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July 10, 2013

Direct Kick: Some interesting advice from Dr. James Andrews

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Over the years, the landscape of sports has shifted. More and more young players are devoting time to just playing one sport instead of taking part in various athletic endeavors. Whether this is good or bad is debatable.

Travel teams for almost every team sport (football being the exception) have grown over the last 10 years, especially baseball. The reason I bring this up is because I recently read an interview on cleveland.com with Dr. James Andrews, the world-renowned orthopedic surgeon that almost every professional athlete goes to when they need to be put back together. Andrews has gotten rich doing this. In 2010, Sports Illustrated named him one of the top 40 most powerful people in the NFL. He specializes in knees, elbows and shoulders. He was the one who operated on the right knee of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. So he knows a thing or two about sports injuries.

Andrews said he started seeing a sharp increase in youth sports injuries, particularly baseball, starting around 2000. He feels like there are two main reasons why this is happening: Specialization and professionalism.

Specialization is playing one sport year-round. Professionalism is working children at a young age like they are pro athletes in terms of training and year-round activity. In both cases, more is definitely not better. And in many of these cases, it’s because parents have a dream of their child earning a college scholarship or becoming a pro athlete. What most parents don’t realize is that it’s a small percentage who actually attain either. As Andrews said, “the odds against it (becoming a pro) are so very, very high. Even the ones who get college scholarships comprise a much smaller percentage than parents think.”

He’s right.

Let’s look at a local example.

Last school year (August 2012-May 2013) Laurel County had around 25 athletes signed to play various sports in college. Not bad. But consider that more than 650 athletes compete in all the high school sports the county has to offer, and the percentage of athletes signing to play in college is very minuscule.

But back to the gist of this column. Avoiding injuries in young athletes.

When asked what the best advice he would parents of a young athlete, Andrews replied: “The first thing I would tell them is, their kid needs at least two months off each year to recover from a specific sport. Preferably, three to four months.” He was using youth baseball as an example here.

He added they don’t need to do any kind of overhead throwing, any kind of overhead sport, and to let the body recover in order to avoid overuse situations.

So that pretty much means, if they are playing middle school or high school baseball, that would all but kill summer travel ball, if parents are really interested in keeping their child injury-free.

Andrews referred to Tommy John surgery, which is an adult operation designed for professionals. But he said in his practice now, 30 to 40 percent of the ones he’s doing are on high schoolers, even down to ages 12 or 13. Imagine that. Children that young coming in with torn ligaments.

As for pitchers throwing a curveball, Andrews said his rule of thumb is, don’t throw the curveball until you can shave, until your bone structure has matured and you have the neuromuscular control to be able to throw the pitch properly. And most youngsters don’t throw with good mechanics. I have seen pitchers during the 11-12 year old tournament throwing curves.

Remember, this is a man who makes a living off of operating on athletes, so for him to want to see less and less injuries says something.

He has a lot of other good points in the article for young pitchers, such as don’t play one sport year round, use proper mechanics and avoid the radar gun. If you play just one sport year round, you are overusing certain muscles, which can lead to injuries. Play multiple sports so all your muscles are used.

It’s a really good read, and an eye-opener. If you want to read it yourself, go to http://www.cleveland.com/dman/index.ssf/2013/02/noted_surgeon_dr_james_andrews.html.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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