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How Much Baseball is Too Much?

Carter Freeman has spent a lot of his life on baseball diamonds, playing collegiately at Division-III Middlebury before eventually coaching teams at the Mickey Mantle, Legion, and high school varsity levels.
Freeman seemingly can’t get enough of the game. But, nowadays, he sees the occasional burnt-out baseball player at his practices – because, for many of today’s youths, the season is seemingly never-ending. In 2016, amateur baseball is played in the spring, summer, fall and, for those with serious wanderlust and a sizable travel budget, all the way past Christmas.

“It’s getting pretty crazy,” said Freeman, currently in his fifth year as the varsity head coach at Edina (Minnesota) High School.

Now, more than ever, amateur baseball coaches, parents, and players need to be on the lookout for potential overuse injuries.

“It’s more a function of arm care than how many games a kid would play,” Freeman noted. “All the studies now point to resting your arm, whether you’re a pitcher or not, for three continuous months. That, by default, says a kid shouldn’t be playing baseball for three months. Then, in the early winter, they might start slowly building back up for the season again.”

Coaches Toolkit by GameChanger

Major League Baseball and USA Baseball have teamed up for the ongoing Pitch Smart program, which seeks to reduce overuse injuries in the game. According to a recent study undertaken by that program, 43.5 percent of youth hurlers had pitched on consecutive days previously.

That fact makes coaches a bit uneasy. 

And, such frequent competition can leave young baseball players burnt out. Coaches like Freeman know the signs well.

“A lack of enthusiasm – that’s probably a telltale sign,” the Minnesota prep coach noted. “Not the usual spark to put in the time to practice. If it’s a pitcher, maybe he’s losing velocity.”

Freeman urges his fellow coaches to recognize signs of players being overextended, and to respond accordingly.

“You’ve really got to be careful and you have to have a protocol for the kids,” Freeman said. “And you need to talk to them about it. And make sure they’re self-monitoring their own arms; sometimes you can’t feel their pain. The coach has to encourage that environment and that openness, to say, ‘Hey, if you’re feeling any kind of tightness or soreness, let’s get on that right away.’”

Most baseball organizations are in agreement that observing pitch counts is of paramount importance. High school pitchers, for example, should never be left in a game after reaching 105 pitches. Any youth that has thrown more than 75 pitches requires four days of rest. Furthermore, any hurler that has surpassed the 50-pitch threshold should stay off a mound for at least two days.

Avoiding overuse injuries is obviously a growing concern in baseball. But so is avoiding prolonged boredom that can drive young players away from the game, especially in an era where the game is competing with social media, video games, and hundreds of cable TV channels for youths’ attention.

Freeman tries to ward off late-season boredom by having post-practice ice cream sessions, or home run derbies, or by planning team gatherings at the local movie theater.

“If there really is burnout,” the coach explained, “we’ll get away from baseball for a bit. We like to stay together as a team, one way or another.

“With baseball, it’s different than a lot of sports. You’ve gotta be loose and relaxed, so we try to find ways to create that atmosphere,” Freeman added. “Everything’s easier when it’s fun.”

From GameChanger and Kelly Beaton.

Baseball, Baseball Player Development