Let’s Play Baseball

Marcus Skiles, PTA

March 2010

It’s that time of year again when kids of all ages are oiling up their gloves, shopping for new cleats and bats, and hoping they are picked to play on a winning team this season.  But, with all this preparation in having the newest, coolest gear, you can’t forget one important thing: getting your child’s arm ready for the long season ahead.  This can be accomplished through stretching, strengthening, and using good body mechanics.

Without taking time to adequately prepare the arm and body for throwing, it is possible to create some avoidable conditions that could affect the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and maturing bone and joint structures. 

In preparation for throwing, stretching is very important, yet it does not have to be overly done.  Start out with a short 5 minute jog around the field to jump start the body.  After the jog it is time to start stretching the arms, legs, and torso.  It is important to remember that when stretching, each stretch should be held for a minimum of 20 seconds, and each stretch should be repeated 4 – 5 times.  Stretching should not be painful, only slightly uncomfortable.

 Strengthening of the body for the act of throwing does not have to involve cumbersome weight lifting. Instead of heavy lifting, toning the muscles is more suitable.  Throwing is a repetitive motion so it makes sense to perform exercises that strengthen the muscles through high volume repetition and low resistance.  Elastic tubing is a great, inexpensive piece of equipment to use for this. As well, observing a specific throwing program can be very beneficial to building arm strength while protecting the arm and shoulder from overuse.  Dr. James Andrews, a very well respected orthopedic surgeon has, along with Little League Baseball, developed a throwing program for children to help in building arm strength, and to minimize the risk of injury.

 Another consideration people sometimes forget is using good mechanics. Throwing a ball overhead (as in a baseball throwing motion) is considered to be one of the most violent acts an athlete can perform in a non-contact sport.  Great amounts of power are generated by the entire body to thrust a ball forward; but the slowing of the shoulder and arm is controlled by only a small group of muscles located on the rear portion of the shoulder. Using proper body mechanics can aid in maintaining the integrity of this small, important group of muscles. Proper throwing mechanics can be learned several ways: videos, instructional training with coaches and other experts, and over 46,000 places on the internet.

 All of the previously mentioned tips are important for all position players on the field, but are of far greater importance to the pitcher and catcher with the primary emphasis on the pitcher.  The pitcher and catcher are the only two players involved in every pitch of the game.  The pitcher is the only player exerting maximum effort with each throw, therefore; it stands to reason the pitcher’s arm would require a great deal more conditioning in order to stay flexible, strong, and in good shape.

 Keeping a pitch count is crucial in both following the rules of the game and in protecting the arm of your child.  Little League Baseball, Dizzy Dean Baseball, and Dixie Baseball all have rules limiting the amount of pitching one child does.

 Dizzy Dean Baseball, played locally, does not go by pitch counts, but rather by innings pitched.  At the 9 and 10 year old level pitchers are limited to 8 innings per week, seven innings in one day, and must have 48 hours rest after throwing 3 innings before taking the mound again.  Eleven and 12 year old pitchers are limited to 10 innings per week with the same 7 innings per day and 48 hour mandatory rest period after pitching 3 innings.  Thirteen and 14 year olds are allowed to pitch 12 innings per week, 10 innings in one day, and must rest 36 hours between pitching assignments after pitching 4 innings.  Players 15 and older can pitch up to 14 innings per week, 10 innings in one day, and must have 24 hours of rest following 4 innings of work.

 Even with the amount of innings pitched being limited the number of pitches thrown in those innings can get out of hand quickly if the pitcher is having control issues.  The American Sports Medicine Institute recommends going by a pitch count in order to preserve the integrity of the pitchers arm.  The ASMI’s recommended pitch count guidelines are: ages 8 – 10 / 52 pitches per game max, 2 games per week max; ages 11 – 12 / 68 pitches per game max, 2 games per week max; 13 – 14 / 76 pitches per game max, 2 games per week max; 15 – 16 / 91 pitches per game max, 2 games per week max; and 17 – 18 / 106 pitches per game max, 2 games per week max.

 Both the American Sports Medicine Institute and Baseball’s Safety Advisory Committee; along with the American Physical Therapy Association, recommend that “fancy” pitches be introduced as the pitching arm grows in maturity.  This is to allow the arm, especially the elbow, to mature making it better able to tolerate the stresses throwing breaking/ off-speed pitches can bring.  These stresses are not usually created from the pitch itself, but more from the altered mechanics most pitchers adopt in learning to throw each different pitch.  Both associations recommend the following pitches and age ranges: Fastballs – ages 8 to 10, Change-ups – ages 10 to 13, Curveballs – ages 14 to 16, Knuckleballs –  ages 15 to 18, and Sliders/ Forkballs – ages 16 to 18.

 Nowhere, in any literature or rule books, does it count against a player for warm up tosses before a game, between innings, or between games.  In fact, the literature actually encourages this activity as it aids in building arm strength.  Icing the arm following long periods of throwing is suggested to help reduce immediate inflammation and discomfort that may arise.

 Baseball is a great sport played by millions of kids worldwide.  If your child has the dream of making it to the next level, help them by giving them all the tools to succeed.  Stretching, strengthening, and good mechanics are tools that will never wear out.

Click here for baseball stretches, shoulder strengthening exercises, and the throwing program.

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