Are You ‘Overplaying?’

By Lyz Pfister, Stop Sports Injuries.org

Matthew Ryden was on the court dribbling a basketball, when he suddenly collapsed. It was late January, and he’d been suffering from a tender knee for about 18 months so that knee pain was nothing new to him. Matt would rest and ice it, ease up for a few days—and then hop back in the game. But this was pain unlike anything he’d experienced so far. At the hospital, a series of x-rays and a subsequent MRI diagnosed him with a case of osteochondritis dissecans, a condition where cartilage in the joint, along with a thin layer of the bone beneath it, detaches from the rest of the bone. Matthew was just 13.

“It’s become an epidemic that we’re all very concerned about in our field,” said Dr. William Levine, Director of Sports Medicine at Columbia Orthopaedics, concerning the increasing frequency with which seriously injured young athletes, nationwide, are sent to specialists and the operating room. Over the past few years, “overuse” injuries have increased 400% among youth sports teams, yet according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, more than half of these injuries are preventable.

What are overuse injuries? Generally, they stem from playing one sport nearly year round, and a majority of the time they are serious. Because of the frightening rise of overuse injuries, a nationwide campaign is underway to educate coaches and adults about their dangers, and to encourage kids to keep playing—but to do so by playing a multitude of sports, not just one.

“I can’t tell you who it is who drives these programs, who drives baseball to be run from February to July,” said Theresa Ryden, Matt’s mother, “or who basically tells you your kid won’t be able to play if they don’t do club.” The Rydens live in Boise, Idaho, but by no means are these type of overuse injuries more likely to occur in that part of the country, or one region more than another. According to the CDC, nearly 30 million children nationwide participate in youth sports, and geography plays an insignificant role in the overuse-injury dilemma. Whether you live in warm-weather states like Florida or California, or New York City neighborhoods like Flatiron or Forest Hills, if you’re playing one sport nearly year round, you could very well be at risk of a serious injury.

Are coaches and parents, in general, really to blame for pushing kids to play too intensely, or stretching out a single sport’s season too long? Findings by medical experts indicate that they probably are. The good news, however, is that usually the pushing is not malicious. According to many orthopedic surgeons, the incidence of both traumatic and overuse injuries is rising at an alarming rate mostly because coaches and parents just don’t know that it’s an issue.

Enter Dr. Jim Andrews, president of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) and founder of STOP Sports Injuries, whose commitment to the cause includes leveraging his star status in the world of professional sports to spread the word about the dangers of serious injuries suffered by kids and adolescents.

“Everything’s upside down,” said Dr. Andrews, who treats dozens of superstar professional athletes and is widely considered to be the leading orthopaedic surgeon in the United States. “We’re now seeing more adult-type sports injuries on high school and younger kids than we’re seeing on college and professional athletes.”

In conjunction with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, and SAFE Kids USA, STOP is trying to increase awareness as to how, and why, kids are injured playing sports and how they can stay safe. In other words, it’s an effort on how to keep kids on the playing field—and out of the operating room.

Although one of STOP’s long-term goals is to prevent athletes from overextending themselves physically, STOP— which stands for Sports Trauma and Overuse Protection and was launched on April 1—is by no means trying to keep kids from playing sports.

“It’s positive for your mental health, your physical health, and your cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Jo Hannafin, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “ It builds confidence, it builds teamwork— there are huge positive benefits to sports. What you don’t want to do is break people down and burn them out because of over-training.”

Dr. Hannafin believes that some of the intensity usually reserved for college and professional level athleticism has trickled into youth leagues and school teams. That’s may be why many parents and coaches push too hard without understanding the negative consequences.

“One of the things we’re trying to get people to stop, both athletes, parents, and coaches, is that training through pain is not the way to get better,” said Dr. Hannafin. “The way to get better at your sport is to recognize when you’re overtrained, to recognize when you begin to develop pain.

“If you’re a parent, and your child is having pain,” she continued, “take them to someone who can evaluate them, who can find the right solution, perhaps to modify their training program or get them on appropriate strengthening, so you enable that child or young adult to continue to train.” Increasingly, in lower-level athletics, kids are encouraged to excel in a single sport rather than participating in multiple sports over a few seasons. This tunnel-like focus has dangerous consequences for young athletes, since so many overuse injuries occur due to repetitive motions for which young bodies are not equipped.

“Kids are being pushed like they’re professional athletes at a young age and their bodies are just not ready for that kind of a specialization,” says Dr. Andrews, describing why young athletes are at a higher risk than older athletes. Dr. Andrews, who is based in Birmingham, Alabama, added that over 60% of these overuse injuries are preventable with a little common sense. That would include making sure coaches (1) utilize proper training techniques; (2) use equipment that fits; (3) watch out for early signs of injury, and most importantly; (4) not put as much pressure on children to perform at such high levels.

