Tuesday, September 07, 2010

How pushing a kid can push a kid out of sports

I was a guest on Bloomberg Radio last week. A few days later, I received this wonderful note from former minor-league player Phil Rosengren.

My name is Phil Rosengren and I am a former minor league pitcher. I'm now the trader for a small hedge fund in CT, but I stay involved in the game by giving pitching lessons to young ballplayers on weekends. I've encountered my share of crazy baseball dads, and I often find myself asking who is really the one invested in this training, the young pitcher or the dad.

I was fortunate to go to Northwestern University on a baseball scholarship, was later drafted by the Cleveland Indians and went on to play 7 years in the minor leagues. But it almost didn't happen. When I was 10 years old I quit Little League. I was always an athletic kid who loved sports, but I was sensitive, and overzealous coaches, parents and players had taken the fun out of the game. I got back into organized baseball when I was 13 thanks to some careful coaxing from my parents. This time I was ready, and my love for pitching drove me to excel. Had my parents forced me to keep playing when I was 10 there's a good chance I would have rebelled and never wanted to pick up a baseball again. This is a story I often relate to parents and young players, particularly when parents come to me freaking out that their son isn't throwing strikes, wanting me to turn their 10 or 11 year old son into the next Roger Clemens.

Another concern I share is the rise of injuries among young pitchers. I had Tommy John surgery myself as a minor leaguer (performed by Dr. Andrews), and I'm sure much of the damage to my elbow was done in high school - a combination of being overworked and under-conditioned. I was first diagnosed with a sprained ligament when I was 18, but with rehab I was able to pitch again for several years before it finally gave out. One of the reasons I work with young pitchers is to teach them proper mechanics, conditioning, and hopefully give them the best shot at staying healthy and enjoying success on the mound for years to come. The tragedy is that the young pitchers with the most talent/potential are often the ones at highest risk of injury. Unfortunately, the growing trends towards travel ball and kids pitching more and more games at younger ages has only made matters worse.

I feel most of the time parents and coaches have good intentions, but there's clearly a need for education about the dangers of competitive youth sports, particularly specialization at a young age (I went to high school in the mid '90's, just before this trend really took hold, and was lucky to be able to play 3 sports, imagine that!).

Thanks for sharing, Phil. I've added you to our honor roll for pro athletes, past and present, who speak up about youth sports gone awry.

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