Founder, Baseball Health Network
It’s a storied tradition – kids throwing the ball in the yard with a parent or friend, with a teammate at a practice or games. Simple skill – I throw the ball to my partner and he catches it; he throws it back and I catch it.
Unfortunately many of us know that this is not nearly the reality. There was even a funny Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial that showed a father and son attempting to play catch, both with identically horrific throwing mechanics.
The fact is, playing catch is the most under-developed and under-coached skill in baseball. It’s usually the first thing we do at the beginning of every practice and game. Far too often, we send our players down the foul lines, without any coaches or guidance, and tell them to start throwing.
For nearly 20 years, I have watched players from youth right up to college level play catch with poor focus, intent and throwing mechanics. There is no attention to detail, just kids “flinging” the ball around, “getting their arm lo
ose.” It’s one of those things that gets me the most aggravated, because it’s not hard to fix. Yes, getting your arm loose is one of the goals but improving and feeling the efficiency of your throwing motion is what’s most important.
Properly aligning your body towards the target,
striding straight to your target
feeling your hands break
making sure your arm action is clean and smooth
that your hips rotate before your shoulders
driving your momentum towards your target
and feeling your fingers working through the center of the ball
with tight rotation to your partner’s chest
with a good arm finish.
THAT is what needs to be stressed to our players, EVERY DAY!
As you’re probably aware, we are three years into a nationwide arm injury epidemic. Players as young as 12 are getting Tommy John Surgery, and thousands of younger kids (8-14) are suffering growth plate injuries, which can potentially, permanently affect the growth of the limb. Rotator cuff and labrum surgeries are shoulder injuries that are very difficult to return to 100%, if at all. These are obviously very serious issues.
Then we have less serious injuries that are not season-ending or career-threatening but are causing players pain and discomfort, causing them to miss practice and games.
PLEASE take it from me, a guy who has been creating throwing rehabilitation plans for injured players for 16 years, if we teach kids to play catch properly from the earliest levels, we can begin to reverse this epidemic. We should be teaching players to use more of their body to throw the ball, minimizing the workload on the shoulder and elbow, thus minimizing stress and damage. Damage is cumulative; these injuries don’t just happen on just one pitch or a single throw. They develop over the course of time. Everyday we skip a sufficient warm-up and throw with poor mechanics we are increasing the likelihood of a doctor’s visit, possibly even the operating room.
If you’re a serious baseball player, coach or parent, stressing the importance of playing catch the right way everyday is the key to arm health. How much, how far and what intensity level you throw at, is determined by how your arm feels that day. And trust me, your arm will not always feel great. “There is Healing Power in Throwing,” so the ability to assess how your arm feels on a daily basis and give it the right type of throwing it needs to feel better, is essential to staying healthy and on the field having fun.
Just like any other skill or talent, the more often you do it right, the quicker and more efficient it will become to you. Many players do things right when they’re being watched, but it’s what you do when nobody’s watching that truly dictates what type of player you are.
SO DO IT RIGHT!!