Thursday, December 16, 2010

They Don't Make 'em Like Bob Feller Anymore

Baseball legend Bob Feller died yesterday at the age of 92. It's almost hard to believe the outspoken, dominant right handed pitcher and war hero was mortal, when you consider his amazing life.

He came from humble beginnings, but rose to stardom quickly. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians at age 16, and struck out 15 batters in his Major League debut at the age of 17. He returned to high school after the season for his senior year. His graduation ceremony was broadcast by NBC on national radio.

Feller would have won almost 400 games if he had not given four years of his career to the US Navy during World War II. He served on the battleship Alabama and saw action in the North Atlantic and the Pacific.

He pitched as recently as last year at age 90 in the Baseball Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown.

Feller was one of the hardest throwers ever. But more importantly, he was a great American. He was the "Ace of the Greatest Generation." It's hard to find heroes like him anymore.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Balance Sports and Family

We may not all be as perfect as the happy family on the left (even the dog is happy), but we can at least have a healthy balance between youth sports and family life. Moms Team offers nine ways to achieve that balance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review: Until It Hurts by Mark Hyman

There has been plenty of talk nationally about Mark Hyman's latest book, Until It Hurts, since its release about a year ago. And a couple of parents in our own league have mentioned it to me. So I decided to give it a read and report back.

Hyman's book is essentially about what he calls the "hostile takeover" of youth sports by adults. As he says in his introduction, "adults rule youth sports." It isn't a new trend. It has gone on for decades.

Hyman uses anecdotes and statistics to show the disturbing patterns of behavior among many misguided and ultra-competitive parents and coaches throughout various sports, both team and individual. One story is that of his own family and what led to his son's Tommy John Surgery.

Throughout the book, Hyman examines a number of things considered wrong with today's youth sports culture:

- The big business it has become, including national TV broadcasts;

- Parents who relentlessly pursue athletic success for their kids, over-scheduling them to the point of exhaustion, with hopes of rare college scholarships, even more rare million dollar contracts, or just the social status of having raised an elite athlete;

- Early sport specialization and adults who push athletes to be the best, no matter the toll it takes on their minds and bodies, sometimes working them to the point of injury; and

- The focus on winning over fun, fairness and health.

Hyman is an advocate for organizations designed with fun and the best interests of the kids in mind. He says we should be listening to doctors' advice, and to what the kids themselves have to say about what they want to pursue and how they want their athletic experiences to be.

He's done a good job of painting an honest picture of what youth sports in America has become, although some of the anecdotes could be considered extreme cases. This book is an important look into what is best for kids and what we, the parents and coaches of young athletes should keep in mind as we guide them.

Until It Hurts by Mark Hyman is currently available at Amazon for around $10.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Much Exercise Does Your Practice Provide?

It is widely accepted that youth sports are beneficial for general health and obesity prevention. Experts recommend an hour of moderate to rigorous physical activity per day. But a new study conducted by San Diego State University and UC-San Diego suggests what we may have suspected about organized team sports practices.

Researchers placed accelerometers on 200 young soccer, baseball and softball players aged 7-14 to measure how much activity they were getting in practice. The findings show that overall, only 24% of participants met the one hour recommendation during their team's practice. Baseball, and especially softball players, got significantly less physical activity. Check out the study for all the details.

This tells us that (1) team sports aren't enough - school PE and neighborhood recreation are very important to the health of our nation's youth, and (2) our practices could probably include more exercise.

How can we get our players moving more in practice? Here are some ideas. If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment below.

- Have the team run a couple of warm-up laps before starting. This, followed by stretching, also helps prevent injuries.

- Practice baserunning often. Baserunning is a quarter of the game (pitching, hitting, fielding and baserunning) and often gets neglected.

- Utilize stations to keep the players engaged and minimize standing around waiting. Use the nets and batting cages for hitting stations like tees, soft toss and BP.

- After your instruction periods, reward the team with an intrasquad scrimmage or quick game of Pull-the-Trigger. This not only gets the players moving, but it's fun and sends them home wanting more.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Girls Can Play Baseball Too

Found a website for an organization called Baseball For All, which promotes the idea of girls playing baseball, not only in youth leagues, but beyond.

Baseball For All (BFA) is managed by Justine Siegal, who played competitive women's baseball and later served as a coach for a professional men's team, the Brockton (MA) Rox. The organization provides opportunities and instruction for girls wanting to continue with baseball beyond the young age that most are encouraged to make the switch to softball. The website includes some good information, including an informative education page.

Myers Park Trinity's history includes several standout female players. Katie Boyer was the first, playing for Al Browne in 1978. Some of her teammates actually thought she was a boy, until one of them asked the coach one day, "Why do you always call him Katie?"  Krissy Culler may have been the best, earning a spot on the league's Major League All-Star team. One of my own favorite players, Betsy Barnhardt, was an outstanding catcher and pitcher for AB.

