Home Baseball Content Youth Sports Injuries

Youth Sports Injuries

Written on January 17, 2008 at 1:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that – at age 27 – I’d ever use the phrase “when I was young.” However, I found myself doing exactly that earlier this week in response to a question posed by a parent of one of our athletes.

Somehow in conversation, we got on the topic of the alarming rates of youth sports injuries – everything from ACL ruptures, to stress fractures, to Tommy John surgeries – at hand today. He asked very simply, “Why has it gotten so bad – and seemingly so fast?”

My response was, “Well, there are a lot of reasons. First – and most significantly – when I was young…”

I nearly swallowed my tongue when I caught myself saying that, but continued on.

Over the next few minutes, I talked a bit about what my buddies and I did every day after school when I was growing up. I lived next door to a church that had a big grass parking lot that was only used on Sundays. The rest of the week, it was a football/baseball/wiffleball/soccer/dodgeball/any-other-ball-you-can-think-of extravaganza. We played until our mothers called us home to dinner. There were days when I was so dirty when I got home that my parents just threw my clothes away rather than try to wash them.

In terms of organized sports, we never played a sport for more than six months consecutively – and even that time period would be a stretch. I can remember being involved in organized soccer, basketball, flag football, tennis, and baseball around fourth grade.

You know what’s wild? From that little churchyard in little Kennebunk, Maine came six eventual NCAA athletes and seven NCAA coaches (four in lacrosse, two in strength and conditioning, and one in football). There was a D1 All-American/professional lacrosse player, 500-pound raw bench press, and world record in the deadlift. There were no ACL tears, stress fractures, ulnar collateral ligament ruptures, or cases of plantar fasciitis. I didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was until I was a sophomore in high school.

The point – which may be hackneyed to many of my newsletter subscribers by now – is that we stayed healthy and came into some athletic success by playing a lot at a young age, but participating a little. And, personally, it wasn’t until I specialized more and started playing tennis nine months out of the year (November-August) that I started dealing with chronic shoulder problems. Had I known then what I know now, it would have been manageable – especially with my diverse athletic background.

So, this brings me to several points…

First, there are more opportunities than ever to participate year-round and without restrictions. Most sport coaches know only tactics and not physiology, so at a time when recognizing the warning signs of injury and burnout is most important, those supervising the system are the least prepared.

Second, to take it a step further, we are an increasingly sedentary society. Kids sit all day in school, then go home to sit at home and talk on instant messenger or surf the web. They don’t ride bikes or walk to their friends’ houses; they drive or get rides. Heck, they don’t even call their friends anymore; they just text them because human interaction is just too fatiguing! Taking a more sedentary population and combining it with an increased volume of participation in a more specialized athletic scenario is a recipe for injuries. It’s like entering this hunk of junk in the Daytona 500.

Third, in spite of the fact that kinesiology, exercise science, biomechanics, and related health and human performance fields are actually courses of study at academic institutions and beyond – and all the information on training young athletes is out there, if you know where to look – there really aren’t many people doing it correctly. Thanks to some wretched attempts at franchising youth sports training, we’ve been left with a lot of parents and kids that think “running cones” is where it’s at. Many others have just written the idea of youth performance training off altogether because they’ve had bad experiences in these situations. Kids can run cones on their own; they need to be taught how to run, jump, land, lift, and throw.

So, what to do to remedy the situation?

First off, I wish more people would read Brian Grasso’s stuff at DevelopingAthletics.com. Brian’s at the forefront of youth fitness training and really gets it.

Second, while I’d like to think that it’s possible to “undo” the specialization trend, it’s simply not going to happen, folks. The best we’re going to do is learn to recognize the symptoms of burnout/injury early on – and encourage kids to hold off until later in high school before choosing one specific sport. Kirk Fredericks, head coach of the Lincoln-Sudbury High School varsity baseball team (Massachusetts State Champs in 2005 and 2007), is the single-best coach with whom I have worked at any level. I was at his team’s award banquet two weeks ago to hear Kirk credit the success of his only three sophomores on the varsity squad to playing multiple sports and focusing on getting stronger. He didn’t rave about how they took batting practice 365 days of the year – or all the time they spent running cones. Versatility, athleticism, and strength were what differentiated them from their peers.

Third, kids need to move – and be taught how to move. Call me biased, but organized strength and conditioning settings are, in my opinion, the best way to provide young athletes with the favorable outcomes and fun through the inherent variety featured in any appropriate S&C program. You can train mobility, activation, strength, stability, reactive ability, sprint mechanics, you name it – all in a single session.

Fourth, I would like to see physicians become more proactive with encouraging young athletes to seek out effective training. Having communicated with some excellent physicians myself, I’ve come to realize that the best doctors know that their recommendations to young athletes go beyond simply protecting sutures. It is also about setting an athlete up for future health and success.

Fifth, those training young athletes have to not only get more in-tune with how to do it well, but also structure their business models to accommodate leveraging this knowledge. I can only speak to what I have practiced with Cressey Performance:

1. Grow slowly and hire extremely carefully.

2. Know every bit of each athlete’s health history.

3. Program individually.

4. Put young athletes in an environment in which they can thrive on each other’s energy.

5. Provide specific, quantifiable markers of progress to foster further motivation.

6. Communicate regularly with sport coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves.

7. Appreciate that young athletes are not simply smaller adults.

8. Recognize the imbalances inherent to particular sports.

9. Treat every athlete as if he/she is your own son/daughter (assuming you are not a psycho parent).

10. Keep it FUN.

Audio Interview with EC

About a month ago, I did a phone interview with Kaiser Serajuddin on the topic of the business of personal training. You can listen to it HERE.

Blog Updates

Maximum Strength: Working Around Equipment Limitations

Heavy Lifting to Wussy Music: Why Not?

Ignorance is Bliss

A special thanks goes out to Chris Poirier, the entire Perform Better staff, and all the attendees from this year’s PB Summits. Thanks for making them such great events!

I’ll be at the 2nd Annual Distinguished Lecture Series in Sports Medicine this Friday at Northeastern University – and hopefully have some newsletter tidbits for you from it next week. It’ll be nice to do the listening instead of the lecturing this time – although I may be available for guest shadow puppet and magic trick exhibitions in the lobby on request!

All the Best,


Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches
used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!


One Response to “Youth Sports Injuries”

  1. Tarek Makled Says:

    Hello, Eric!

    I am an avid follower of yours. I trust the information you put out there so I thank you for that.

    Right to the point: my younger brother(16 years old) plays baseball and football and is in a strength and conditioning class at his high school. I’ve seen how this class is ran because I went to the same high school and have seen it first hand. Testing consists of: standing broad jump, vertical jump, 20 yard sprint and a 1RM squat, bench, and deadlift. Based on my experience and what my brother has told me, there is little instruction regarding the elements you mentioned above(mobility, activation, strength, stability, reactive ability, sprint mechanics, etc.). Their 1RM is tested twice in the semester. I question the 1RM philosophy for athletes his age because it worries me that this is not conducive to long-term health. I mostly have issues with the risk/reward of the back squat and bench press. Sure enough, my brother came home today with a strained low back after putting 275 pounds on his shoulders. While I know this is not an absurdly high weight to squat but; to me, the risk of this test outweighs the reward, especially for people his age. Could you shed some light on when it is safe to use a 1RM test for youth athletes? Also, what is your opinion on the risk/reward of heavy back squatting and barbell bench pressing for athletes, in general?

    Thanks for reading. I hope to hear back from you.

    Tarek Makled

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series