Overuse — Abuse?

Lack of Concern for High School Softball Pitchers— Overuse or Abuse?

The 2016 Indiana High School season is upon us. Many athletes are excited…it’s a great honor to play for your school and community—an Indiana tradition. However, over the years I have noticed a trend regarding our pitchers after the high school season.

Many parents’ greatest fear is the traumatic injury that can occur when a pitcher gets hit with a batted ball. In fact, traumatic injuries are less frequent than overuse injuries, and research has shown that the most important risk factor for injury is the number of pitches thrown. If we really want to protect our pitchers and daughters, we must first acknowledge the problem of overuse exists, identify the practices that lead to harm, begin to work together to devise a solution, and then demand the same protection for our daughters that our sons already receive. Let us examine the current differences IHSAA has put in place and then the consequences of these actions.

Baseball Rules and Regulations

A regulation season game consists of 7 innings unless extended because of a tie score or unless shortened during innings 5, 6 or 7 because the home team needs none of its half of the 7th inning or only a fraction of it; or because of weather, darkness or similar conditions. A regulation tournament game consists of 7 innings unless extended because of a tie score.

Pitching Limitations (Baseball Only)

  • A pitcher may not pitch more than 10 innings in any 3 consecutive calendar days.
  • To determine the eligible number of innings for a pitcher on a given day, total the number of innings pitched during the 2 previous calendar days and subtract from ten. A partial inning pitched must be counted as 1 inning.

Softball Rules and Regulations

A regulation varsity game consists of 7 innings unless extended because of a tie score or unless shortened during innings 5, 6 or 7 because the home team needs none of its half of the 7th inning or only a fraction of it; or because of weather, darkness, or similar conditions. A regulation tournament game consists of 7 innings unless extended because of a tie score.

  • Pitching Limitations (Softball Only)
  • NONE

IHSAA Pitching Leaders for Spring 2015 Softball vs. Baseball IP

  • Softball 184.2 IP in 32 Games Played
  • Baseball 91.1 IP in 29 Games Played

top 10 softball pitching innings indiana spring 2015top 10 baseball pitching innings spring 2015

IHSAA Pitching Leaders for Spring 2015 Softball vs. Baseball BF

  • Softball 856 Batters Faced in 28 Games Played
  • Baseball 406 Batters Faced in 29 Games Played

Softball Batters Faced Spring 2015Baseball Batters Faced Sping 2015

Things to Consider:

  • Indiana High school baseball and softball games are both 7 innings. The season is the same length. The same number of games are played.
  • High school softball pitchers carry twice the load period.
  • Innings pitched do not include pitch count, which is the data needed to start preventing overuse injury.
  • A better indication of pitch count is batters faced, and even then softball pitchers face twice as many batters.

Although only the leaders were mentioned and only the 2015 season, you can do a quick search and see the trends are the same as you move down the list for several seasons.

Contributing Factors Of Overuse Injuries in High School Softball Pitchers in Indiana:

No pitching limitations from either IHSAA or individual schools, coaches, parents, or players themselves.
This differs from limitations set for high school baseball players. We protect our sons but
not our daughters.

Length of games and seasons, reduced rest time.
Many games are cancelled in the first part of the spring due to unplayable conditions. Rather than leaving them cancelled, schools and coaches opt to reschedule on much needed practice or rest days for pitchers. It is not uncommon for teams to play 7 games in a week, which means pitchers have no rest or recovery time. These games consist of 7 innings with no game clock, and can last for many hours. In addition, to keep up with their academic load, athletes also tend to function on little or no sleep, increasing their risk of injury.

Where Does the Change Start?

We need to implement a ground-up approach that includes both parents and players. Over the years, I have begged parents to take a stand for the abuse (yes, ABUSE) their daughters endure while pitching a high school season. Fearful of losing time on the mound or being seen as a problem family, they stay silent.

We must communicate our concerns of overuse. If a player is in pain, she has the right to say “no” without consequences. In my experience, parents accept the fact that their daughters can—and should—be a part of a rotation. But when it is game time they have no self-control. Ultimately, we as parents are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting our children—we are in our lawful rights to do so, and in the eyes of the law, we are ultimately accountable for any abuse. Just because this type of practice and behavior is common and has been the norm does not mean it is correct and safe. This is an especially timely argument as more information comes to light about head injuries and concussions in football.

