Thursday, June 30, 2016


This is part 3 of our Saving Arms series.  Be sure to check out:

We just heard about some elbow issues involving Yankee stud James Casey's piece HERE.  It seems like every day, there is a new case of elbow, forearm issues and many times these days, we hear about Tommy John surgery.  It's crazy.

As the spring season has come to an end, summer baseball has begun. Whether it's Little League All-Star teams, Babe Ruth All-Star teams, American Legion or any other travel or tournament ball, there is a lot of baseball to be played. As coaches, we have to assure the continued health of our pitchers as the summer gets long, busy and hot.

I had a chance to speak with Coach Steve Hayward again from Baseball Health Network as his travel tournament team and the All-Star team I’m coaching are starting to get going. Both teams have busy schedules ahead and we have to assure we treat our players in the right manner.

Hayward’s team plays in a lot of travel ball tournaments which consist of four to six games potentially over just a few days. One thing we have to be aware of is throwing too much. All players, but particularly pitchers have to be conditioned to throw but we can’t force them to throw too much. If a team is playing in two or three games in a day, there is no reason to go through multiple pre-game warm ups. After the initial warm up period, the players should be pretty much good to go. Before game two or three, simply have the boys (or girls) get some running in to get the blood flowing, followed by a couple throws before the first pitch to assure they’re loose.

(In Photo: Steve Hayward and Dr. Christopher Ahmad)
While it will be normal for players to become fatigued over the course of a long day, we have to be aware of it. Yankees team doctor, Dr. Christopher Ahmad, truly believes that fatigue is the number one cause of injuries. In order to prevent this, our bodies, most importantly our legs and core, need to be prepared.

Young athletes aren’t just baseball players... they’re kids too. Some play multiple sports over the summer, some spend many days at the pool or playing with their buddies in the back yard while others may be doing manual labor to earn some pocket cash over the summer. These youngsters have to assure they stay hydrated, eat enough quality food to sustain their busy schedules and also assure they get enough rest.

Hayward says:  
“As coaches we have to make sure we ask the kids the right questions and make sure they are prepared to play in the game that day and how much they should be used. What did you do today? Were you up all night? Did you eat enough? Did you have a lacrosse or soccer game earlier that I don’t know about? Without asking these questions, we could be setting them up for failure.”
Most of the time the legs are the first to get fatigued, followed by the core, which in turn puts way more added stress on an already stressed elbow or shoulder. Throwing a baseball is not a natural motion for the arm and it must be properly conditioned.

In order to be able to play on long, hot days, we have to condition our bodies to do so. Hayward mentioned a Big League ballplayer he has worked with, whose name he did not want to use, who admitted he hadn’t ever worked out during the season. He actually stated many, if not most of the Big Leaguers, do not do any in-season maintenance. This ballplayer learned his lesson and now trains year round, including in-season maintenance, and is batting over .290 so far this season, while remaining much more healthy.

A point that is probably talked about but overlooked by many coaches is warm ups. Back to Hayward: 
“I was driving by a ball field by my house and the two teams were getting loose before their games. There were three coaches for each team, so six adults on the field. Not a single coach was monitoring the boys warming up. Most had poor mechanics and weren’t getting their front shoulder pointed at the target. They weren’t throwing with their legs or striding straight at the target like they should and they weren’t long tossing to properly prepare for a game. Worst of all, there was nobody there to correct them!”

Young players need to be shown how to properly grip a baseball with the thumb on the bottom and the center of the ball even between the index and middle finger on top. Young players also have a bad habit of gripping the ball too tight, or squeezing the ball, which, as Hayward said, creates more tension in the growth plate area of near the elbow, again leading to some injury risks.

With these mistakes come inherent risks. If you do not throw properly and you do not throw at game like distances, you are setting your body up for injuries down the road. Does that mean that they will get injured that day? Not necessarily. But doing something incorrectly such as that over a season or multiple seasons, can lead to an eventual injury.

Hayward: “Think of a ligament like a rope. When a rope begins to fray or come apart, it normally doesn’t in one clean break. It normally starts to tear little by little, fiber by fiber. So over time little injuries to the ligament (or muscle) add up until one day it is no longer able to hold up. When a high school pitcher throws 150-160+ pitches as we have seen in news stories, I understand that they wanted to give it their all and that they feel OK at that moment. Even though they may not feel injured at that moment, who is to say what damage was started on that day?
At the end of the day, we can only do so much and the players have to do what they should be doing. You could tell a player ten times to do something and if he chooses not to, that ultimately falls on the player. We truly care, but it comes to a point where if a player doesn’t want to listen, he isn’t going to. Coaches can’t do it for them.

As the summer months begin and we head out to play lots of baseball in a short period of time, we must remain aware of the added risks and stresses that summer ball, and in particular tournament ball, bring. It is our job as coaches and parents to keep a watchful eye on our athletes while assuring they are conditioned and physically prepared to put their body through the ringer of summer baseball.

If we follow the tips that Coach Hayward suggested here and stay vigilant, we could start to curb the rise in arm injuries. 

Once again, thanks to Coach Hayward for taking the time to speak with me. It’s always fun to listen, learn and simply talk baseball. There is still plenty more to discuss!

--Dan Lucia, BYB Senior Writer
Follow me on Twitter: @DManLucia

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