Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
The sports culture is a funny thing. We praise the “toughness” of players who play through pain while dismissing as wimps those who come out of a game because they’re hurting. Back in my day, in fact, the usual advice was “rub a little dirt on it” or “walk it off.”
Yet often that’s not a good idea. Pain is your body’s way of telling you “something is wrong, stop doing what you’re doing.” You ignore that advice from your own body at your own peril.
Coaches need to be aware of when pain goes from being the result of a little extra to the result of not stopping what you’re doing. They need to encourage their athletes to be honest and tell them when there’s a real problem. They also need their players to know that admitting to injury won’t automatically lead to them being on the bench – the Wally Pipp effect. (For those who don’t know who that is, Google it!)
While injury has always been a part of sports, it seems like it’s become even more common in the last few years. Part of the reason is that athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than they were in the past. While that’s helpful most of the time, it also puts more strain on their bodies.
Then there are some of the techniques that are used. Pitchers in particular may find that they pick up 3-4 mph using a particular technique. And since speed is always important, they’ll do it whether it makes biomechanical sense or not. Then there are those who are comfortable with their technique and thus don’t want to change it – even if their coach(es) warn them that it could lead to a serious injury.
In both cases, the focus is on short-term success rather than long-term health. Which is understandable since young people generally don’t like to take a long-term look at anything. And never have for that matter, even when Aristotle was a boy.
Even seemingly minor injuries can cause more problems than one might think. I remember being hit in the side of the knee once with a pitch. I was a pretty tough player, but that ball didn’t just hit my leg; it hit a nerve and I could barely walk. No one at the time could understand why I couldn’t continue, since it was just a HBP. But it took a couple of days before it felt right again.
It gets worse with other HBP locations. What do we teach our players on an inside pitch? Turn your back on it and protect the bat. Yet if struck just right, with enough velocity, a blow to the back can cause spleen problems that don’t show up until later. What starts out as painful can become much more serious quickly.
Now that we’re into fall ball, where practices are much more sporadic, it’s easy for players not playing another sport to fall out of conditioning. That can make them even more prone to injury.
Should an injury occur it’s important to take it seriously. Better to have the player sit out a practice or fall tournament to heal than tough it out now and risk making a bad situation worse down the road.
I’ve seen it happen with shoulder injuries in particular. What starts out as a little pain with overhand throwing quickly deteriorates into a labrum tear or a rotator cuff problem.
While it’s good to be able to play through muscle soreness or minor pain, it’s important for players and coaches to know the difference between that and something more serious. Few players go through their careers without a few bumps and bruises and scrapes along the way. You just want to be sure that career doesn’t get shortened or sidetracked because someone thought they should just “tough it out.”
Better to err on the side of caution. You don’t want someone’s biggest reminder of their playing days being a limp, or an inability to lift their child out of its crib.
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.