What can a committed youth player do in the off-season?
REST FROM THROWING - Safety experts recommend that youth pitchers abstain from throwing for 2-4 months per year. Especially for pitchers and those who throw a lot otherwise during multiple seasons, a self-imposed shut down is very important. Each player's schedule is different. But allowing the arm to recover from the repetitive stress of the season can prevent a serious injury years down the road.
PLAY ANOTHER SPORT - Playing other organized sports in the off-season is important for a few reasons:
- Decreases the mental burn-out players have if over exposed to one sport. When the spring rolls around, your player will be re-energized to play baseball or softball competitively again.
- Increased Athleticism - When playing other sports, you are working on body movements that are not generally trained in baseball or softball specifically, but will help with your overall play.
- Youth baseball and softball do not always provide enough aerobic exercise. They are sports of quickness and short bursts of power. Playing another sport during the off-season to stay in shape and develop core strength is great for young players.
- If a player sticks to one sport year round, they become robotic - they lose that natural ability to react and move during certain plays.
GET STRONG - Developing core strength and support for the joints most stressed by baseball and softball is important for players at any level. Winter is a good time to begin a training routine. Listed below is a brief example of such a routine young players can do on an every other day basis. (Always consult with a health professional before commencing any exercise program with your child.)
- Warm Up - get the blood flowing with a jog.
- Dynamic Stretching - stretching while moving - arm circles, walking lunges, etc.
- Core Exercises - for stability and power - push-ups, sit-ups, stomach crunches, crab walking, toe touches, leg lifts/hugs, etc.
- Resistance Bank/Elastic Tubing Exercises - A low stress way to strengthen the arm's support system, especially the shoulder muscles. Weak shoulders can lead to elbow injuries. Resistance bands are cheap, easy and effective.
- Squeeze a tennis ball with each hand. Start with sets of ten.
- Light Weight Training - You can also build strength with 2-3 lb. light dumbbell exercises.
- Static Stretching - "Stretch and hold" to regain lost range of motion. Flexibility helps avoid injuries and aids performance.
LEARN - You may have heard knowledge is power. Serious players should always strive to increase their knowledge of the game. It is true especially in baseball and softball. Think about game situations and where each player needs to be. Read instructional books and watch DVDs.
LEARN PROPER MECHANICS - The off-season is a good time to learn proper mechanics: how to swing correctly and eliminate individual flaws; how to pitch with mechanics that will increase velocity and help avoid injuries; and how to play specific defensive positions with the proper glove work, foot work, throwing mechanics and mental strategies.
- Stand in front of a mirror. Take twenty-five hard swings at an imaginary ball. Concentrate on maintaining sound mechanics.
- Swing a bat at an imaginary pitch and sprint twenty yards as if you were running to first base. Repeat five times.
- *Throw a ball as hard as you can into your glove. Take the ball out of the glove and get ready to throw. Start with one set, build up to five sets.
- *Make an overhand throw against a wall thirty to forty feet away. Field the rebound and throw again.
- Get in ready position on a base. Explode off the base. Drive strongly for at least five steps. Repeat five times.
*Save these exercises for late February/early March. As mentioned previously, it is recommended that players abstain from throwing for 2-4 months after the season ends.
PREPARE FOR THE SEASON - Once a player's shut-down period has ended - maybe around late February, early March - it's time to start throwing a little to get ready for the season. Gradually work up to a long toss routine to help increase velocity. Make sure to warm up properly with a job and some dynamic stretching before throwing. Players who wait and begin their throwing routine at the first team practice are usually the ones with sore or injured arms. Those who throw more often and get ready for the season arrive with stronger and healthier arms. Late February/March are also a good time to get some batting and position practice, and shake off the rust - especially if there is a tryout coming up.