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Are We Destroying Our Kids?

Oct 16, 2019
My daughter has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome - a genetic disorder that affects joints and evidently can enlarge the aorta - but hers is very minor. She is only 9 and wanted to start pitching and I never would allow her to, due to fear of wearing out her shoulder. So as soon as some pandemic restrictions were lifted, she had thorough evaluation by the good doctors at Marshall University Sports Medicine group and also their Pediatric Cardiology unit. She was given an all clear on all account - Dr. Hendricks at MU said, "we don't know what she can't do until she can't do it" and then warned us that her shoulder pain will likely mean more than most other girls shoulder pain. So I try to monitor her closely, though she has not started pitching just yet - next month she will begin lessons. I worry about over use simply because of the disorder. Trying to get time off and still be in an organization is tough, and we are not in a "big-time" organization, but one we do like as it has good people running it. We have one last tournament in 10 days and then it will hopefully be practice on Sunday's only and she can rest...if only I could keep her from flipping on the trampoline. :)
May 6, 2015
I agree with a lot of the above. even have considered making DD unavailable for a weekend or two this fall (very aggresive schedule thsi fall, probably counted on a rainout or two, but only one single game (weeknight) has been cancelled due to weather), but once other C quite, not really an option. team has already played 25 games since early sept, one more full tourney, single one day, and one double header still on schedule (in our parts, SB and BB generally have to shutdown game wise in early Nov due to weather). Dd starts swim practice (supposed to be 3 per week, will more likely be one or two until fall season over) this week.

We are full believers in multiple sports through HS (at least first half). both DDs swim, DD2 is softball player, DD1 is all in on FH, and plays year round, but luckily her position does not require a lot of repetitive motion (GK). DD2 is also playing FH for this year and at least next for school, so they can play together the one year they have in HS together (and this is why DD1 still swims, they made a deal on their own about this).
May 23, 2018
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

I agree with you wholeheartedly. There also is another downside in addition to the overuse. That is burnout. In Massachusetts, 95% of the girls pitching at 12U will never pitch an inning of high school ball. I teach pitching and the first question I ask parents is what other sports they play. I stress the importance of playing multiple sports to keep all of her muscles in tune. In fact, to prevent injuries down the road, I'll have right-handed girls swing a 2" thick 42" long electrical conduit left-handed. It promotes core development and strengthens the back. As part of my warm-up drills, I'll also have them use just their right leg ( like a left pitcher would do) and close, going up and back from the first baseline. The most common injury I've seen is issues with the back. The right side becomes so hyperdeveloped that girls end up with significant back pain.
Dec 11, 2010
Here is what “playing multiple sports to reduce injuries“ means to some meatheads. This a typical schedule in the state I live in. It honestly makes me kind of angry. If you don’t like extreme sarcasm, I’d recommend to keep scrolling.

Softball in summer. Weekends only though right? Maybe a few softball practices at night. Some lessons. So there is plenty of time during the week for the new high school conditioning program at 6a during the week. Then basketball open gym in the mid morning. Volleyball open gym in the afternoon. Summer basketball games on Wednesday’s over at the Rec Center but it’s “only” two games per week and we will still do open gym in the morning... Remember, it’s “Voluntary”, wink/nod.

Softball nationals... Well they have concluded, it’s tryout time so no time to let up. Then... TB coach wants to hit the ground running this fall so we are starting practice early this year. Fall sports start late august so now it’s volleyball 6 days a week. You still have to get to weekend softball tb when you can. Don’t let up on strength training and you still have lessons.

Here comes November. Volleyball is over and this year we don’t quite have a full week to give the kids time off. That shoulder or maybe one knee is hurting a little but this is no time to let up. Basketball is real important. So let’s get out there and practice 6 days a week! This only lasts until March. Gotta get in some club volleyball too- don’t wanna get rusty. Don’t forget softball practice on Sunday. With any luck you get to play some dome softball on your off weekends up here in the Great White North! This arrangement goes by in a heartbeat- only about Four. Straight. Months. of near daily exertion and keeping up with school work.

There is light at the end of the tunnel! March Madness concludes! Which is good because you have either played or practiced 6 days per week since November 1st. That doesn’t include the “voluntary shootaround“ on Sundays leading into the state tournament. Good news! We got a week off! Now hs softball starts. Coach wants to start with some conditioning. And some team building on the weekends even though these kids been looking at each other’s mugs for what... 2-3 years straight 340 days a year. Now it’s REALLY time to play some club volleyball since there aren’t any weekend softball games yet. Gotta get those 5’5” volleyball hitters some work, or else they won’t be college volleyball players. (Or maybe it will because none of them are 6’ with a crazy vertical but hey, we can dream!) Indoor softball practices on the hard gym floor abound for all the players that didn’t blow their ACL during the last two weeks of basketball. Oh- and Coach wants us in the weight room.

High school softball finally concludes in late May or early June! Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming! Beauty abounds! Time for some travel ball! But wait..... Why waste June? Let’s have us some “voluntary” high school summer basketball open gyms! They already “sat around doing nothing” for a couple weeks! It all begins again.

