Although baseball is a relatively safe sport, making it ideal for kids of all ages, it still presents a very real risk of injuries that can land a kid on the bench or, worse, in the hospital. In fact, high-school pitchers have been known to throw fastballs that reach 80-plus miles per hour! So here are a few things you should know before putting your star athlete on the field.
As with all sports, wearing and using the right gear can go a long way toward preventing injuries. The amount of equipment required for baseball isn't as high as it is in football or hockey, but it is every bit as important. Players need to be sure they always have all the gear required by their league – but should also consider some that the league may not require.
Most leagues will insist on the following:
- Batting helmets should be worn by fielding players. Helmets should fit and be worn properly – chin strap fastened, and eye or face guard in good condition, securely attached to the helmet.
- Catchers should always wear a helmet, facemask, throat guard, full-length chest protector, athletic supporter with a cup, shin guards and catcher's mitt – in the game, bullpen and practice.
- Cleats should have spikes with molded plastic (rather than metal ones).
Some leagues may also have rules around:
- Batting helmets for pitchers as well.
- Wood versus aluminum bats (aluminum bats may be banned for hitting too hard).
Rules that vary by league but should be enforced by parents include:
- All players should wear athletic supporters and most should wear protective cups.
- Players who slide regularly or may want to slide should wear sliding pants, which are meant to go under baseball pants to protect against scrapes and cuts.
- When batting, players should wear batting gloves to keep hands from getting sore while hitting.
- All players should consider shin and foot guards, which are designed to protect against balls fouled straight down.
- All players should wear mouthguards, particularly young players with still-developing teeth.
- Using breakaway bases (not stationary ones) to help prevent leg or joint injuries when sliding into bases.
Pitching, particularly for adolescent arms that are still growing, puts an enormous amount of strain on joints and tendons. Injuries to wrists, elbows, rotator cuffs, ligaments and tendons can result from excessive pitching but can be largely avoided if players and coaches follow a few simple guidelines:
- Make sure pitchers adhere to league rules regarding the maximum number of innings they're allowed to throw. This can range from four to 10 innings per week.
- Follow rules regarding the number of pitches kids can throw in a game from the pitch count limits recommended by the U.S.A. Little League and American Sports Medicine Institute:
- Seven-eight years old: 50 pitches a day or 75 pitches a week
- Nine-10 years old: 75 pitches a day or 100 pitches a week
- 11-12 years old: 85 pitches a day or 115 pitches a week
- 13-16 years old: 95 pitches a day
- 17-18 years old: 105 pitches a day
- Pitchers under 14 should limit total pitches to less than 1,000 per season and 3,000 per year.
A few other reminders
- Kids should have a pre-season sports physical exam (different from a regular physical exam) before every season to be sure they are ready to play.
- Some easy ways you can help your child avoid injuries on the field is to make sure they are warming up before practice and games, cooling down after and staying hydrated throughout.
- Young players should take seasonal breaks (no less than three months per year) to rest. However, it can help avoid injuries if they stay active during this time.