So while the league does have a quality softball program, there are options for those girls wanting to stick with hardball. And they can excel at it. Don't believe me? Check out the story of Chelsea Baker on ESPN E:60.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strength Training for Kids

A recent NY Times article takes a look at a study regarding the safety and potential benefits of youth strength training.

There has been a long-held belief that kids could not gain strength from any kind of weight training, and that it could even stunt their growth or cause growth plate damage. But the latest research indicates that kids actually benefit from such exercise, not by bulking up, but by creating more efficient interaction between the nervous system and muscles.

Doctors do not advocate putting kids in the weight room, but do encourage other types of fun strength training activities that get kids away from the computer screen or tv and will prepare their bodies for the sports they play. This makes a lot of sense, especially for baseball and softball, those activities that develop core and leg strength - something our more serious ballplayers might want to consider this offseason.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Juggling Youth Sports

Here's a link to a Wall Street Journal article from a while back about juggling kids activities, particularly their sports teams, with family time. Sue Shellenbarger examines the choices families make and where some draw the line and say enough is enough.

One group in Minnesota, Balance4Success, draws the line on Sunday activities, and has started its own movement called Taking Back Sundays. They ask participants to pledge to boycott Sunday sports in the interest of not allowing their kids to be over scheduled. They stress the importance of obtaining the proper balance in kids' lives among sports, school, family time and unorganized free time.

Shellenbarger also ponders the motivation behind parents that push their kids to pursue athletics seriously at a young age.  Having grown kids of her own that were athletes, she speaks from experience about putting youth sports in the proper perspective. While agreeing that participation in youth sports has significant benefits, she points out that only 2% of high school athletes get college scholarships (and many of those include only a small percentage of tuition and expenses - less than academic scholarships). Looking back, she says it's the interaction with teammates and families that are most remembered by her family - not the on-field accomplishments.

This is a good look into the growing backlash against the "more is better" trend in youth sports these days. Whether we are tempted to have our kids specialize in one sport, or we are considering allowing them to participate in multiple activities at once, we all have choices to make and there are risks to consider - burnout, overuse injuries, over-scheduling, etc. - real issues that threaten to take the fun out of kids' games.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Article on Overuse Injuries

Tommy John, then of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was the first to undergo ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) replacement surgery. Since that initial procedure performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974, Tommy John Surgery has become a common fix for serious elbow injuries. And as previously mentioned in this blog, it has become far too common in young pitchers.

Here is a link to another article about overuse, or "repetitive stress" injuries in young athletes. Amanda Schoenberg writes in the Albuquerque Journal about author Mark Hyman's experience with his own son's injury, and his book on the subject, "Until It Hurts."

I am currently reading the book and will comment on it later. But for now, there is some useful information on overuse injuries in this article. The more informed we are, the better.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Josiah's Time

If you missed the ESPN E:60 story, "Josiah's Time" by Tom Rinaldi, check it out below. It is the story of 6-year-old Josiah Viera of Hegins, PA. Josiah has an extremely rare disease called Progeria, which, although he is only 27 inches tall and weighs 15 pounds, causes his body to age ten times the normal human rate.

Josiah's dream is to play baseball. Watch as his dream comes true, and visit the E:60 page for an article by Ben Houser. This is a story about a courageous little boy, his love of baseball and much more.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Titanium Necklaces: Do They Work?

If you've watched a baseball game on TV lately, you've no doubt seen titanium necklaces draped around the necks of many professional players. If you watched the World Series, you may have noticed the new braided Phiten Tornado being worn by several. Anyone can buy one in his favorite team's colors, and sales have skyrocketed. 

Since Phiten is an official MLB partner, they are very common in the game.  Some like them big and flashy.  Some not only wear them around their necks, but also on their body as discs.

Many players swear by them, but few know what they actually do. Some say they increase energy or balance. Some say they are a muscle relaxer (if that's the case, I need to wrap them around my bad back). The company claims they "regulate and balance the flow of energy throughout your body."  In turn, this "helps to alleviate discomfort, speed recovery, and counteract fatigue by restoring the body’s natural healing powers."

But doctors point out that no scientific evidence has shown that the liquid titanium, or "aqua-titanium," that the necklaces are infused with actually has any healing powers. They have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, so that basically classifies them as a fashion accessory.

Fox Charlotte recently produced the story below on titanium and magnetic necklaces, and interviewed some area players, including one of my own former players, Colin Walls, about whether they actually "work," or if there is merely a placebo effect at hand. I think many young players might agree that they look cool, but I'm not sure they are worth the $25-$50 price tag unless one can actually fix my back.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why We Coach

This article by Adam Parkhouse of the News Dispatch in Michigan City, Indiana is a few months old, but it's pretty relevant to Myers Park Trinity. Adam is a non-parent youth baseball coach explaining why he loves what he does each spring.

MPTLL is unique in that our Major League and Minor League divisions have so many coaches that continue to come back year after year, some for several decades, despite not having children children of their own on their teams. This aspect of our league truly sets us apart from most others.