Part of the problem with single-sport specialization, STOP believes, is that athletes don’t just play one season, but they also join a club team; a traveling team; play indoors during the off-season; and if they’re talented, play in showcases to impress scouts on various levels. Playing a single sport for such an extended period of time stresses the same muscle and joint groups over and over again, and athletes often don’t do the appropriate strength training.

“In the young kids, inherent muscle imbalances makes them more vulnerable for injury,” says Dr. Andrews. “So they’re the ones that need the best protection and they’re the ones that are getting the least attention and the least protection.”

Tears in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), for instance, are twice as common in girls as in boys. Yet often, those who coach lacrosse and soccer, sports that involve cutting and pivoting, don’t incorporate strengthening exercises into practices—many because they don’t know they need to.

“Those are the things I struggle with,” says Dr. Hannafin. “The traumatic injuries often happening because kids are not trained well enough, they’re not trained in preventive strategy, or they’re playing to fatigue.”

Though the end result is often the same—too many kids with preventable sports injuries – the causes for these injuries are numerous and often sport specific. Young baseball players for instance, should only pitch the appropriate number of pitches for their age group and not on consecutive days. Soccer players should begin a routine of aerobic conditioning, strength training, and agility training before embarking on a full-blown soccer season. Swimmers should do core strengthening and cross-training exercises as part of pre- and early-season routines.

This is the sort of information STOP hopes to spread among the athletic community through conferences, Power Point presentations, and grassroots efforts through word of mouth. It has also set up a comprehensive website (www. stopsportsinjuries.org), where each sport has its own list of injuries and a tip sheet, compiled by sports injury specialists, on how to prevent them.

In addition, STOP aims to facilitate conversations between parents, coaches, and athletes, to keep kids healthy, safe, and above all, to give them the greatest chance to have fun. Part of this dialogue is openly addressing parents’ desires for their children to be good enough at their sport to garner a college scholarship or even to play at the professional level.

“We see a lot of parents pushing, pushing, pushing their kids and having their kids not only do practices, but have a private coach,” said Ms. Ryden. “And if they didn’t make the team, then they’re coached again so they can make the team next year.”

The reality, however, is that playing a sport to the point of serious injury is detrimental to pursuing an athletic career— which is precisely the opposite result hard-driving parents and coaches are shooting for.

“Once you have surgery, and you’re under the age of eighteen, the likelihood that you’re going to be a professional athlete, as low as it was prior to that, has probably gone as close to zero as it can be,” says Dr. Levine at Columbia Orthopaedics.

And possibly even more sobering is this statistic from the STOP website, citing CDC research: “By age 13, 70 percent of kids drop out of youth sports.” Factoring this in, it can be argued that all things being equal, with a large majority of kids giving up sports entirely, all the extra pressure being exerted on them to thrive and improve not only will be wasted, but it may saddle kids with serious injuries for life.

Dr. Levine also mentioned that in some circles there’s the alarming misconception that having elbow surgery is a good thing— that the elbow is stronger after surgery than it ever was before.

“There can be nothing further from the truth,” said Dr. Levine.

Having an overuse injury or surgery at such a young age is something that could adversely affect the rest of their lives.

“That to me is heartbreaking, because if you tear your ACL at 14, and you get back to sports, you may be perfectly fine,” said Dr. Hannafin. “But if you tear your ACL at 14 and you also injure the cartilage in your knee, that’s the beginning of the development an arthritic process in the knee that may go on over many years.”

Since finding out about his injury about four months ago, Matt Ryden has traded in his lacrosse stick and gloves, skateboard and a pair of basketball shoes, for a guitar. He’s taken up cycling and is thinking about switching from snowboarding to skiing in about a year, which is when doctors expect him once again to be able to play any sport he chooses. He’s making the best of a bad situation. But what about his athletic career?

“It’s just basically one big question mark,” said Matt’s mother, who wonders whether it might take a generation, growing up in a hyper-competitive athletic environment, to revolutionize the system. “Maybe there will be a change just through attrition or through the kids that are living it—or else they’ll all be really smart and they’ll become orthopaedic surgeons. Because there’s going to be a huge need for them.”

WARNING SIGNS OF OVERPLAYING
Led by Dr. James Andrews, one of the country’s leading orthopedic surgeons, STOP’s awareness campaign is providing concerned parents and coaches important information that can help prevent young athletes from developing serious injuries.

