Take me out to the Ball Game!
(this is an opinion post. Not all words expressed in this post reflect the opinions of Generation Care or its employees.)
Or as I have come to know it, arm/elbow pain season! I sit here today (Tigers Opening Day), which is essentially another holiday here in Michigan, and continue to think about the ever-growing epidemic of arm and elbow pain. Well, we will have one more day to think about that the opening game was postponed due to weather. Another issue with outdoor sports here in the upper Midwest. But in reality, there has been an increase in arm and elbow pain that has led to more and more surgeries. These surgeries are happening in kids as young as 11 and 12.
In my opinion, there is no excuse for a child to undergo surgery for an overuse injury. Some may wonder, are things really different than they used to be? Or are we just more aware of it now? Studies on injuries go back over 50 years looking at the epidemiology of injuries sustained in youth sports. The numbers are clear, injuries are on the rise. More than three-quarters of households in the western world have a child participating in at least one organized sport.
One organized sport that to me has been the common denominator in the increase of arm pain in adolescents. The trend seems to be that kids are trying to get a leg up on their peers by specializing in one sport. Pressures from parents and ideas of grandeur about playing at the next level are a driving factor. I get it, I am the father of two preteen boys and I see what is happening in our area. I am also a physical therapist and former athlete concerned about the direction things are going.
What happened to the days when kids played multiple sports? We couldn’t wait for one season to get over so we could start the next sport. I remember reading something from Wayne Gretzky that said he couldn’t wait for Hockey to get over. What?! One of the best hockey players of my time played more than just hockey? What about athletes like Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, LeBron James? The names go on and on. These elite players all had something in common – they played multiple sports!
Today, kids (possibly parents) are so wrapped up in trying to get to the next level, being the best and becoming famous, they are pushing themselves and their kids to the limit! The multi-million dollar contracts these pro athletes are garnering is partly to blame. Delusions of Grandeur! Have you seen the odds of your athlete becoming pro? They aren’t good. Check out the growing list of college coaches recruiting a majority of multi-sport athletes. The fact remains that more and more kids are specializing in one sport, and coincidentally, injury rates and surgeries are on the rise and happening at younger and younger ages.
I digress. I have started to get off topic. I am passionate about the topic of sports specialization and youth injuries. In my town, there are more baseball clubs than there are suburbs of the city. At least it seems that way. It is a sign that this sports specialization isn’t going away any time soon. The baseball clubs have kids playing all year long, utilizing their indoor facilities. One of the leading surgeons in the country who has performed way too many Tommy John surgeries, Doctor James Andrews, has recommended that youth athletes take at least 3 months off from performing the same repetitive motions. We now have pitch count rules, limited inning rules, and arm care programs to help combat the growing epidemic of arm pain and surgeries. Coaches are utilizing their best players more than they should just to get the “W”. Kids are getting burnt out and some aren’t even finishing their high school years playing the sport that they used to love. To me, that is a shame.
If you are wondering my qualifications to be able to speak on this topic, I will tell you, I don’t have this amazing resume of playing professionally or even at the collegiate level. I write about this as a former multi-sport athlete, father and physical therapist with an interest in sports. I have two brothers who were drafted in the MLB draft out of High School and went on to play collegiately. I also have two boys I love more than anything, and as a father, it is my job to not only ensure their happiness but also to keep them safe. I coach, and in that, I also have to have the best interest of the other youth athletes in mind as well.
Baseball, Americas past time! For many, it’s boring and slow paced, to me it is nostalgic. It’s summer, warm temperatures, friends and countless memories. It’s the voice of Ernie Harwell telling me that some lucky kid from a local city caught a foul ball. I want to see the sport live on, I want to see the kids playing sandlot baseball, and I want it to be safe and something people love to play. It breaks my heart to see kids give something up because they got tired of it.