Do you coach Little League?
In this article, you'll learn what coaches can do to help keep their pitchers' arms healthy this season.
Coaches will learn how to prevent Little League pitching arm injuries.
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It's important to understand that the most common cause of pitching arm injury in young pitchers is overuse.
That is, pitching when fatigued.
Now this may be the result of throwing too many pitches during one outing, not having enough recovery time, or not having a maintenance program between pitching assignments.
Coaches should be aware of these factors, and realize that pitchers vary in arm stamina and need for recovery time. Make certain there is a good in-season arm care and recovery program available for and used by your pitchers.
19 tips to help Little League pitchers stay healthy
Here are 19 things Little League coaches can do to avoid overuse injuries and foster long, healthy careers for youth pitchers:
Make certain pitchers are properly conditioned before throwing full velocity or pitching competitively at the start of the season. To the best of your ability, encourage your pitchers to start throwing a few times per week approximately 8 weeks before the season begins.
Make certain pitchers have and use a proper stretching and warm up routine before throwing. Dynamic stretching before competition is better than static stretching. Drills can include arm circles, trunk twists, high knees, butt kicks, side shuffles, back pedals, etc.
Be careful not to overstretch the shoulder joint, causing too much laxity. This actually weakens the pitching arm.
Teach and supervise a proper arm care program that can be done at practice. The exercises should take no more than 10 minutes. Tubing exercises or lightweight 3-5 pound dumbbells are best. Many pitchers restrict their flexibility and range of motion by improper use of weights.
Have the pitcher throw at reduced velocity and shorter distance when learning new techniques or especially new pitches.
Limit the amount of throwing a pitcher does during drills and practices if he plays another position.
Do not allow regular pitchers to catch, or regular catchers to pitch. According to this 2010 study, playing catcher appears to increase a pitcher's risk of injury. The positions which would cause the least amount of stress on the arm are first base or outfield. But even playing those positions can put extra stresses on the throwing arm, so be careful.
Make certain the pitcher is dressed properly for warmth during cold temps. And also not over dressed to prevent early heat exhaustion during very hot weather. I always kept a towel in my baseball bag to dry off between innings on really hot days. The key is to stay dry.
Be aware of proper intake of fluids to prevent early dehydration and muscle fatigue. At a minimum, encourage your pitchers to have a small cup full of water (6-8 ounces) between innings.
Give your pitchers proper notice of when they're scheduled to pitch either in a starting or relieving role. When pitchers don't know when they're scheduled to pitch, they're unable to get into a consistent routine between starts and properly prepare to pitch.
Ideally, you should let pitchers know 6-7 days ahead of time when they will pitch. This will allow them to schedule their running, conditioning, long toss, and bullpen sessions during the week and allow them to be physically and mentally ready on game day.
Never allow pitchers to exceed age-appropriate pitch count limits. It's important to note that pitch count as a measure is far more effective and reliable than the number of innings pitched, especially at the Little League level of the game, where errors in the field can cause very long innings.
Try to minimize consecutive-day pitching. I believe each pitcher should have at least 48 hours rest between outings. And at practices, do not have pitchers throw hard 48 hours before a game is scheduled.
Pull pitchers who show signs of fatigue, even if far below pitch count limits.
According to a 2007 study, as pitchers approach fatigue, there is usually a decrease in ball velocity and control, and the trunk is significantly closer to a vertical position (upright).
It's important to note that in a competitive situation, often a pitcher will not admit that he is fatigued, overly sore, or has a minor arm injury. It is, therefore, very important that a coach is able to recognize changes in a pitcher's normal motion.
Besides a loss in some velocity and usually control, as mentioned above, a pitcher will often change his mechanics to compensate for the loss of arm strength or to protect his arm from further pain.
During a game, coaches should look for mechanical changes in pitchers such as:
- The pitcher rushes his motion trying to generate more force with his body and reduce the stress on his arm. It will look like the pitcher is dragging his arm and he'll have a loss of hand speed because he has disrupted his normal throwing sequence.
- The pitcher may shorten his follow through (deceleration of the arm) and not use his normal arm extension upon and after ball release.
- The pitcher may not get his hand up into a normal high cocked position. It will appear that he has dropped his elbow during the cocking and acceleration phases.
- Between innings, the pitcher may hold or massage his arm displaying pain. With muscle fatigue, a pitcher's hand often trembles.
- Between pitching assignments, the pitcher may be reluctant to throw, or throw properly during dill work, since he is attempting to protect his arm from further stress and pain.
Do not allow pitching when a player has a sore or injured arm. Obviously.
Before facing a batter, at a minimum have kids throw a small number of (6 to 10) warm-up pitches. Even if a player is coming into pitch having previously been playing in the field, he needs those pitches to warm up his arm again and prepare it for the demands of pitching.
Always communicate with pitchers about pitching activities outside the team such as practice time, pitching lessons, or pitching time on other teams. Coordinate with parents to make sure each pitcher does not throw too many pitches.
As best as you can, learn how to teach proper pitching mechanics. While each pitcher throw somewhat within his own style, through the critical phase of throwing, most successful injury free pitchers use very similar time-proven techniques.
Youth pitchers with better pitching mechanics generate lower humeral internal rotation torque, lower elbow valgus load, and more efficiency than do those with improper mechanics, according to a 2009 study.
Proper pitching mechanics may also help prevent shoulder and elbow injuries in youth pitchers.
Review mechanics of all pitchers at the beginning of the season. If you observe mechanical flaws, fix them. Especially make sure that pitchers are rotating their hip, not throwing with “all arm.”
Stress the importance of proper trunk mechanics in pitching. Specifically, improving core strength and trunk control in an effort to maintain a more upright posture through the pitching cycle can reduce upper extremity joint stresses, according to a 2015 study.
Be alert for a pitcher using pain killers. The use of pills (Advil, Tylenol, etc.) and medication does not cure the problem, but only masks the pain which might lead to a more serious or prolonged pitching arm injury.
Use these general Little League pitching guidelines when coaching youth pitchers, and you'll guarantee that your players have their best chance at health, durability and success this season.
Good luck to you and your team!
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