To determine whether your child is overplaying, here are some warning signs STOP says you should to watch for:
Playing through fatigue Complaining of pain in an overused area Changes in a child’s attitude about a sport Not countering sport specific practices with appropriate strengthening exercises You not knowing what your child is doing in practice.

Indications that an injury may have already occurred:
Avoiding putting weight on a certain body part, favoring one side or the other Appearing to be in pain Inability to sleep Shortness of breath during activity Headaches during or after activity Appearing to exhibit stiffness in joints or muscles Dizziness or lightheadedness Difficulty sitting and/or climbing stairs Inability to feel fingers or toes. Experiencing unusual weakness Irritated skin or blisters.

Tips on how to cut down on overuse:
Cut back on intensity, duration, and frequency of an activity Adopt an alternating hard/easy workout schedule, and cross-training with other activities Learn about proper training and technique from a coach or trainer Perform proper warm-up activities before and after playing Use ice after an activity for minor aches and pains Use anti-inflammatory medication as necessary Keep lines of communication open /know what your kids are doing in practice.

John Wooden on Failure and Mistakes

I had mistakes, plenty, but I had no failures.  We may not have won a championship every year.  We may have lost games.  But we had no failures.  You never fail if you know in your heart that you did the best of which you are capable.  I did my best.  That is all I could do.  Are you going to make mistakes? Of course.  But it is not failure if you make the full effort.  I told my players many times, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” If you prepare properly, you may be outscored but you will never lose. I wanted our players to believe that to their very souls because I know it is the truth.  You always win when you make the full effort to do the best of which you’re capable.  I also know that only one person on earth knows if you made your best effort: not your coach, not your employer, not your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, brother or sister.  The only person who knows is you.  You can fool everyone else.

Five Baseball Pitches

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

To make it to a higher level in baseball, a pitcher should have three great pitches, not necessarily a best pitch, but three outstanding pitches he can throw for strikes on any given day. This allows the pitcher to dominate his opponents with a good change of speed and great movement. If a pitcher can throw three outstanding pitches to two locations, it keeps the hitter off balance, keeps them guessing and improves the chances of the pitcher getting the win and making a habit of it. Before I share information on pitching grips; understand the ratio of pitches thrown. 60-65% fastballs 15-20% curveballs and 20-25% change-ups. Here are a few examples of some of the most effective baseball pitches.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Four-seam Fastball: Place your index and middle finger over the horseshoe of the baseball. Thumb and middle finger split the baseball in half; so your thumb should be placed directly under your middle finger. Don’t grip this pitch too tight; in fact, it should be held as if you were holding an egg. Doing this allows the ball to leave your hand quickly minimizing the friction, between thumb and middle finger, to create maximum velocity. If your thumb is not directly under middle finger you will not have the correct rotation on the ball; spinning from the bottom to the top. The average speed of this pitch at the major league level is 89-91 Mph. This fastball is the most commonly thrown pitch.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Two-seam Fastball: For the two-seamer, movement pitch the first and second fingers lay across the narrow seams of the baseball between the two horseshoe-shaped seams. This ball is thrown the same as the four-seam fastball with thumb and middle finger splitting the baseball in half, causing force behind the ball. This pitch goes on average 1 to 3 miles an hour slower than the four-seam. You will see a slight difference in movement with the two-seam as you compare it to your four-seam fastball. Most pitchers throw a combination of both four and two-seams for variation. Many coaches tell their pitchers to grip their two-seam a bit tighter and hold it deeper in your hand. By doing that, they feel it takes velocity off the pitch. In reality, the ball will end up on your fingertips anyway, won’t it? So the ball won’t necessarily slow down. You impart force on the baseball when the ball leaves your middle finger. Important: A pitcher must understand the basic fundamentals of pitching mechanics before they start experimenting with other pitches. It is pointless and even can be dangerous to teach athletes an additional pitch without first knowing and implementing basic throwing mechanics. Every pitch should be thrown with fastball mechanics, only changing grip as well as wrist and forearm angles.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Circle Change: Make a circle or an ok sign using your thumb and index finger. The smaller the circle the tighter the grip actually is, so this pitch may take awhile to master. I encourage my pitchers to start off with a C-change which is really making a large C instead of a circle with your thumb and index finger. The important part while throwing this pitch is wrist and forearm angle as shown in the change-up illustration above. Both pitches are thrown the same with the C or the Circle thrown at the target. I see a lot of coaches teaching the Circle change because it is a popular pitch. However, they don’t teach their pitchers that the Circle is thrown at the target. By changing the position of your wrist (Pronation, turning your palm slightly out, example on bottom page of article) you are imparting rotation, not force, on the baseball. This way you have a nice fading movement while reducing the velocity of the ball. The biggest mistakes most pitchers make while throwing a change-up is slowing down their delivery which in turn slows down their arm speed. Keep your fastball mechanics and arm speed with this pitch and you will find more success with it as it can be deceiving to the batter. Also, don’t roll or pull the circle change. It will not only affect location, but put undue stress on you throwing arm.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Split-Finger Fastball: Basically you’re throwing a fastball with split fingers. The hardest part about the split is the grip. Where the two seams come together, lay your index and middle finger on the outside of each seam. The grip should be firm. The wider the split the slower the ball is going to be. Thumb cuts the baseball in half; the v in the split takes place of the middle finger in the ball. All you do then is throw it like a fastball. It is said that the split can be harder on your arm. That is true, only if you twist your throwing arm at release of the baseball. Twisting the ball is easier to do with this pitch because you are not splitting the baseball with thumb and middle finger. Again, you want to keep your fastball mechanics here.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Curveball: First and foremost, curveballs are harder on your throwing arm because of your arm position at release. However, recent studies show that the slider is the most stressful pitch on the arm. What makes most pitches, like the curveball, unsafe is that pitchers try twisting the ball when throwing instead of focusing on wrist and forearm placement. How we grip the curveball: Simply place your middle finger on the top seam (as shown in the illustration) and place your thumb on the back seam, splitting the baseball in half. Apply pressure on your thumb and middle fingers. Your index finger rests on the ball next to middle finger with no pressure on it whatsoever. A curveball does take a lot of work to master the pitch and throw it effectively for a strike, so be patient and continue working on it. Remember to use the same arm speed as your fastball, just use appropriate wrist and forearm angle while you throw the pitch. What the curveball does and why it does it: Because you’re throwing on the side of the ball and imparting rotation; the ball will be slower, so it looks like a fastball because of arm speed, but drops at the last minute. One of the biggest obstacles for beginners is timing the release of this pitch. If a pitcher lets go of the ball too soon, the ball will stay high and won’t drop. If that happens, a pitcher may have to squeeze the ball a little harder, again, with thumb and middle finger, so he can release the ball later.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Pee Wee Hockey Celebration

