By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS, DACBSP
During this past spring high school sports season I noticed a very disturbing pattern while reading the Citizen sports page. Each week while reading the results of girl’s softball games, I began to notice the same names over and over again. If I were referring to hitting statistics, which would mean there were a few excellent hitters in the county. Unfortunately, I am referring to pitching. The same names kept popping up day in and day out which meant these girls were pitching back-to-back days and occasionally 3 or 4 days in a row. Apparently as I have found out this is common practice in girls fast-pitch softball. As history has taught us, common practice does not always mean best practice.
While baseball takes injury prevention of the shoulder and the elbow into the 21st century, girls fast-pitch softball is languishing in the 1930’s. Over the last several years, I have seen a decrease in the number of baseball related throwing injuries in teenage boys and a rise in the number of softball related throwing injuries in teenage girls. The reason is simple: while baseball has chosen to make an attempt at protecting and cultivating its future product, the sport of girls fast-pitch softball has chosen to continue it’s abuse at the expense of its future.
Apparently, I am not alone in my opinion. The world’s foremost authority on the subject of throwing related injuries Dr. James Andrews, in his 2013 book, Any Given Monday, wrote, “There is a common belief that throwing underhand is a natural way to keep the player safe from injury, but this definitely is not true. The repeated movement and velocity of pitches thrown, even in the windmill style, are now even tearing the ‘Tommy John ligament,’ resulting in a UCL injury. Pitching limits matter in softball as much as they do in baseball.”
Dr. Andrews and I are not the only experts in the field that believe injury prevention measures need to be implemented in softball. You can also find former players that believe they were overused during their careers. The way to protect young softball arms is readily available. This is the digital age the information is out there. The question is, “why can’t we get parents and coaches to read it?”
Implementing pitch counts in baseball didn’t just protect arms from injury; it created an opportunity for more kids to learn the skill of pitching and the intellectual aspects that go with it. Since softball is even more restrictive than baseball when it comes to the position of “pitcher” even more girls will get an opportunity. Can you imagine a time when girl’s softball teams have “a pitching staff” instead of “a pitcher”? Of course this requires coaching and learning. Both of which require time and practice. As with learning, failure is part of the process and must be accepted by all involved as this new road of injury prevention is traveled.
Before we address pitch and performance limits, lets discuss the easiest of all injury prevention methods: simple and effective rotator cuff strengthening programs. We have designed and created a comprehensive rotator cuff program that is available in both Amazon and iBook’s formats. Both are available at www.shouldermadesimple.com. Following a structured rotator cuff strengthening program is the start of injury prevention in any throwing athlete.
Pitch limits in softball assume that a player plays for only one team and any given time. We know that this is the exception and not the rule in softball. Here are some recommendations for pitch limits in girls fast-pitch softball. For girls 8-10 years old, 50 pitches per game; girls 10-12, 65 pitches per game; girls 13-14, 80 pitches per game and girls 15 and older, 100 pitches per game.
The topic of performance limits is much different on softball than baseball. It has never been acceptable for a baseball pitcher to pitch back-to-back games, let alone pitch multiple games in the same day. Some sources actually allow for softball pitching on three consecutive days with 2-3 games per day. This is a formula for disaster of which many girls have already experienced. I recommend the following modified performance limits: girls 8-10 years old, one day of pitching with one day off; girls 11-12, two days of pitching one game per day with a total pitch count of 95 pitches for the two days, with one day off; girls 13-14, two days of pitching one game per day with a total pitch count of 115 pitches for the two days, with one day off; girls 15 and older, two days of pitching one game per day with a total pitch count of 140 pitches for the two days, with two days off.
I know that this concept will be culture shock to the fast-pitch girls softball community. The softball community has to ask itself what is more important: winning, or the amount of pain and disability your daughters will experience?