1. Rest from throwing. The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) recommends that youth pitchers abstain from overhead throwing for 2-3 months (preferably 4 months) per year. Especially for pitchers and those who throw a lot otherwise during multiple seasons, a self-imposed shut-down period is very important. That could mean November through January, or maybe August, December and January. Each player's schedule is different. But allowing the arm to recover from the repetitive stress of each season could prevent a serious injury years down the road.
2. Play another sport. Youth baseball practice rarely provides enough aerobic exercise. It's a sport of quickness and short bursts of power. Playing basketball or participating in another aerobic activity to stay in shape and develop core strength and athleticism is great for young players. It also provides a nice mental break from baseball.
3. Get strong. Developing core strength and support for the joints most stressed by baseball is important for players at any level. Winter is a good time to begin a training routine. Here is a brief example of one such routine young players could do on an every-other-day basis:
- Warm Up - Get the blood flowing with a jog.
- Dynamic Stretching - Stretching while moving - arm circles, walking lunges, trunk rotations, etc.
- Core Exercises - For stability and power. Stomach crunches, back exercises, etc. Here are some examples of core exercises from a good website, The Pitching Academy.
- Resistance Band / Elastic Tubing Exercises - A low stress way to strengthen the arm's support system, especially the shoulder muscles. Speaking from experience, weak shoulders can lead to elbow injuries. Resistance bands are cheap, easy and effective.
- Light Weight Training - You can also build strength with 2-3 lb. light dumbbell exercises.
- Static Stretching - "Stretch and hold" to regain lost range of motion. Flexibility helps avoid injuries and aids performance.
4. Learn. Serious players (and coaches) should always strive to increase their knowledge of the game. The off-season is a good time to learn proper mechanics: how to swing correctly and eliminate individual flaws; how to pitch with mechanics that will increase velocity and help avoid injuries; and how play specific defensive positions with the proper glove work, foot work, throwing mechanics and mental strategies.
5. Prepare for spring ball. Once a player's shut-down period has ended - maybe around early February - it's time to start throwing a little to get ready for the season. Gradually work up to a long toss routine to help increase velocity. Make sure to warm up properly with a jog and some dynamic stretching before throwing. Players who wait and begin their throwing routine at the first team practice are usually the ones with sore or injured arms. Those who throw more often and get ready for the season arrive with stronger and healthier arms. February is also a good time to get some batting and position practice, and shake off the rust - especially if there is a tryout coming up.