Watch these kids celebrate a goal during their game at halftime of a Washington Capitals game.

Cute Hockey “Fight”

It looks like these kids have been watching the pros. If you listen, it sounds like mom has it under control.

 

A Lesson Learned from Youth Sports

By Dave Zimmer

My little 10-year-old boy was up to bat – my little lefty. I love to watch him play baseball because he loves to play the game. The pitcher wound up and let go of a fast ball traveling at about 38 mph. The ball missed the strike zone by a few feet and hit my son in the upper arm. The ball was not traveling fast enough to hurt him, so he just ran down to first base. As my son was standing on first base, I saw the opposing coach signal to his pitcher. The pitcher then ran over to first base, shook my son’s hand and told him he was sorry. At that moment, baseball really did not matter. That act of sportsmanship was more important than the game.

Measuring success
It also pointed out the importance of a coach with values and his priorities in order. As coaches, it is only natural to want to be successful. In my 12 years of coaching, I never went into a game with the intention of losing. However, we did lose our fair share of games. Does this mean that a winning coach is successful and a losing coach is unsuccessful? I guess it depends on how you define success. A coach should not be measured on wins and losses alone. My son’s team won their game that night, but the opposing coach was successful because of the valuable lesson he taught his pitcher and team.

There is a poster from Character Counts that says the following: “A good coach will make you a better player. A great coach will make you a better person.” According to this definition, we should all strive to be a great coach because the opportunity is there.

As coaches, sometimes I do not think we realize the influence and opportunities we have with our players. Sports are full of teachable moments. Dealing with winning and losing, dealing with a bad call, handling adversity and learning your role on a team are just a few examples.

How a coach responds to these situations is critical because our players hear what we say and see what we do. After all, we (the coaches) are the same people who are able to get teenagers to get to a weight room at 6:00 a.m., pay hundreds of dollars to attend summer camps and go through painful conditioning drills. A lot of parents cannot even get their kids to make their own beds, so do not tell me that coaches do not influence their players.

Coaches need to seize the opportunity to also teach beyond the sport. Your players are a captive audience. Take advantage of the opportunities to teach them about character. Take advantage of the opportunities to demonstrate and model character.

I know there are some coaches who feel it is strictly their job to teach the sport. My problem with that idea is this. At some point in every athlete’s life, his or her athletic skills will no longer matter. However, will there ever be a point in a person’s life in which their character does not matter? Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. Does it matter today how well Michael Jordan can shoot a basketball or do a crossover dribble? No.

