Unlike in past eras, baseball has become a nearly year-round sport at the youth level in many areas of the United States. Warm weather climates have multiple leagues and travel teams even during the winter. In cold weather climates, practices are held throughout the winter. While this can enhance the skill level of player, travel baseball arm injuries are becoming more common.
Doctors have observed this increase in injuries in children that 20 years ago because of the push by parents to play on the travel baseball teams. The dreams are for the youths to eventually a college scholarship and perhaps a professional contract; and while some will achieve those dreams, for many it's not likely.
Dr. Eisner, from U18 Sports Medicine practice at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida knows all too well about surgery due to overuse of his own doing.
Although in an era where year-round baseball wasn't played, Eisner grew up in Los Angeles and played all the time, eventually leading to a tear in his elbow and surgery as a freshman in college.
He uses his own experience to try to lead youths with elbow pain down a different path, to try to avoid an injury requiring surgery down the road. The idea isn't for young athletes to stop playing, but to change their mindsets and develop their bodies properly before tearing them down.
Another problem is the cost involved to participate in the travel baseball teams year round. The estimate is that the cost is greater than that of a college scholarship, which leads one to wonder the point of trying to get the college scholarship in the first place. In addition, only the elite of the elite, the mega superstars are offered the scholarships.
What used to be something that an athlete in the prime of his professional career used to think about is now a reality for preteen to mid-teen athletes. Most of this is occurring in the warmer climates where games are played year-round, where the rate of Tommy John surgery is higher than anywhere else in the country.
Baseball is still best played the way the professionals do. Finish a season in the fall with significant rest time with proper training to get ready for the following season in the spring. The proper preparation should involve a few weeks of throwing on flat ground to strengthen the arm and significant rest period as well. Those that just hop on the mound and start pitching full throttle without the proper training are more prone to significant injury. In essence, there is a proper balance needed between training and rest that must be achieved.
Studies show that those athletes playing a single sport year-round were significantly more likely to have arm injuries than those playing multiple sports. One might think that playing multiple sports may hinder one's chances of excelling at the highest level, however, the vast majority of first round picks in the NFL draft played multiple sports in high school. I would be willing to be that is also the case for those drafted in baseball as well.
Dr Tommy John, son of baseball legend Tommy John, noted that he played baseball under his father's coaching in the early 1990s but not until his senior year in high school did he excel. It wasn't until that time that the elder John helped train him to become his absolute best. John knew that by pushing his son too early could only lead him down the path that he and so many others did, an elbow tear and surgery.
Parents, coaches and young athletes alike should take heed and follow the same path as Tommy John when over 20 years ago provided his wisdom to his son. While Dr Tommy John never made the Major Leagues, he can speak with confidence on how to avoid the injury and ultimate surgery named after his famous father and four-time Major League All-Star pitcher.