Sunday, March 29, 2015

8 tips for reducing youth pitching injuries

According to new research released by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) pitching speed, player’s height, and pitching for multiple teams may correlate with a history of shoulder and elbow injuries.

A couple of quick thoughts from my view, taller athletes tend to be stronger and thus can generate more velocity, and while it's a catch-22 greater arm speed equates to increased stress on the throwing arm. As a result of this increased velocity and probable accompanying high performance these athletes have more opportunity to pitch for multiple teams and more exposure increases the odds of getting injured. And while it's definitely insightful and adds to the current body of knowledge I would hardly describe this information as ground breaking.  

That said, three dreaded words for pitchers have again been prominent in the baseball news recently: Tommy John surgery.

The procedure, by its medical name, is ulnar collateral ligament surgery.

The procedure has saved the careers of major leaguers, but the need for it among young pitchers after elbow ligament injury is on the rise. Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews told last spring he has seen a sharp increase in youth sports injuries.

 "I started seeing a sharp increase in youth sports injuries, particularly baseball, beginning around 2000," Andrews said. “In my practice now, 30 to 40 percent of the ones I'm doing are on high-schoolers, even down to ages 12 or 13. They're already coming in with torn ligaments.”

Dr. Peter Wenger, a Primary Care, Sports Medicine Specialist, said he has seen torn elbow ligaments in players as young as eight years old.

Can young pitchers avoid it? Medical professionals and pitching coaches admit there is no way to completely prevent elbow injuries, but they say there are ways to minimize the risk.

Here are eight tips that could reduce the chances of a young pitcher from needing Tommy John surgery:

1. PRESEASON CONDITIONING FOR YOUR SHOULDER: Your shoulder? Yes. Wenger, said, "Most elbow injuries are caused by weakness in the back of the shoulder.”

Conditioning before the season will increase the endurance of shoulder muscles during the season. Players age eight and older should begin conditioning six to eight weeks before the start of practice. For those playing youth baseball, that means now. If you’re a high school pitcher, these exercises can be done between high school and summer seasons or before the start of fall ball.

The strengthening should focus on shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) stability.  Strengthening the back and core muscles are also essential. More on the types of exercises you can implement into your routine will be provided below.

2. THROW AWAY THE RADAR GUN: “Baseball is a game of numbers, and young players focus on how hard they are throwing,” Wenger said. “It’s more important they focus on form and conditioning. Control and mechanics are far more important than velocity, especially for younger pitchers.”

Mark Leiter, a former big leaguer and pitching coach said the following:

“Overthrowing creates bad habits, which lead to bad mechanics.”

3. PLAY MORE CATCH: Leiter, who had an 11-year major league career, noted players today pitch more but throw less.

“Kids just don’t play catch anymore,” Leiter said. “We used to play pick-up games or throw the ball around in the street. That develops arm strength. Pitching and throwing are two different things.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO WARM UP: Both Leiter and Wenger noted many players today show up 10 minutes before a game, make 15 throws and then pitch.

You want to get a sweat going before you throw.  That means a more general warm-up using exercises that emphasize dynamic and multi-directional movements. Not running poles or sitting on your back doing static stretches!

“You want the muscles warm and moving easily before you pitch,” Wenger said. “Once you begin throwing, it’s a good idea to start at 50 percent velocity and work your way up for a period of 10 to 15 minutes until you feel comfortable.”

5. DITCH THE CURVEBALL: It’s not so much the pitch, but how it’s thrown that can cause injury.

“Most kids aren’t taught to throw the curve the right way,” Leiter said. “For kids eight, nine, 10 years old I believe in throwing a change-up as a deception pitch. If there is an advanced 12-year-old, I might show him how to throw it and then tell him to throw one per inning. I really don’t want a pitcher throwing a curveball until he gets to 60-90 (foot fields).”

“My rule of thumb is, don't throw the curveball until you can shave, until your bone structure has matured and you have the neuromuscular control to be able to throw the pitch properly, Andrews told CLEVELAND.COM. “If you throw it with good mechanics, it doesn't have any greater force on your shoulder than throwing other pitches, but you've got to throw it correctly. It's misleading to say it's OK to throw the curveball with good mechanics because the rub is, most kids don't throw it with good mechanics.”

