By Olaf Ramirez, baseball dad, coach and fan
We wanted to follow up on a Facebook post that has received some of the most comments that we have seen: our September 1, 2017 post on youth catching limits. To date, we have received 243 comments as well as a number of direct messages, so we felt that it might be a good time to summarize what you told us and what is out there in cyberspace in order to continue the discussion.
The vast majority of you agreed that some form of youth catching limits are necessary. Many of you shared personal stories highlighting the reasons why. A handful of you felt that this issue warranted no discussion at all, or was simply a “myth.” While everyone is entitled to their opinions, most parents who responded felt was important. So, we listened to your comments, did some research of our own and now have some new information.
The Lack of Formal Youth Catching Limits
There is no reported catching limit either by innings or games that we could find online for a national organization. However, we know of two that do address catching, and they are geared towards the scenario where a pitcher also catches.
The PitchSmart guidelines recommend that pitchers should not catch.
Little League has a rule that if a kid throws 41 pitches, he/she cannot catch the rest of the game.
The issue of overuse is recognized, based on the above rules/guidelines. However, is the youth catcher (age 7-12) who primarily catches at a bigger risk of injury to his arm or lower body? That’s the $64,000 question.
The Stresses of a Youth Catcher
A handful of readers felt that throwing the ball back to the pitcher was “easy” and not nearly as difficult as a pitcher who is throwing with maximum effort. In theory, that makes sense. A ball is flipped back to the pitcher with less velocity without the need for a windup. Therefore, it cannot possibly be as stressful to the arm as a pitch.
We found a heavy divergence in that line of thinking. It would appear than an argument could be made that the fatigue of the youth catcher can have an effect on his/her arm, regardless of distance. Consider this:
If a kid is tired, they may be more inclined to “drop” their arm or plant their foot early, keeping their arm back, which is not mechanically sound. Some readers told us that was the case from their own observations.
When catchers are fatigued, they may alter their mechanics to generate more power, especially for longer throws.
PitchSmart statistics indicate that a youth arm is 36 times more likely to be injured if it’s fatigued. Thus, could it be said that a catcher fatigues early in a game and that their throws could be more dangerous?
Since this has not been addressed in any article or study we can find, it may or may not be true.
The Pros and Cons of Specializing at Catcher
We have all read enough articles about specializing in one sport. The majority of articles recommend playing more than one sport for as long as one can. What about playing one position in one sport?
Not every child wants to catch. It’s a difficult position that has its share of painful moments. Off the bat, the player pie becomes smaller and smaller on a team if certain kids don’t fit the mold of what a catcher is “supposed” to be. That leaves a coach with only a handful of players willing to put on gear.
We know that a good catcher can change the outcome of a game. If a player shows quality skills at that position at a young age, they can make an average team above average. How many times have you seen a team lose because their catcher let a handful of balls get by him?
Based on your comments, we identified the Pros and Cons of league mandated catching limits for youth catchers if they were implemented:
Multiple young players learn the position of catcher.
Those who primarily catch are exposed to other positions, increasing their overall development and value to their team.
Multiple catchers would help to spread the load over the season, keeping players fresher for a longer period of time.
Reduced burnout due to a lack of specialization.
A coach may have to place a less developed catcher in that position, which could affect the outcome of a tournament seed or game. Thus, a team may now be at a defensive “disadvantage.”
A coach may have to move his players around more, which might alter his/her approach as to who should be playing where.
A coach will likely have to become more proficient in catching mechanics in order to teach multiple players the nuances of the position.
It would seem that the Pros outweigh the Cons, but what do you think? This goes back to the age old development versus winning argument at the youth level, and whether that truly can be balanced.
It would seem that organizations with experience, resources and medical data at their disposal might be able to provide families and coaches with further guidance on this issue. With so much attention given to pitch counts and rest periods, perhaps it’s time for the catching position to be monitored, or at least considered.
If youth baseball can undergo a complete overhaul of its bats based on the “integrity of the game,” isn’t there a similar basis to investigate the possible overuse of catchers at younger ages? Many of you think so. If you think about some of the most important aspects of youth baseball: (1) fun (2) development (3) sportsmanship (4) safety and (5) avoiding burnout, this might be a worthwhile endeavor.
There are some solutions that we’ve heard about already. One team claimed that they had multiple catchers (upwards of 5) and used the same pitch counts to monitor catching load. Those are two creative solutions without the need for formal organizational input.
In closing, thanks again for visiting our site, reading our articles and sharing the thousands of constructive comments that make our Facebook community so strong. Only time will tell if the catching issue is addressed by others.
Now, go out and…Play Ball!