We’ve heard about the need for pitch counts in youth baseball for many years. The thinking behind these guidelines is that if we can limit a kid’s pitches in a game, week or season, we will significantly decrease his chances of suffering an overuse shoulder or elbow injury.
How often do youth baseball coaches actually monitor and enforce pitch counts?
A study presented recently at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference suggests that coaches are familiar with pitch counts, but they often do not use them. Sara Fraley and Allison Gilmore, M.D. surveyed 61 youth baseball coaches in Ohio. They asked the coaches about their knowledge of risk factors for overuse injury, their attitudes toward pitch counts, and how and if they tracked a young athlete’s pitches.
Data on pitch counts in youth baseball
While the knowledge about pitch counts and risks of injury were good – 92% recognize that pitching through pain increases injury risk, for example – they often did not monitor pitches and other risks for injuries.
• 44% of the youth baseball coaches fail to use pitch counts consistently.
• Less than 10% monitor how much young pitchers throw through the entire season or entire year.
• 41% of the coaches have pitchers on their teams who also play on another team during the same season.
• More than one third had a player miss games after suffering an overuse injury.
Among the reasons Fraley and Gilmore say that coaches do not consistently monitor for these overuse risks include lack of staff to track pitch counts or lack of desire to track them.
Recommendations about pitch counts
As I have shared in many posts on this site, I am an advocate for coaches limiting every young athlete’s pitches or innings each game or week. I also feel strongly that tracking pitches over the course of the season is important, as is the use of the kid’s arm over the full year.
Obviously kids play for different teams throughout the year. I wonder if a database could be organized by region or state, and each player’s pitch and inning counts were entered all year long. Maybe even a national organization could do it. If we adopted such a system, a coach could see how his pitcher has been used the rest of the year and could cut back his pitching that season if needed.
As far as tracking pitch counts in a game, a lack of desire to do it seems unacceptable. Get a parent to track it. Maybe the umpires can track them with some handheld device. But we must try to work to decrease risk factors for injury when we can, and pitch counts are fairly easy ways to do it.
Last, it could be difficult for coaches to stop a kid from playing on two teams in the same season. It is a huge risk factor for injury, and we have to encourage kids and their parents not to do it. If a coach hears that one of his pitchers is also playing for another team, he can ask the player and his family to pick one team or the other. He could refuse to let the child play for his team if the family insists on playing for both.
Maybe I’m naïve. I know some coaches – certainly not all – want to win now and win at all costs, regardless of the risk of a shoulder or elbow injury down the road. I just think that coaches have an opportunity to keep their players healthy and should try to do it when they can.