“When thrown incorrectly the curveball puts stress on the ligaments and the growth plates in the elbow,” Wenger explained.

6. USE A PITCH COUNT: The American Sports Medicine Institute helped developed the pitch counts used by youth baseball organizations.

“Coaches and parents should stick to the guidelines as much as possible,” said Wenger.

According to ASMI, a pitcher between the ages of 15 and 18 years old should have four days of rest after throwing 76 or more pitches. A player 7-8 years old should have four days rest when throwing 66 or more pitches.

7. GET LONG-TERM REST, TOO: Since ulna ligament injuries are from overuse, rest across and between seasons is a key element in prevention.

“Whenever you play a sport season, to season, to season the risk for injury goes up whether its soccer, basketball or tennis. It’s important to give your body time to recover,” Wenger said.
“Specialization leads to playing the sport year-round,” Andrews said. “That means not only an increase in risk factors for traumatic injuries but a sky-high increase in overuse injuries. Almost half of sports injuries in adolescents stem from overuse.”

“I’ve worked with kids who play on three and four teams at a time,” Leiter said. “I would rather see a kid pitch six innings once a week than throw two on Tuesday, three on Friday and two on Sunday.”

How much rest?  

“A pitcher should take three or four months off from throwing each year,” Wegner said. “A good rule is for every three months you pitch, take one month off.”

8. DON’T IGNORE THE SIGNS: Wenger said reoccurring pain and lengthy soreness are signs of a problem. “If you wake up the next morning and you are still hurting, that’s not a good thing,” Wenger said. “Pain inside the elbow or shoulder with regularity are signs of a problem. That is not the time to try and gut it out.”

Wenger said signs for coaches to watch for are decreases in velocity, pitch count and control. And, note changes in mechanics.

“If a pitcher starts throwing more sidearm than over the top it is a sign of fatigue or worse,” Wenger said.

Personally I believe overuse injuries could all be virtually eliminated with a long term athletic development plan. In short the younger a child is the more general their movement/sport experiences should be. Master/explore the fundamentals of human movement first and then move on to honing fundamental sports skills and the final step should be specialized sport skills. In America we have it backwards!

That said, we have to deal in reality. Kids are going to pitch and they are want to play well so we can't put the brakes on them but we can equip their bodies with sound training to counteract the demands of throwing a baseball.

On that note...

I have had the pleasure to meet former Boston Red Sox head trainer Mike Reinold at several seminars/conferences over the last 5 years and he has become my go to resource for injury prevention techniques  and return from injury protocols as well. I wanted to share a recent post from Reinold:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Training: Loaded with Valuable Lessons for Young Athletes

I love Spring Training for several reasons not the least of which is that it's a sign that summer and warmer weather is right around the corner.

But the number one reason I love Spring Training is because of the atmosphere it creates for generating interesting life stories that a ton of great lessons can be gleaned from.

The players and coaches are generally more laid back as they prepare for the season. Spring training games for the most part mean very little (unless of course you are non-roster invitee looking to win a job). It's all about getting your reps in and preparing your body and fine tuning your skills for the long-season ahead. So it's a great opportunity to dig into what drives these athletes and organizations and what makes them successful.

Here are a few of the things that really stood out to me as an athletic development coach over the first two weeks of Spring Training:

Wynton Bernard was a 35TH round draft choice by the San Diego Padres in 2012 two years later he was released and his career as a pro baseball player were bleak. But he scrapped together the money to fly across the country to an open try-out in Lakeland, Florida and earned a spot in the Tigers organization where he enjoyed a successful season at Class A West Michigan and earned an invite to Spring Training with the big league team. Oh by the way athleticism and speed (Bernard has both) always turn heads!

New Tiger centerfield hopeful Anthony Gose played quarterback and wide-receiver in high-school in addition to running sprints for the track team and was also a flame throwing pitcher (97 on the gun!).
Gose has been criticized for his current projection as a weak hitter but keep your eye on this guy. With that raw athleticism (he's only 24 years of age) he has the ability to figure it out and take an underdeveloped skill and make it an asset. Lorenzo Cain enjoyed a breakout year for the American League champion Kansas City Royals last season at age 29, and he received the same low-marks for his hitting ability but ended the season hitting in the coveted 3 hole for the Royals. It's worth mentioning Cain never played baseball until a friend convinced him to try-out his junior year of high school! With diverse athletic ability your window to adapt and develop specific skill increases exponentially!

