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Little League Safety: Protecting Future All Stars
Every spring millions of American children ages 5-18 participate in baseball and softball programs throughout the country. To help prevent injuries, the American Academy of Pediatric (AAP) has produced a Policy Statement aimed at increasing safe play.(1)
Children understand and play the game differently and sustain different types of injuries at different ages and stages of cognitive and physical development. The new guidelines are meant to make coaches and parents aware of this, so they can tailor rules, equipment, and expectations to the ages and stages of the children involved to make playing softball and baseball safer and more enjoyable. Here are some highlights.
Overuse and Repetitive Stress Injuries
Overuse injuries in baseball and softball are common, particularly among pitchers. The AAP recommends that in addition to taking precautions to limit the number of throws, "Parents, coaches and players should be educated about the early warning signs of elbow and shoulder overuse injuries... [A]thletes should cease pitching immediately when signs of arm fatigue or pain occur...”
Little League shoulder and Little League elbow are both overuse injuries that result from the repetitive stress of throwing which can cause muscle fatigue, and damage muscles, tendons and ligaments This, in turn, can lead to chronic pain, joint instability, and degenerative arthritis. Proper conditioning, proper throwing mechanics, enforced limits on daily, seasonal and yearly pitches thrown, and enforced rest periods are all considered keys to prevention.
In 2006, the Medical and Safety Advisory Committee of USA Baseball set pitching limits for the season and calendar year based on the pitcher’s age. Similarly, Little League has guidelines for the number of pitches to be thrown in a day and the number of rest days required between pitching assignments based on pitches thrown and the age of the pitcher. They also demand that each league designate a scorekeeper or official to track pitch counts as the official pitch-count recorder. A violation of the rules can result in a protest of the game in which it occurs(2)
League Age/Pitches Allowed Per Day
The Little League's own pitching guidelines state that a manager must remove the pitcher when a pitcher reaches the limit for his/her age group (they may remain to complete pitching to the batter at bat). The pitcher may remain in the game at another position. However, if a pitcher delivers 41 or more pitches in a game, he or she cannot play the position of catcher for the remainder of that day. When young pitchers are on multiple teams, it is important that the guidelines must be enforced across all teams, taking into account the sum of pitches among them, so that pitchers do not overstress their elbows and shoulders.