News & Observer high school sports editor Tim Stevens and the N&O’s community sports editors will talk about high school sports issues each week. This week, the editors discuss whether high school baseball and softball needs a pitch count.
Q. Should the NCHSAA go to a pitch count in baseball and softball? Vermont is the only state that has one, but several other states are considering limiting the number of pitches thrown rather than the outs recorded.
D. Clay Best, Garner-Cleveland Record: Pitch counts, in some ways, is one of the things that is wrong with the current state of baseball. It all becomes about the pitch count and nothing else. The standard for some seems to be that as long as Johnny doesn’t throw more than 90 pitches he can pitch every week for 40 weeks of the year. Overuse is the No. 1 cause of pitching arm injuries, but the evidence seems to be pointing more at endless seasons than Johnny threw 135 pitches one May in the playoffs.
Elliott Warnock, Chapel Hill News: For now, every high school program with which I come into contact has a self-imposed pitch count for its athletes. (Then again, we are fortunate enough to live in a particularly enlightened area when it come to amateur and scholastic sports.) A coach who ruins a pitcher’s arm for the sake of one win is lot like a forester who would cut down every tree for a single payday; he’s cutting his own throat. If the current system ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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J. Mike Blake, The Cary News: Vermont also tried to implement timeouts in soccer for a year, so this isn’t the state you want to copy. The rule simply isn’t needed. Baseball coaches make the right call in most cases and everyone’s arm is unique. In softball, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a need for pitch count. When you throw underhand, it’s sometimes your legs that tire out first.
Stevens: I think it is something that needs to be looked at. A pitcher can throw 100 pitches and get one out or she may throw three pitches and get three outs. I have seen many, many arms ruined. The pitch count limit has enough merit to study, although I have my doubts that it would be effective.
Q. How should high school coaches handle outside play, especially in baseball and softball, where pitchers may throw on the weekends?
Best: I’d have a hard, fast rule in baseball: if you want to pitch for us, you don’t pitch on the weekends in season.
Warnock: Coaches in more and more sports have to deal with the fact that their athletes want to participate in activities that not only increase their skill set but also makes them more visible to college coaches. One local coach’s policy seems wise: “You do what you want when we’re not playing, but if you miss a game because you’re playing with your club team then just stay with them, because we won’t be able to count on you.”
Blake: Sometimes club and high school coaches seem at odds in certain sports, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If everyone’s putting the player first, there will be good communication about how to best share his or her arm during the year and even what each side is working on with him or her. Not pitching for a club team during the high school season is a must in these situations. If you’re pitching on the weekend, you may find yourself needing to be taken out during the week in a critical conference game, which only lets your teammates down.
Stevens: Life is full of choices. Play in an education-based program for your school and community, or play somewhere else. But I’d add the caveat that high school athletics is the only level of competition that is designed to help develop citizens for a democracy. It would be a shame to miss that opportunity.
Q. What can be done to prevent young players from having overuse injuries?
Best: Shut it down for 3-4 months a year. That’s what the major leaguers whose arms are worth eight figures do for the most part. Shut it down doesn’t mean don’t throw at all, it just means stop pitching in games. Instead long toss it, work on your form, etc.
Warnock: Like so many things in life, creating rules won’t stop someone from doing something bad. But you can educate coaches, trainers and players, and you can create standards that make it clear that allowing players to get injured will hurt or even end a coaching career.
The General Assembly and NCHSAA initiatives on concussions are a good case in point. Some concussions are still going to occur, but if a particular school sees an unusually high number of recurring problems, then that staff is going to draw severe scrutiny. One thing that might help is requiring NCHSAA programs to record all injuries in a statewide data base administered by UNC system medical and sports science researchers
Blake: The best thing is for parents to not push their kids to pitch all year round. Green Hope has had several of its graduated pitchers drafted into the major leagues and almost all were multi-sport stars who didn’t wear out their arm trying to impress a different set of scouts and college coaches almost every week of the year. They had an advantage over their peers – their arms were in great shape because they didn’t exert themselves.
Stevens: Parents need to make adult decisions. Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon, says the United States has developed a system that enhances the genetically gifted and injures the rest. Children should not be playing one sport 10 or 11 months a year. It is rather dramatic to say, but if a child has an overuse injury and that child has been playing the same sport for most of the year, the parent is responsible. The parent valued athletic success over their child’s health. Children are children and make childish decisions. Parents need to accept responsibility.