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Pitch counts. From Little League to the Major Leagues, those two words have been the subject of controversy in recent years. The need to protect arms has become critically important, especially for baseball teams that have invested millions of dollars in them.
But for parents of young baseball players across America, pitch counts can go a long way in preventing serious arm injuries with their children.
"Pitch counts are critical," said Dr. Kevin D. Plancher, Greenwich Orthopaedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist. "A child's bones and muscles are still growing, so they can't take as much stress as an adult's. While grown-ups and older children are usually good at pacing themselves, and telling an over-eager coach or other observer, to back off, younger children typically are not."
In 2007, the board of directors for Little League Baseball instituted mandatory pitch counts to help make sure coaches and players know when to say when. Players ages 11-12 can't throw more than 85 pitches during a day and must be given at least four days of rest if they do. Children who are 9 and 10-years old have a 75 pitch limit. Those pitchers who are 7 and 8-years old, can't throw more than 50 during a game.
Plancher recommended that children refrain from throwing too many sliders and curveballs which involve more complicated technique, putting more pressure on the elbow. He also encourages parents to be on alert when their child is pitching and is showing signs of discomfort.
“Children often don’t know what a particular activity is supposed to feel like, so they might not recognize something as painful,” Plancher said. “They also might be so eager to please mom, dad or their coach that they’ll play right through the pain, and into injury.”
Critics of pitch counts say that they are another example of athletes being coddled and protected. Most of the time, those terms are applied to high school, college and professional players.
"When you're talking about child athletes, it's a whole different story," Plancher said.
Plancher has some advice for parents who have children that pitch during the baseball season:
- Pay attention to your child if he or she complains about arm pain. If it hurts during a game, take the child out immediately. Talk to your doctor if the pain isn’t gone in a few days or if it flares up as soon as the child starts pitching again.
- Be sure your child learns proper form.
- Don’t push your child to pitch (or do other stressful overhead activities, like swimming competitively or throwing a javelin or football) more than 9 months a year. Encourage him or her to do a variety of conditioning and strengthening activities throughout the year.