Here is a link to the article.  I think there are many of us that can identify with what he has to say.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sandlot Day

Here's an idea we should bring down from New York:  Sandlot Day, which was promoted by the SUNY Youth Sports Institute in Spring 2010. No coaching, no uniforms, no umpires, no money, no spectators. Just the kids, a few balls, and maybe some wood bats. The parents can do their own thing, and most importantly, the kids can do theirs.

We might want to keep this in mind for next year. In the meantime, the fields are always there. Baseball is a fun game, whether it's organized or not.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's Causing the Arm Injuries?

This guy on the left is not the only one having significant arm trouble these days. He's just the most prominent. Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals was the #1 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. His college and pro coaches were careful with him because he was widely considered to be the best pitching prospect in years, if not decades. But apparently it was too late. Perhaps the damage was done before he even got to college.

Strasburg is one of many elite pitchers having to undergo surgery and take months off these days due to UCL or shoulder injuries. But the trend is not limited to the best in the world. Youth pitchers are blowing out their arms at a high rate too. But why? Is it flawed mechanics? Curveballs? High pitch counts? According to the doctors and the studies, there are several factors.

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports blames it on youth coaches and parents. His article from August 26, 2010 may be on to something. Doyel is no expert when it comes to arm care, but he can connect the dots based on what the experts say. Among the primary experts are Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), among other credits.

ASMI conducted a study with some important conclusions - mainly that while arm injuries often do not rear their ugly heads until high school or college (or later), they can begin in youth leagues. How do they begin in youth leagues? Overuse at a young age. Not a new term - that's why we have pitch counts. The study says that arm fatigue is the primary factor involved: "When regularly pitching despite arm fatigue, the risk for injury requiring surgery increased 3600%." That's almost a guarantee.

But more specifically, the study points to year-round baseball. Whether a player is in a warm climate or not, he can find an indoor training facility any time of the year. The study found that players pitching more than 8 months per year were 5 times more likely to need surgery. The USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee recommends that pitchers not play any baseball or participate in any "overhead activity" at all for at least 3 months each year. That means "football quarterback, competitive swimming, javelin throwing." What? No javelin?!

At Myers Park Trinity, I think we do a relatively good job of protecting the arms. Little League pitch count guidelines have mandated that for the most part. And we haven't had many known cases of arm trouble in recent years. But let's be honest - the MPTLL regular season is no longer the only baseball that many of our players are involved with. Dozens of them participated on more than one team last spring. Then you've got All-Stars in the summer for many of those same players. Next up is Fall Ball. For some, it nearly blends into one long season. Pretty soon that "overhead activity" guideline doesn't sound all that crazy.

There are other factors involved when you're talking about pitching injuries that begin at the youth level. Certainly proper mechanics are important. Some have suggested the cause of Strasburg's injury is rooted in the placement of his elbow in the picture above. Probably a factor, but I would guess it also stems from his ridiculous velocity - another finding of the ASMI study - or perhaps the possibility that his youth teams depended heavily on him to dominate and win tournaments.

Or is the problem a result of his wicked curveball - who knows how many he threw as a youth pitcher. Youth curveballs are actually a debatable cause of arm injuries. As you can read in a NY Times article by Mark Hyman, while Dr. Andrews and USA Baseball say for young pitchers not to throw curveballs, studies have shown that curves stress the arm less than fastballs. Dr. Fleisig says that "Uncle Charlie" is not the problem.

So what is the problem? There is more than one answer. But I think it's clear that we should follow our pitch count regulations strictly - not just for one of a player's teams, but for all, whether it's Little League or not. We should make it a priority to build in some rest periods for our players after each season. And we should stay informed. I encourage coaches and parents to read the articles and read the ASMI study - it's only 3 pages. And lay off the javelin.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Swing Alalysis of the Great Pujols

Albert Pujols is the best hitter in all of baseball. The Great Pujols, as his manager, Tony La Russa, calls him, may go down as the greatest ever. So we should feel lucky to watch him play and take advantage of this time to learn from him.

Analyzing Pujols could be a practice unto itself. Here is a collection of some of the best the internet has to offer. We can study in great detail the mechanics of the Greatest - his wide base, his balance, how he cocks his hips, pulls his hands, keeps his head still and eyes down on the ball, how he braces his front leg, rotates his back heel and hips, how he matches the plane of the pitch and finishes high - the list goes on and on.
Pujols relentlessly studies video of himself and other hitters (often during games). Let's do the same........

Here's a YouTube video that breaks it all down in batting practice:

Here's a link to a USA Today swing analysis using four different angles and some explaination from Albert himself: CLICK HERE.

And finally, here's another swing analysis, using both pictures and video, that a blogger has put together himself: CLICK HERE.

Pujols is as good as it gets, so let's all enjoy watching him as much as possible while he is in the prime of his career.