very adamant about taking rest periods. She took six weeks between July and August 2019 with no throwing at all. Didn’t pick up a ball. Then another eight week break from mid November until January. She still went to practice, but we told her coach that she would not throw a ball during that time.

Going into 2020, she started throwing three days a week between lessons and practice. That all came to a halt in mid-March. I took her outside to throw every once in a while, when the weather cooperated. But she got nothing like the reps she had last year and it showed — she had a rocky season in the circle.

Last spring & summer she pitched just over 100 innings, this year just 32. She is struggling with her mechanics and velocity. I am keenly aware of the need to rest, but I feel like she’s dealing with the repercussions of too little work now.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Nov 26, 2010
4,348
113
Michigan
My dd took a break from pitching every winter. in HS because of other sports the break was longer and longer. She never came back throwing slower. Took some time to get the accuracy and movement. But over all it wasn’t a bad thing.
 

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