With the baseball season winding down (rather abruptly for my poor Red Sox) now is a good time to discuss injury prevention ideas for youth baseball players. Proper rest and limiting pitch counts have been talked about frequently in the baseball community and I will refer you to the following resources for more in depth discussion on those two injury prevention strategies (stopsportsinjuries.org and mlb.com/pitchsmart). Here I want to review three injury prevention strategies that youth athletes can start working on in the off season to help reduce the likelihood of injury and help improve performance for the upcoming season.
1.) Proper throwing mechanics- improper throwing mechanics have shown to be a major factor in both shoulder and elbow injury in the overhead throwing athlete. One of the common mechanical faults we often see in youth athletes is them relying too much on their arm and not using their legs and lower body effectively with their throwing. 85% of force should be generated before the shoulder. Working with a pitching coach, catching coach or fielding coach who is well versed in proper throwing mechanics is a great way to help improve throwing mechanics and reduce stress on the athlete’s arm. Keep in mind though that throwing a ball is a complex motor pattern meaning that the body needs many, many repetitions with proper form to groove this motor pattern. Do not wait until one week before the season to start working on this. Also encourage your athlete to use proper mechanics as often as possible even when playing catch in the back yard, playing with friends or warming up before practice.
2.) Proper warm up- the offseason is a great time for each athlete to figure out exactly what they need to do to get their body ready for practice or competition. Improper warm up has show to increase the likelihood for injury. Most programs will have a team stretch or warm up they use, if not you may want to see a strength and conditioning coach who can help your athlete develop their own dynamic warm up. I know how difficult it can be getting kids to practice on time but you should be sure that your athlete is never rushed and is always given time to warm up properly.
3.) Preseason injury risk screening- much research has gone into finding indicators for increased injury risk in the overhead athlete. Limitations with fundamental movement patterns have shown to increase the likelihood of injury. Strength or mobility restrictions can relate directly to poor throwing, swinging or running mechanics. Balance deficits have shown to lead to increased incidence of UCL or Tommy John injury in baseball players. Being screened for and addressing any deficits found in screen will greatly help reduce the likelihood for injury.
There is no way to prevent injury but there are definitely steps we can take to help reduce the likelihood of injury. Working on proper throwing mechanics, proper warm up and getting a preseason injury risk screen are great ways to help reduce the likelihood of injury in your youth athlete and help improve their performance.