Youth sports has experienced unprecedented growth over the past two decades and with this growth has produced many negative outcomes. There is no better example of what is wrong with youth sports than Little League baseball.
So many things are wrong with what Little League in particular, and youth sports in general, has become. Talk to an athletic trainer, physical therapist or orthopedist and you’ll hear a litany of horror stories about injuries suffered by little kids who play baseball almost year-round. It’s bad enough that it’s August and the Little League World Series is still going on, but the season has just ended for countless other kids who play all levels of youth baseball.
Fall baseball – one of the most ludicrous consequences of the “more sports is better trend” – starts in just a few weeks, giving kids barely a month to recover from their 5+ month baseball “regular” season. And on top of the fall baseball, many kids will be playing fall football or soccer or lacrosse, as well.
Certainly, these other sports are guilty of many of the same excesses on display with youth baseball. However, because of the uniquely demanding act of throwing a baseball, youth baseball can – arguably – be more damaging to the development of a kid than these other sports.
Mental burn-out is always a risk when engaging in a sport 12 months of the year, but youth baseball has produced a spate of uncommon arm injuries that have never been seen before in young athletes. Expert opinion is pretty much unanimous on the subject that we are in the midst of an epidemic of over-use injuries being suffered by youth sports participants.
The question has been raised by my peers; “Who is Little League baseball for, the kids, the parents, or ESPN?” I think the inescapable conclusion is that the kids are at the bottom of this Totem Pole. There is no justification for the length of youth baseball’s “regular” season or the necessity for fall and winter baseball. There are no good arguments to be made for 11- and 12-year old kids to be playing baseball in late August.
Dr. James Andrews, recognized as the leading expert in arm injuries and performing the surgeries to fix them, has data that indicates youth pitchers who throw more than 8 months of the year are 5 times more likely to suffer an injury that requires surgery. Dr. Andrews also recommends involvement in a variety of sports and to only participate in one sport per season.
Playing one sport year-round is not recommended. There are those who drink the recruiting Kool Aid and believe that unless 12 to 15-year olds are on some kind of elite travelling team they won’t be good enough down the road to get looked at by scouts or colleges. This is just nonsense. We are at a point where parents and too many coaches clearly do not know what is best for the children. Youth sports are out of control and no sport better illustrates this than Little League baseball.