When you walk into many Little League/pre-high school games, one of the most talked about issues is overuse of pitchers and sore/injured arms. We are going to skip on the abuse and overuse of youth arms in this article (that could fill up a whole book) and instead focus more on the sore/injured arms and the reasoning behind it.
It seems like in the past 10 years, youth baseball has completely changed. It has gone from playing Little League baseball (20-30 games) and All-Stars, which may be about 50 games in a year, to competitive travel teams from 7 years old up, who spend all of their times playing games and very little of their time actually focusing on the players’ overall development!
From 7U all the way until the player reaches college, almost the entire time a player can get outside is spent playing games. Very little time is dedicated to practicing, preparing for the season, or anything else that may help a young play develop and mature the toolset needed! Where this will really come in effect is with a youth and high school player’s arm. Instead of spending the first 6 weeks of nice weather, or even beginning in a gym before that, building up his base of arm strength by playing long toss and going through a dedicated band program, the player immediately goes outside, jumps on the mound and begins throwing 90 pitchers per outing.
Jumping on the mound without doing the prep work of building the base is like going to a squat rack without squatting in 6 months and trying to do your previous max of 400 pounds. Your body, muscles, ligaments, etc. are not prepared to support that much strain and this leads to injuries and soreness.
I tell all of my guys beginning at the end of January or early February, they need to begin their band routine as well as begin to stretch their arms out with long toss. You want to build up that base so you can throw longer distances, harder, and more often without getting fatigued. I cannot force my guys to do this, but the ones that do it consistently have seen their injuries decrease and their velocities jump dramatically!
Toby Bicknell, Recruiting Coordinator at the Air Force, always tells players he talks with that your arm is a muscle. Without feeding your muscle by playing long toss all of the time, there is no way for it to build strength! Playing catch and long toss can be done EVERYDAY without worry about injury. In fact, unless you are a pitcher and are on a routine in season or are a position player in the middle of a long stretch, you NEED to be playing catch for a long period of time on a daily basis. When kids go out to play catch, most of them spend 5-10 minutes at the most and stretch it out to 90 feet, maybe 120 feet if they’re lucky! Every time I threw, I would throw for 15-20 minutes and stretch it out 300+ feet. If I was really working on my arm strength, I would push 350+ feet. That is the ONLY way to build up arm strength, learn how to get an extension and really build the velocity you need to play at a high level.
In my opinion, having a weak or below average arm is the result of a lack of knowledge or a lack of desire! If you go out and play long toss on a regular basis, stretching the distance you throw out as far as you can, and increasing that distance each time out, you HAVE to get a stronger arm! I have yet to see a player’s arm not get better by doing this!