MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It's a growing trend all over the country. More and more kids are playing travel sports, getting lessons, and playing in more games every year. But how much is too much? And could we be putting our little athletes at risk? Travel sports is a multi-million dollar industry and as more and more kids are playing more games, there are more people taking a closer look at how it's impacting our young athletes.
Our first stop was the
. The owner is Mark Fuller, a former Auburn baseball and minor league player. He makes a living working with kids, many who play travel baseball. So his recommendations may surprise you. “My first recommendation is not to play travel baseball,” Fuller said. His biggest concern is it's just too much too soon for little athletes who should be playing a variety of sports. “Playing 3 or 4 sports in high school has gone by the wayside. And now we are starting to see it with 9 year olds and I'm not sure that's best for them. Then there's the expectations. If I'm paying a certain amount of money each week, I want to see some results. “I think there are definitely some expectations, if we spend the money it'll guarantee us something . I tell parents all the time I can't guarantee them an all star, a high school player, a scholarship player or a major leaguer, but I can promise to help build kids self esteem."
A lot of parents get it. Aimee Martin takes both of her boys to work with Fuller. She says her boys play a variety of sports and she just wants them to do their best, whatever that is. “I enjoy the competition,” said Aimee Martin. “He's not always the best player out there, and he gets a chance to see what other kids are doing."
Other parents have tried travel ball and then backed off as their kids got older. Van Northcutt's son plays both baseball and football now at Auburn High School. His son did play some travel baseball. "I think some of it is good for them,” said Northcutt. “The more they play and the more pitching reps they see is probably good for them. But where's the limit as far is how much is too much?"
There are concerns about money, time, and expectations, but maybe the biggest concern with all this ball is the chance of young athletes getting injured. “The body is a fine tuned machine,” said Dr. Gretchen Oliver with the Auburn University Department of Kinesiology. She's leading a new research project that looks at what throwing a baseball does to young arms. “We're doing motion analysis. We want to see what the mechanics are doing when they are fresh and how it changes as they approach the last minute of pitching." They actually put tiny sensors all over the kids bodies and then they can track what their muscles and bones are doing on every pitch. The concern for these young arms is fatigue. “When fatigue sets in maybe we don't rotate our torso in time or maybe the arm drops and that's where we start to see a breakdown." She says baseball has become a three season sport where kids play in the spring, summer and fall, and she says that's too much. She recommends taking one season off and doing another sport that doesn't involve constant throwing.
While baseball arm injuries are a hot topic right now, injuries are very common in all youth sports. According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 30 million kids play organized sports each year. Kids 14 and under suffer more than 3.5 million sports related injuries. A study reported by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine took a look at the percentage of kids sports injuries based on what sport they play. Here's what they found:
Football – 28%
Baseball – 25%
Soccer – 22%
Basketball – 15%
Softball – 12%
Another study done by the Safe Kids USA Campaign revealed that by the age of 13 70% of kids drop out of sports. The main reasons, all very similar, adults, coaches, and parents. So all adult related.
Experts say the main takeaway here should be several things. First don't overdo it. Allow your young athlete to play a variety of sports and not get tied into one specialized sport at a young age. Second monitor their body and any type of pain they may have. Arm trouble for a young pitcher is a bad sign but there are ways you can rest it and get it back up to speed. And third, paying for lessons doesn't guarantee any more success, just more repetition. There is a ton of information out there online for parents to help their kids stay in the game.
STOP, which stands for Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention, has a website with all kinds of great stuff including how many pitches a kid should be able to throw at a certain age. Also National Children's looks at kids sports injury statistics and has a number of links for sports injuries in a variety of different activities.
For information on tips to prevent injuries, dehydration, overuse and concussions visit the Safe Kids website.