Tell me again how being a multi-sport athlete reduces injuries. I’ll smile politely and listen.

For all but the top 1% most gifted athletes, this is a recipe for injury and exhaustion. I see it over and over again.

Yes. We are running players into the ground. But it isn’t because they aren’t playing enough organized competitive sports.

Keep in mind what I mostly left out:

I left out sleep.

I left out studies. (You aren’t a 4.0 student??? Is there something wrong with you?)

I left out preparing for SAT/ACT

I left out homecoming and prom.

I left out other sports camps.

I left out boyfriends and girlfriends.

There is ENORMOUS pressure on these kids. People say they are “soft”. I say they are very, very wrong about that.
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Oct 11, 2010
Chicago, IL
Agree and disagree with this thread.

As HC my primary job was to have players want to come to practice and games. I did not want to know the reason if they missed practice, just a call or text I am not going to be there. Annoyed me when parent sent me something with a long story, some are interesting though.

Sometimes it was Sally's birthday party, I wished I was invited to Sally's birthday too at thier age. That takes president over softball practice every time.
Jun 30, 2020
in my take of this, people need time to relax and cannot just go and go and go without sometime down the line having something just break. Its good to rest and not do anything. Last year I got uncleared(idk what to call it) from all sports from my doctor due to leg injury's(3 different pain hotspots ), and even after 3 weeks of rest and getting it checked out it still hurt. Because of the pandemic I've sorta been "forced" to rest more and because of that I can now play at around 90% of my current capacity instead of 70%-50% depending on the day. People need to rest. Highschool student athletes have school(extremely important for the most part), then homework and stress from school, then social events, volunteering, and then for some 6-7 days a week of working out (for sports) most likely giving up sleep (something that is very important) to be able to do these things. I suspect that in the next 10 years your going to see a lot more people come out injuryed due to overuse and not enough rest than usual. But hey, that's my take on it.
Jun 8, 2016
Highschool student athletes have school(extremely important for the most part), then homework and stress from school, then social events, volunteering, and then for some 6-7 days a week of working out (for sports) most likely giving up sleep (something that is very important) to be able to do these things. I
Don't forget snapface, chatbook, toc-toc and tweety bird time...
Oct 3, 2011
Right Here For Now
I think the one thing many forget with the players is the emotional side of it as well as the physical.

There is a lot of demand on a student-athlete's time educationally (since they are students first, or at least should be), athletically and socially. The players usually end up making social sacrifices if they want to play at a high level. What's wrong with taking the month of December and the first 2 weeks of January off like my team does? It allows them plenty of social time with family and friends over the holidays without the pressures of academics (once school lets out for Christmas Break) and athletics interfering. I've found this even more necessary as the girls get older.

The time off helps the girls recuperate both physically and emotionally. It also allows them to come back stronger than ever because the are reinvigorated.
May 6, 2015
DD1 is a two sport athlete in HS (plays one at club level, planning to play that in college), DD2 is a 2&1/2 sport athlete in middle school (picked up a fall MS sport so she can play with DD1 their only year together in HS, not certain which sport she wants to do in college of the other two)). We have always made it quite clear to all coaches (club, rec, HS, etc.) what each DDs priority is in which seasons, and balance their schedule accordingly (ie missing some on the non priority sports). some understand, some dont care, but it does not sway us

prioritization might cost your DD, but you have to do it. Prioritizing one sport cost DD1 a varsity letter in winter HS sport her freshman year, she met all criteria number wise coach had published, but because she missed one meet due to having to leave to go to tournament in her priority sport (with tons of advanced notice), he withheld it because it was at "his discretion". sophmore year, she still participated, but did not go nearly as hard as she did frosh year, because she figures it is not worth the effort (she knew she would not lose a spot, team has trouble filling the roster)

you/they have to prioritize once they get to HS. you cannot expect most kids to handle two sports at club/travel level, let alone three or four, along with school, HS sports, social life, PT job?, etc.

DD1 does 5 days after school HS practice/games (2 hour each), sometimes (ie 50%) Sat AM practice (2 hours), two 3 hour club pratices a week, plus 2-3 workouts a week for winter HS sport prep (1.5 hours each).

DD2 for a three week stretch has MS sport practice/games 4 days a week after school (1:15 each), 2 softball practices a week (2 hours each), and 2-3 workouts a week for her winter sport (1.5 hours each), plus at least 4 games every weekend (labor through today they have played 30+ games) MS and softball are almost done, but her softball team will probably do two workouts of some type during the week in winter, after a couple of week break, plus possible indoor tournament or two. HC knows and understands that she will likely miss one of those workouts each week, but he understands it is because she is working out in her other sports (and understands value this brings to her softball game, conditioning, strength, etc.). oh, plus she will probably catch a pitching lesson once a week.

funny story, yesterday, after picking her up from MS practice to go to winter sport practice, she related how coach after watching her do some drill, commented on how " she could tell you werent active this weekend". DD gave her a dirtly look, caught over 20 innings this past weekend. if she was dragging, it was not from being out of shape, it was because she was tired and sore (HBP on calf Sunday, still feeling it, and squatting to catch aggravates the soreness).

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