There has been plenty of chatter about the negative effects early sport specialization can have on the long-term  durability and development of young athletes but something often overlooked is athletes getting locked into one position to early within a sport.

Consider this nugget from new Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (more on this guy who is quickly emerging as my all-time favorite leadership figure):

"It's broad. We really promote liberal arts. We're a liberal arts education in baseball... You need a lefty out of the bullpen once in a while, but overall, the broader base you give your position players with a broader curriculum, I think you really develop a better baseball player." 

And he's talking about fully developed young men. Imagine the tremendous gains you could make by implementing a similar philosophy with still developing athletes who are still highly malleable... You would have a dynasty on your hands and produce athletes that would be highly coveted due to their ability to contribute to a winning program!

This may be a sour subject for most Tiger fans but Mike Trout is the best all-around talent in Major League Baseball. He has the rare combination of elite hitting ability, power, speed and defense. And though Trout won the MVP award last season by his standards he had a down year with too many strike-outs and not enough stolen bases. He is looking to make the necessary adjustments that will take his elite skills to an even higher level.

Great message for parents and coaches here. We all remember that stud little leaguer that dominated the competition but by the time you got to high school that guy had vanished from the scene... This is largely because they are generally bigger and faster than the other 12 year olds. By the time the late-bloomers start to catch-up in size and strength they also  had to learn to develop the sport skills  that they can now take to a higher level with their new found physical abilities. Meanwhile the "big kid" always relied on their size and strength and never developed the necessary skill when it was more easily attained. Pump the brakes (easy on the accolades and ego boosting, 12 year-old superstars usually burn bright then flame-out quickly) on those early maturers and make sure they are working on the fundamentals sport skills and general athleticism that will allow them to sustain that early advantage over the long haul.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is 5'6 and was told time and again by talent evaluators that they loved his skill and desire but they never offered him a contract because of his small physical stature. Altuve just wouldn't go away and eventually that skill and desire would not be denied. Baseball is a great game because of athletes like Altuve. Having tremendous raw power or an elite throwing arm will get you noticed but you won't stick around very long without the dedication to refine those skills so they can be applied consistently. Hard work beats talent every time when talent doesn't work hard!

Outstanding article on the philosophy of new Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon. This guy is one of the elite leaders in professional sports. A must read for coaches, parents and young athletes!

Enjoy the stories that come out of Spring Training. Once the regular season starts we will all get caught up in the results (wins, losses, statistics) and it will be easy to overlook the reason behind a team's and athletes success or lack thereof.

Phil Loomis
Athletic Development Specialist
Speed and Agility Specialist
Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Precision Nutrition Coach

The Key To Sustained Energy and Strong Words of Advice From a Veteran Coach

Sports Nutrition Tip: The Key To Sustained Energy

Today’s article covers a topic that is essential to fueling consistently high performance and making significant gains in off-season training. It also happens to be one of the most misunderstood topics.

While carbohydrates have taken a beating in fat-loss circles over the past decade or so, the fact of the matter is carbs are not evil. Nor are they inherently fattening.

The fact is active people and young athletes in particular need carbs. That’s right, you need them. And getting the right carbs in the right amounts can boost your performance, improve your health, and make you leaner and more muscular!

What’s The Deal With Carbs?

When it comes to eating carbs, it comes down to 2 things:

Eat the right carb sources,
In the right amounts

You don’t have to over-think this, as it does not mean low-carb. It also doesn’t mean avoiding carbs at some times and having them at others. It is simply about choosing quality carbohydrates, and eating them in reasonable amounts.

Many people try to go too low-carb while training hard, and while it may work in the beginning, eventually it will come back to haunt you. Low-carbohydrate intake combined with hard training will lead to thyroid problems, cortisol (stress hormone that can actually break your body down!) and stress problems, as well as a decrease in testosterone and increase in estrogen. This will stall fat loss, inhibit muscle gain, decrease performance, lower your energy, worsen your mood and overall just make you feel lousy.

So just don’t do it! The goal is to get enough carbs so that you fuel your training, optimize recovery, and maintain optimal hormone status, but not so much that you feel sluggish and over-fed. To do that is actually easier than you might imagine.

