Kids’ health at risk on the ballfield

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NEW YORK – Currently, over 2.9 million kids participate in Little League baseball and softball. That’s up by more than 50 percent since 1980.

Health safety. With more and more kids involved in team sports and the pressure to win rising among these young jocks, their health safety is now seriously jeopardized.

“The conditioning and training of young athletes is not the same as that for adult athletes. Winning isn’t everything when it comes to kids. Therefore, parents must involve themselves in the health safety of their children on the playing fields.

“They must aggressively protect them from overuse injuries and physical damage that can result in lifelong disabilities,” according to Jordan Metzl, medical director of the Sports Medicine Institute for Young Athletes at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Things to remember. Here is the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Parents and Coaches Guide to Baseball and Softball for Young Athletes:

* Good health and a well balanced diet are essential.

* Age appropriate training and recovery time is necessary.

Metzl notes, “A good rule of thumb to remember is to ensure that your young athlete’s overall training increases by no more than 10 percent per week in amount and frequency.”

* A daily regimen of warm up and stretching exercises will decrease muscle tendon imbalances, increase range of motion, promote circulation and improve performance.

Lifting should not begin earlier than age 8-10. There appears to be no increase in musculoskeletal risk if:

* The young athlete is mature enough to accept instruction.

* Training occurs in a controlled, supervised setting.

* Use proper form and equipment, i.e., perform full range of motion exercises.

* No maximal lifts are allowed.

* Proper spotters are utilized.

* No competition among lifters is allowed.

Parents and coaches should pay special attention to the pitching prowess of adolescents. Professional pitchers who most likely enjoy long and successful careers, are those who did not overwork their arms while they were still maturing.

Tips on pitching. Therefore, parents and coaches should remember to:

* Limit the amount of throwing that a child does at the start of the season.

* Build up arm strength and endurance gradually.

* Emphasize trunk strengthening as the support of the kinetic chain.

* Don’t graduate a child from throwing to pitching until the child is between 8-10.

* Encourage a child to throw more overhead pitches.

* Pitchers under 13-14 should focus on fastballs and changeups

* A child should throw no curve balls until 13-14 at the earliest. Safe mechanics are difficult to master before this age.

* Limit the number of pitches that a child throws per week. Little League guidelines call for pitching for no more than 6 innings per week.

General guidelines are that pre and early adolescent pitchers should not throw more than 80 to 100 pitches per week.

* Adolescents should not throw competitively between games they pitch.

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