Good news for parents whose kids who are engaged in America's favorite pastime, baseball and softball. They are some of the safest sports for children to play. With all the warnings about sport's injuries it's refreshing to hear that one of the country's original sports ranks high in safe play.
Of course, like any other sport, kids should be properly trained and parents shouldn't push them too hard.
Under new guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said in the journal Pediatrics, the biggest risks are that kids are stressing their arms too often and learning new skills before their bodies are ready for them.
"Moderation is key here. Don't push that kid too hard, too young," said Timothy Hewett, head of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and a consultant to the AAP's guidelines committee. "There are so many young Roger Clemenses out there that don't make it into high school or college ball, because their arms are shot by the time they get there."
Youth baseball and softball have fewer injured players compared to other sports. Those that do occur, however, tend to be more severe such as broken bones and concussions. They just don't happen as often. Catastrophic and life-threatening injuries are very uncommon.
The new guidelines emphasize preventive measures through proper equipment and education, as well as moderation when it comes to growing athletes.
Little Leaguers and T-ball players should use lower-impact balls and wear face guards on their batting helmets or use other protective eyewear. Batting gloves and rubber spikes, instead of metal ones, are recommended, as are cups for boys.
The guidelines suggest that all children should learn how to avoid fastballs while at bat, or line drives straight at the pitcher. And as in other sports, any children showing signs of a concussion after getting hit in the head need to be checked by a doctor.
An automated external defibrillator (AED) should be kept nearby in case heart rhythm is thrown off after a ball hits the chest, the guidelines added.
Experts agree that some of the most common injuries are from children who overdo it on the field. These are some of the more worrisome injuries and the most preventable.
Pitchers especially shouldn't pitch if their arms are still tired from the last game, shouldn't learn new pitches like sliders and curveballs too soon, and should do exercises to strengthen their core muscles.
Children 14 and under shouldn't be throwing more than 65 pitches a day, and should be pitching no more than three days a week, said Hewitt, at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
Orthopedic surgeons are treating younger children with the same kinds of injuries they used to see only in older and more experienced players. Some players are pitching in multiple leagues as well as in showcase events on weekends, and experts agree that that is too much strain on younger children.
"Sometimes, for their own good, you have to hold them back, and that's what gets lost on people," said Stephen Rice at the Jersey Shore Sports Medicine Center, a lead author of the guidelines.
"Every child grows and moves forward at different rates. You don't want to hurry and push your kid to do things they aren't ready for."
If your child plays softball or baseball you already know that tournaments and special events can fill an entire weekend and a few weeknights.
The AAP hopes these new guidelines will help parents and coaches remember that these are still growing boys and girls. Moderation and pacing can keep them playing safer and longer. Batter Up!