We live in a completely different world of youth sports than decades ago. I am probably older than most parents who will be reading this so if you parents talk to your own mom or dad you will find that the baby boomer generation played the sport of the season – period. If a football game was on during any Fall weekend you could bet that I was outside at half time so excited to throw the football around and emulate my favorite players – Joe Namath, Gayle Sayers, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, ok so I’m dating myself a little. I wanted to do what they could do.

Winters were filled with playing basketball on cold days and nights on playgrounds and driveways. Our fingers would get those ever annoying splits because of the cold, wet conditions. Then we would play so much we would be down to our t-shirts in sweat, only to freeze on the way home with a cold shirt!

Spring had a special meaning to me living in the Northeast. That first day of bright sun in March was like Florida to me and my friends. We were ready to get outside with our gloves and throw the baseball, hitting on the still frozen back yard grass but not caring at all because the cold winter was over. Sure we would still be freezing for another six weeks but for some reason 45 degrees in April was far warmer to me than 45 degrees in November or December. It was baseball season!

After that flashback let’s move to modern times. I work with baseball players of all ages all year long. Is playing year round – sport specialization – the best thing for a child? There lies the trending question among sports parents, psychologists, physical therapists, trainers and doctors. So what is the answer???

It depends.

There is what I describe as an “overlap theory” where a multi-sport athlete should make it a point of practicing the “off sport” (i.e. baseball in the winter, basketball in the summer) to a lesser degree in order to move from season to season with less chance of injury and frustration.

Would I have promoted this years ago? Probably not, and it took me some time to realize that the injuries I see among young players are increasingly proportional to the amount of participation in a “same sport” routine. For better or for worse we are in an increasingly competitive youth sport culture.

How can we keep our children children for as long as we should? It is so important to keep their enjoyment of sports growing through their formative years – up to age 16! It is easy to ruin a child’s enjoyment with a single negative experience. Our pre-adolescent children are like emotional and intellectual “sponges”. We may not think our 7th grade players are listening but they have an ability to absorb and feel in a way that no other stage of life will provide. The smallest of actions by an adult will ring stronger to a young teen than we can imagine – something to keep in mind.

In order for our children to remain confident along with their peer group parents should consider finding an “off season” training group or practice program. Why? There are a few reasons:

1. Overall health and injury prevention – With all of the “extra” off season teams (fall baseball, spring football, summer basketball, etc.) our kids are playing we are placing them at a greater risk for an injury. I like the phase, “PREhabilitation vs. Rehabilitation”. We are having children play a more adult schedule so we must have them practice and condition their bodies in a more mature fashion. I didn’t utilize the training routine that I currently introduce to my pitchers until I was practically into college! But remember, I was not playing with the same off season schedule as our current children. Times have changed and we should be diligent to adapt to change.

2. Increased and Improved Muscle Memory – Many of you have heard of the “10,000 hours” theory which claims that it takes that long to achieve mastery of a particular skill. It is debatable depending on the athlete but the concept of getting more repetitive action of a skill will certainly promote better skills and ultimately a greater chance of success.

3. Increase Mental Aptitude and Decreased “Burnout” – When practicing in the off season the approach should be one of trial and error, experimentation to improve weaknesses, and a relaxed teaching and learning environment. Off season “overlap” work should have a degree of fun and anticipation of the start of the new season. Coaches, this is where positive coaching is the best and only approach, regardless of your style during the main season.

4. A Positive Experience to Increase Confident Athletes – If young players are going to attempt to play in a year long routine they should be kept at the highest confidence levels prior to the upcoming “official” season. The more confidence stored in the off season the more the negatives of the season (some self-inflicted, some from others) will not penetrate their young psyches.

For baseball players, pitchers especially, the end of fall baseball is often the most welcomed time of the season. There is a lot of wear on the body and certainly the arm and rest is critical. My suggestion for pitchers as a cap for the season is to meet with me and review, objectively, strengths and weaknesses. One of my busiest times of the year is the first two weeks of November where I take the time to talk about adjustments for next spring and help formulate an off season winter training schedule ( a big part of it involves REST). It has proven to be helpful because we can still throw lightly to reinforce new mechanical adjustments since the arm is in “game shape” before the winter rest begins.

Please email me here if this is something any pitchers would be interested in trying. I would be happy to talk more about this concept. Thanks for reading!