Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A child's sports injury and the blame game

One question I'm getting a lot as I do the book-talk thing around the country in support of Until It Hurts is: Why do you blame yourself? It's a reference to Ben's elbow injury, a classic case of overuse, and our family decision for him to undergo Tommy John surgery so that he could return to baseball.

I do flog myself a bit in Until It Hurts, mostly for falling in like with his pitching arm when he was a rec league phenom (I was his coach). I also point a finger at myself in a piece about a father's pride and a kid's injury that I wrote last month for the New York Times.

The last thing I want is to turn this into a pity party for the author. The hope is for our family story to be seen as a cautionary tale, one that might alert parents to the real and present danger of overuse injuries. Many of us are pretty clueless when it comes to connecting the dots between a child who's overdoing it and the serious injuries - stress fractures, growth-plate injuries, in my son's case, ruptured tendons - that occur three to five years down the road.

I remember chatting about this with Lyle Micheli, a prominent sports doc who started the first clinic for kids with sports injuries at Children's Hospital in Boston. I asked Dr. Micheli if parents generally understood the role they played in a child's overuse injury.

"In the majority of the cases, the parents do not feel responsible. In retrospect, some will say, 'Maybe he was doing too much.' But it is very rare for parents to say, "It was our fault. We pushed too hard."

So, once a kid is injured, do parents accept Micheli's advice to dial down the intensity?

"To the extent they think it will make the kid better and get him back to his sport, yes," he told me. "And by the way, they want the right answer from me. Which is [one that returns a child] to playing as soon as possible."

Sure. Yet most of us wouldn't think of letting our kids ride a bike without a helmet. Go figure.


Kirk Mango said...

I was on the complete opposite side of the coin on this. Safety first. I noticed my daughter starting to play soccer on her club team (in 8th grade) with what I call reckless abandon. I explained to her one day that if she was going to continue to play like that she really should spend some time doing some functional injury prevention type conditioning. She was left to make her own choice, which was to just continue what she was doing - no preventative training. Two years later, sophomore year in HS, she tore her ACL. It took a good 6 months to come back from that and a year for her to reach her old competitive form. As a parent I wanted to make sure the decision to stay playing this level soccer was hers and no one else’s so we made it a requirement that if she wanted to continue playing she had to invest a % of her own money to continue to travel and play club. We placed some ownership for her sports participation with her. The thinking here is that for her to want to do this she must really want to play. Especially after having to go through all the rehab. She decided to continue playing and pay her %.

Fast forward to her Senior year and she hurts her ankle. It is a semi-minor injury but it puts her in a boot for 6 weeks. She went through some basic rehab and was cleared. I explained to her that even though she was released the fact that she was in a boot and inactive for so long that it would be best for her to continue to strengthen her ankle until it reached the same level as her other foot. She, again, decided this was unnecessary and in the beginning of her high school season went to kick a loose ball that the goalie was charging at and caught that ankle against the ball and the goalie.

Serious injury again, blew her ankle. Doctors could not believe that she tore all her ligaments without breaking the bone. They said the bone always breaks before there is this much damage. It was obvious that the musculature that supported her ankle was not strong enough.

My point with all of this is, no matter what you try to do as a parent, it is the choices of the young athlete that many times will determine their fate both positively and/or negatively.

Laura said...

Congratulations on your book! I'll be sure to get a copy. My husband and I have built our business based on a passion for helping youth baseball players train for both performance and injury prevention. My husband's experience with an arm injury in college drove his desire to do what he could to prevent our sons from having the same fate in their baseball pursuits. They are both college pitchers now.

As we learned more about sports-specific conditioning, we decided to open our academy five years ago to benefit other baseball families. We sell DVDs for shoulder and elbow care on our website They are the product of work we did with a trainer who works with professional baseball players and PGA Tour golfers.

My desire to share what I have learned with future generations of sports parents has motivated me to work on my own site, which I am currently recreating.

I hope to hear of a successful recovery for your son, and I look forward to reading your book.

Cal said...

I recommend anyone with a child who throws a baseball look at this video of Dr. Mike Marshall's methods for pitching and throwing a baseball:

The guy in the video was just signed by the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be interesting if he is given a chance to truly succeed. If he does, a lot of pitching coaches will be out of a job. But pitching arm injuries will be eliminated, as well as back, knee, and hip injuries.

This is not your grandfather's pitching motion.

Cal said...

Well, I should have checked before I wrote my previous post. The Cards released Mike Marshall's pitcher after he gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings.

It is not a secret that Dave Duncan, the Cardinals pitching coach, is not a fan of Mike Marshall. Especially when Marshall criticizes major league pitching coaches that they don't anything about what causes injuries.

I just think it's unfair because the guy hadn't pitched professionally since '05 and the Cards sent him to Double A. But yet I'm sure there will many pitching injuries throughout their organization, as well as all the other MLB teams.

As they say, "if at first you don't succeed"...