“How Many Pitches Should My Son Throw?” An Educated Personal Story.
By: John O’Halloran MSPT,LAT,ATC,CSCS,Cert MDT
Director of Physical Therapy Southeastern Orthopaedics
Greensboro, North Carolina
Last spring I got caught up in the hoopla of today’s society and had my 11 year-old son play in 40 baseball games. Despite knowing the evidence that there is no way to predict athletic achievement in high school, college or professional by a child’s pre-adolescent athletic success, I felt extreme pressure from coaches and friends that if he did not play on these teams he would be left behind and lost in the shuffle.
As a former baseball pitcher I experienced extreme shoulder and elbow pain between the ages of 11-20 years old. I am now a Physical Therapist most likely because I spent a lot of time in therapy during those years. I also spent a few visits in the Pediatricians and Orthopedists office as well. I thought my experiences could guide my son through the wacky world of peer pressure, inexperienced coaching technique and the demands on his immature skeleton.
Well it hit me in the middle of June 2006 while he was pitching in a all-star game and as I watched him constantly rubbing his shoulder I wondered if he just might be hurt. That night as I was driving him home I started to calculate how many innings and more importantly the number of pitches he threw from February 24 until June 23 2006. I then started to do a little more research on the subject because I was not going to have my son experience what I went through between the ages of 11-20 if I had anything to do with it.
To compound the situation a week after that coconut dropped out of sky and hit me in the head to get me to think about the negative stresses that were occurring to my son’s shoulder I had an encounter with one of his coaches. I had asked the coach not to pitch my son in the next all-star weekend of games because he had thrown too many pitches the week before and his shoulder was sore. The coach responded by saying the number of pitches has been blown out of proportion and that if he had good mechanics (like his own son) he could throw more than he does. I took that information very personally because I have studied the pitching motion for 30 years and specifically taught my son the proper mechanics. I also realized that the level of instruction is the weakest at the age they need it most, youth sports.
The times have definitely changed in youth sports specifically the sense of urgency to make our kids grow up quicker than their immature skeletons can handle the stresses. Parents, league officials and coaches have taken the fun out of the fundamentals of sports. Even the experts in Pediatric Sports Medicine have seen an increase in growth plate and bony abnormalities such as chondral defects that were unheard of 10-15 years ago .
So the question that we need to answer is “how many pitches should my son pitch”?
I often answer that based on the information provided by the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI). This information was developed after detailed consulting with Orthopedists, Pediatric Sports Medicine Experts and knowledgeable coaches. Listed below are a summary of their recommendations for 8-12 year old.
RECOMMENDATIONS (USA Baseball Medical Safety Advisory Committee and the American Sports Medicine Institute).
- Common sense-if there is pain, rest a few days and that usually will resolve it. If it continues or there is a decrease in performance consult with a specialist
- Number of pitches is more important than the number of innings(see below)
- No curveballs before age 14
- 8-10 years old 52 pitches per game and no more than 2 games pitching per week 11-12 years old 68 pitches per game and no more than 2 games per week
- Seek good pitching mechanics coaching and work on developing good balance trunk and lower extremity strength.
Remember that there will always be that coach or parent that will say “when I played I threw everyday and my arm never hurt”, well times have changed, kids do not play catch and throw as much as they did 25-30 years ago and we are in the age of specialization which results in less long tossing or throws from the outfield that can build arm strength and cross train the throwing arm. You have to adapt and change with the times in order to recognize and hopefully prevent this very common problem our young baseball pitchers are experiencing.