So How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

My recommendation for active young athletes is to have 1-2 palm-sized portions of a protein rich food, and 1-2 fists of veggies at every meal, now we are going to add to that. For most meals you should have:

1-2 palm-sized portions of a protein-rich food
1-2 fists of vegetables
1-2 cupped handfuls of starchy carbs or fruit

To give you an idea, here is a list of quality carbohydrate sources:

beans (dry, canned, or refried)
fruit (fresh, frozen, or unsweetened dried)
oats (old-fashioned, rolled, or steel-cut)
potatoes (try a variety of colors – white, red, yellow, purple)
sweet potatoes (try a variety of colors – orange, yellow, purple)
whole grain rice (black, brown, wild, etc.)

In general, women should have 1-cupped handful of starchy carbs or fruit at most meals, and men should have 2 cupped handfuls, simple as that.

For the most part, this habit is just about getting most of your carbs from whole food sources, and eating them in reasonable amounts. However, this is just a starting point.

If you want to gain weight, or are really active, you should add another cupped handful of carbs to a few meals. And if you want to lose weight, or are only mildly active, you might want to remove a cupped handful of carbs from a few meals.

And remember, this is just a starting point. You should adjust your intake to best meet your: needs, hunger and fullness cues, energy levels, mood, training performance, body composition progress, and overall results.

While I am on the topic of carbohydrates… It might just be the hottest (and most polarizing) nutrition debate of the entire year...and it has to do with whole grains.
Some people think whole grains are a critical, health-promoting food group that should be part of every healthy diet. Others think they're evil little packages of inflammation-causing chemicals and toxins that make you fat and kill you slowly.
Sounds dramatic...and it is.

If you are interested in finding out whom is right you may want to read:

Below is a note I received this week from a long-time mentor. Mike Boyle is a legend in sports strength and conditioning and he's never been the type to pull any punches:

Parents are being misled. Yes, all the tournament and camp organizers are deliberately misleading you. Parents shell out thousands of dollars for exposure camps and exposure tournaments for their son’s or daughter’s. The organizers tell you that attending a certain camp or playing in a certain tournament will improve your chances of making the team or of getting a scholarship.

The bottom line is it’s not true. Four days of camp will not change your child. Neither will a weekend tournament. Parents make a critical error at the wrong time. The most critical time in a young athletes career is the summer. This is when a young player needs to train to prepare to have a great season. However, instead of preparation, parents of athletes with potential often choose exposure. The result is usually the same. The athlete goes to 5-6 “exposure” camps to be “seen” by college coaches. Instead of training and preparation the summer is about travel and “exposure”. The final result is that the athlete is not physically prepared for the season and ends up either getting injured or having a sub-par year. Coaches that might have had interest suddenly disappear. Sure things turn into maybes. Suddenly all the time spent on exposure seems wasted as there is no “product” to expose.

The road to college sports should go right through a weight room. I know this sounds old fashioned but it’s true. If your child’s goal is to play college sports, then, get ready to play. Don’t spend all summer trying to convince coaches how good you are. Spend the summer trying to get better so coaches will notice you. You can’t network your way into college sports and even if you can, in these days of email etc., send an email and a video.

Every summer I discourage the parents of some of the best high school players to forgo the five camp plan and train. Instead focus on the 1 or 2 camps that have the most value and, focus the rest of the time on training. The results are always outstanding. The players who train are clearly improved and the players who were seniors are all going to the college of their choice.

It works out exactly as I said it would because our plan makes sense.
The ideas of athlete development and athlete exposure are almost polar opposites. The key is to balance the need to be seen by and meet college coaches with the need to train to be able to impress coaches during the critical senior year.

Every sport has entrepreneurs and organizers who swear they know the answer. The problem is they have a vested financial interest in you and your child. They need you to make money. The truth is, so do training centers and sports performance centers. However training centers and sports performance programs help young athletes do exactly what professional and collegiate athletes do in the off-season, train. Most summer training programs are intentionally modeled on the programs that have helped high school; college and professional athletes succeed for decades. The programs are not flashy or sexy. In fact they are difficult and demanding. However, they are designed around a successful formula, not a quick buck strategy. This summer you have a decision to make. You can try to show everyone how good you are in a few camps or tournaments or, you can actually work at getting better and preparing for the seasons that really matter.

In strength,
Mike Boyle