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Message to young baseball players (especially pitchers): Take care of your arms

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Frequently on spring afternoons I hear the plinking sound of aluminum baseball bats and the popping of mitts as players ranging from six years or younger up to the local high school team work on their skills at the park in my neighborhood.  Living close to two baseball parks gives me the opportunity to go out and throw the ball around once in awhile.  Each time I do, I’m reminded of the consequences of not taking care of my arm while I was younger.  Besides a lack of talent, the potential I had in high school to take my baseball career as far as I wanted was caused by my neglect of the “rules” for surviving years of tearing down muscles.  With that background, here are a few suggestions for young players and their coaches.  Following these guidelines will most likely keep a budding pitcher from finding his career cut short.Make sure you spend enough time and effort warming up and stretching out.

Growing up I had a tendency to be impatient with this part of the game.  I would often start throwing longer distances or with more speed than I should have before my arm was loose.  The act of throwing a baseball is hard enough on a pitcher’s shoulder and elbow.  The natural wear and tear that comes with throwing a ball is accelerated (and much more destructive) when muscles are still tight and haven’t had the time to adjust to the motion.  Younger players may see quicker recovery times after ignoring this rule, but as they continue the bad habit of not warming up and stretching out, the effects gradually become more apparent.  Make sure that you stretch out and start slowly when practicing or preparing for a game.

Learn the fundamentals of throwing early and remind yourself of them often

If human arms were intended to be the sling shots we need for throwing baseballs, we would all be built much differently than we are.  Instead, baseball players have to adapt to the throwing motion.  From years of experience, a few fundamentals have been developed that reduce the damage done to the arm by throwing a baseball and that allow pitchers and fielders to throw more accurately and at higher speeds.  Arm injuries often result from ignoring the fundamentals repeatedly.  If you are being lazy in your approach to throwing, and if you don’t force yourself mentally to pay attention to the fundamentals taught by your coach, you put yourself at risk for injury.  Your performance also takes a dive when you forget about the fundamentals.

My experience as a new Little League pitcher shows the importance of learning the fundamentals and reminding yourself of them often.  When I threw a baseball, I started my arm rotation with my palm facing upwards.  I soon noticed that my shoulder and elbow tired quickly and that it was more painful than it should have been.  When a pitching coach showed me how to start the rotation with my palm facing down, it not only reduced the pain I felt after throwing, but it improved my accuracy and speed.

Know your limitations and be patient about working within them

When I first started pitching (about the age of ten), I wanted to get out on the mound with a full arsenal of pitches that none of my opponents had ever seen before.  I wanted to throw a curveball, a slider, and whatever else I could learn.  I was warned not to attempt to throw those specialty pitches too young.  That advice is good stuff to follow.  Before the age or 13 or 14 (depending upon how they develop physically), young pitchers should generally focus strictly on the fastball motion (including changeup pitches) and placement instead of the curveballs and fancy stuff.  Trying to throw curveballs when you are too young will damage the elbow and shoulder.

Repairing your muscle tissue

Many different methods exist for recouping your muscles after they have been torn down from practice for from an outing on the mound in a game.  The most effective treatments for repairing your torn down muscles includng have your arm massaged, treating it with alternating heat and ice, and even vibration.  Just make sure you are doing one of those treatments to repair your throwing arm after a day at the park.

Listen to your body

Arm injuries can come from a variety of causes, from throwing too much to throwing the wrong way.  Let your arm tell you when it needs rest or adjustment.  That big game for which you are supposed to pitch six innings won’t seem so big in a few years when you can’t use your arm without pain.  If you need rest, let your coach know.

These are a few simple but effective guidelines for keeping your baseball career alive long enough to allow your potential to be realized.  Many players, including myself, have seen our opportunities limited by not following these rules as closely as they should have.