Repetitive injury is a concern in all sports but is an epidemic in ours. I urge you to talk with your coach and express your concerns about overuse injury. Work with your daughters’ coaches to create a game plan for the season.

Advice for Coaches:

Remember parents have trusted you with their children, and even if your team drops a couple of games in the regular season as a result of your decisions, you are doing what is morally correct and ethical. Ultimately, you are doing what is best for the game.

Invest your time outside of season. Move your middle school programs to the fall and limit the number of games you play in the spring. Don’t cram in all the cancelled games—give your pitchers the time they need to rest. This will grant you the much-needed time to practice and continue to improve your entire team throughout the season.

Communicate with community travel ball coaches, and softball leagues, and work together. Yes, there are many IHSAA limitations forced upon you that prevent you from reaching out and knowing your athletes once they reach high school, but that is why you should get to know your players and their other coaches when they are young. Get out there and make your expertise free and accessible for those who cannot afford private lessons.

Try to let go of the mind-set that a pitcher does it all, and she has to do it all, all the time. Yes, pitchers are an integral part of the team, but give them the support they need on and off the field—build an army of pitchers (and a killer defense) to spread out the physical and emotional strain. Don’t be the reason your star pitcher can’t lift her arm over her head when she is in her 30s or has to have three surgeries before she is 25. You control the line-up. Self impose a proper policy, hold your ground, and learn to say “no.” Some parents want to see their kid on the mound every single inning of every single game and don’t have the depth or discipline to see the big picture. More than likely, you will receive pressure from them: this is your opportunity to show how much you care. Hold your ground and lead by example. Do what is right!

Considerations for Athletic Directors, IHSAA, and NFHS:

To start the IHSAA and NFHS should simply insert the same pitching limitations to softball as are in place for baseball. Even then we do not know if this is enough. Use your reaching resources to aid in the collection of data and make the data accessible to the public. Show equal commitment and concern when passing down regulations regardless of gender.

Athletic Directors should encourage their coaches to self-impose pitching limitations, or create an internal departmental/school policy. Consider the safety of the pitchers when scheduling or rescheduling games. Do your teams have the number of pitchers to carry the seasonal load safely? If not what can be done by your administration to protect the limited pitchers you have?

There is very little data available regarding chronic/overuse injuries in fastpitch softball. Is it possible to begin to collect your own data, namely regarding pitch counts, through sports information resources? Innings pitched do not tell the whole story. Batters faced give us a better picture of the amount of pitches thrown, but this still does not give us exact numbers.

Support your coaches who understand the need to rest and protect their pitchers, even when the pitchers or parents of pitchers may not understand.

Move Season to the Fall

According to the regional breakdown of total injuries, the warmer regions (West and South) had fewer injuries than the colder regions (Midwest and East). These results show that colder climates could possibly create an environment that has a higher risk for injury development. When tight muscles try to perform in cold temperatures, they are more susceptible to muscle-tendon strains and pulls.

In addition, stretching should remain a large component of training—especially during colder seasons. A reported 125 out of at least 159 pitchers that weight train do the same strength program as the rest of their team. This raises some concern, because pitchers use entirely different body movements than other players. Therefore, they should consider using bands and other strength training exercises that are pitcher-specific, rather than all free weights or lifting machines.

Moving the season to the fall would give us warmer weather and also allow coaches to prepare their teams outside. Coaches and players need a proper pre-season together and in the environment where they compete. Can you imagine a High School basketball team trying to prepare for their season without a gym? Some coaches may get on the field once before they play their first game.

High school softball is not the sole contributor to this epidemic of preventable abuse: we also need to examine the common practices of the private sector. But, because of the sheer amount of games, the start dates and length of the season, and the lack of rest time during the season, high school softball damages our pitchers more so than the typical weekend tournament.

I believe the IHSAA, our administrators, our teachers, and high school coaches are vital to leading the way toward making real, long-term change. I know that, ultimately, they have the players best interests at heart, and making a few simple changes would make all the difference to your daughters’ safety. Playing on a high school softball team is a great honor and privilege, and we encourage all of our athletes to do so.

From all of us at SoftballOne, we want to wish all IHSAA softball players good luck in their upcoming spring season, and we pray for a healthy, successful, and injury free season for everyone. Visit our website at www.softballone.com for more resources and answers to questions. Please feel free to contact us as well on Facebook.

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