Archive for June, 2010

Why do kids today have more injuries?

Dr. James Andrew, the noted orthopedic surgeon, is spearheading a blue-ribbon list of coaches and doctors to head up a nationwide push to let sports parents that there’s an epidemic of kids getting injured at younger and younger ages. Never before, for example, have so many youngsters needed Tommy John surgery to repair their pitching arms.

As noted on my show, this campaign couldn’t be more timely. We in the US have fallen into the trap of pushing our kids into specializing in one sport at terribly young ages, meaning that the kids run a major risk of burnout as well as becoming hurt from repetitive use.

That being, I do wonder why when we were kids growing up (and we were admitteldy more active than our kids of today), we never had to go through surgery. I can’t ever recall a kid having arm surgery. Yes, some pitchers would occasionally have a tired or “dead” arm, but after a week or two of rest, they bounced back.

In any event, I do want to once more push the idea that there should be a Presidential Commission on Amateur Sports in the US, and the sooner the better. We would all benefit from that kind of Commission.

Finally, one suggestion to Dr. Andrews: since you are so well respected and because you consult with LL Baseball, PLEASE tell them to ban all kids from throwing curveballs immediately. There is clearly no reason for kids to jeopardize arm injuries by throwing curves and sliders, especially at the tender age of 12 or 13.

More so, putting a ban like this into place is pretty simple. Just empower the home plate umpire to give the pitcher a warning whenever a curve is thrown, and if the kid throws another one, then simply remove him from the mound and place him in the outfield or infield. Seems like a pretty simple, and  healthy, decision.

Are we doing travel teams the right way?

There was a long feature piece in the NY Times Magazine section two weeks ago by sportswriter Michael Sokolove in which he focused on the Ajax soccer club in The Netherlands. Basically, the piece zeroed in on how the Dutch go about finding very young talented soccer players (as young as age 5) and how they develop their skills.

The takeaway was interesting in that the Dutch only have the kids practice at Ajax three days a week, and then play only one game on the weekend. That’s it, until they’re 14 or 15. Here, of course, we start our kids on travel teams as early as possible, but unlike the Dutch, we have our kids play pretty much all week and then play in two-three games ove the weekend. In the US, the emphasis is on winning – even at a young age. The Dutch and other European models are all about skill development. Winning, they insist, comes at a later age.

So the question is — are we missing the boat when it comes to developing our young athletes? Maybe we should be emphasizing not only skill development – but just as importantly, not being so eager to cut kids at ages 8 or 10 or 12. It’s essential to recognize that kids often develop as “late bloomers” in their teenage years, but of course, if they’ve been cut from their travel team, there’s really no incentive for them to continue on. And that’s a shame.

Consider the case of Danny Nava. Here’s a kid who was a good, but not great, baseball player in HS. He tried out as a walk-on at the Univ. of Santa Clara, only to be cut. He left Santa Clara, and enrolled at a local junior college where he did well. He ultimately came back to Santa Clara, and played well his senior year. Unfortunately, he wasn’t drafted by any pro team, so he tried out and made a local independent team in Chico, CA. In 2007, Nava had a great year and was named MVP of the Golden Baseball League. The Red Sox noticed, and signed him as a free agent. And then, last weekend, he got called up to the big leagues, and in his first at-bat — on the very first pitch he saw in the majors – he hit a grand slam home run!

In short, another case of a kid pursuing his dream against all odds. And that’s the beauty of sports.

Do kids really love those youth league trophies?

I was cleaning out some boxes in the basement last week, and I came across a box filled with youth league trophies — cheap, inexpensive plastic trophies that my kids got when they played youth sports.

You know what I’m talking about. Every kid who signs up for a team gets a trophy at the season-ending team party – regardless if they played well, played hard, or for that matter, even showed up to play at all. So when I asked on the radio show on Sunday whether or not these trophies had somehow lost their impact, I wasn’t surprised by the response: for the most part, the callers felt that while the kids expected to get a trophy, the truth is, by the time they got home with their trophy, it was immediately put on a shelf and forgotten about. In short, it had no meaning to the youngster because they had done nothing to earn it.

Several callers pointed out that only those trophies or plaques that mean anything to a kid are those in which the youngster has truly earned the honor. Only then it really means something to the young athlete, and it becomes a memento of pride. But when everybody gets a trophy, it just doesn’t mean  much.

Am I suggesting that perhaps the time has come to do away with youth league trophies? Well, maybe. It seems to me there has to be a better way to salute a kid’s efforts and performance – -and to do it in a way that has real significance to the athlete. What do you think?