However, it does matter today what type of person Michael Jordan is and it will continue to matter for the rest of his life. When you think about this, just put the names of your players in the place of Michael Jordan.

Role and responsibility
As coaches, do we need to teach our…

* Volleyball players how to bump, set and spike? Definitely
* Football players how to block and tackle? Absolutely
* Basketball players how to shoot, dribble and rebound?
Without a doubt

It is also our role and responsibility to teach our players the fundamentals of life because those fundamentals will be with them forever.

Some of you still probably have the issue of winning on your mind. Believe me; I am not opposed to winning. I was also able to experience a fair amount of this in coaching. I just do not think it is the most important part of sports. Can you teach and model this character stuff and still win games? Maybe you want to ask Dean Smith, Tom Osborne or John Wooden. If I am not mistaken, these were three coaches with exceptional character and integrity. I think they may have won a few games also.

This world can always use people who are kind, caring, dependable, trustworthy, respectful, responsible and who play by the rules. Coaches can play an integral role in the development of such people because of the tremendous influence they have with their players. The athletic skills coaches teach their players will last them a while; the life skills they teach their players will last them forever.

After my son’s game that night, I talked to the opposing coach. I told him how much I appreciated what he was trying to teach his players. I also talked to my son that night after the game. He even thought the pitcher’s gesture was pretty cool. It was a great lesson and it happened at a Little League game.

David Zimmer is a teacher, coach and high school principal in Nebraska. He runs workshops for coaches on Incorporating Character into Coaching. Dave can be contacted through his website at www.davezimmerspeaks.com

Secrets to Practicing Like the Pros Part – 1

By Joey Bilotta
EduKick International Soccer Camps

You’re not satisfied with average. You push harder than everyone else in practice. When the pressure’s on, you’re the one pulling a few miracles on the field. But it’s a big world out there, with thousands of players just like you or better competing in soccer camps and tournaments every day and growing stronger. So how can you take your game to the next level?

Take your training home

At age 18 or 19, your average pro has been exposed to roughly 10,000 hours of contact with the ball. To achieve that, you’re looking at a minimum of 3 to 4 hours of practice every day. So realistically, you’ll be doing a lot on your own. Being involved in practice is not enough. It’s important to practice by yourself to really hone your skills.

Training for control

As much as possible, be in contact with the ball. This may sound basic, but it should always, always be the focus. We teach our soccer camps’ players to dominate from the first touch, deaden a ball that seems beyond your control, and make every pass hit the right person.

When you’re at home in the backyard, get the ball and juggle. You can start on a hard surface at first, or juggling next to a wall. Start simple: juggle twice, then let the ball bounce, juggling three to four times and let it bounce again. Pay attention to how it feels to properly lift the ball. Build up your touch and start moving to the grass.

At our soccer camps, we notice some players catch on faster with ball control than others. Don’t skip this if you find it difficult. If you keep practicing, you will improve this skill. There are some great videos of players showing off their juggling skills if you need inspiration. Practice your passing technique by doing long and short passing exercises with friends outside of school or at recess during school.

Our soccer camps’ players train for hours every day on ball handling. When you do this, you start to get a feel for the ball and gain muscle memory. That way, when the ball is flying towards you, you don’t even think about how to handle it. It’s instinct. This gives you an edge on the field.

Boosting your mental game

It takes more than just physical ability to win games. Pro teams focus on mental strength and attitude as well. In our soccer camps, we teach players to concentrate only on the game, and not let other thoughts clutter their mind. Focused players are not distracted by the crowd, their parents, or any other non-related issues.

Maintaining a positive attitude during the game keeps you from missing perfectly good shots under stress. Instead of second-guessing yourself, use imagery techniques to perfect your skills in your mind’s eye. Visualize yourself performing the moves flawlessly. This can also help you learn new skills faster.

This mental strength and preparation makes a difference towards the end of the game when your body starts to get tired. That’s when you need to maintain that focus and confidence so you don’t make mistakes.

With dedication, you can start pushing forward to realizing your potential as a soccer player. You’ll gain confidence as you become a better player, becoming a crucial asset to your team. And of course, you’ll start seeing improvement when it really counts – on the pitch during season play.

Ready to kick-start your soccer adventure overseas? Thousands of our soccer players have achieved international confidence and world-class soccer skills. Some have gone on to trials with professional teams. Will you be the next? Contact EduKick Soccer Camps to find out how you can take your soccer game to Spain, England, Italy, France, China, Brazil, or Mexico.