Youth baseball is at a level of sophistication never imagined! It is an exciting time, as talented players are pushing one another at an early age. Instructors in pitching, catching and hitting are kept busy. Fast food restaurants, gas stations and travel agents are visited often. Teams travel to tournaments year-round (often cross-country) ? and all by the age of 10! Burnout is the term referred to by the baseball community as "overdoing it," a topic that has become more and more prevalent in recent years. There are two different types of burnout: Physical and Mental.
Physical Burnout is most commonly reflected by injury or fatigue. With the emergence of tournament/travel teams in the last 5 years, the level of dedication to baseball has increased to record highs. In order to keep up with the boy down the street, it seems necessary to play year round, on the best teams, with the best coaches. Often times, athletes will play with their local youth league on Saturday, and then join their travel ball team for a doubleheader on Sunday. "You only have so many bullets, save some for down the road."
While all of this is helpful in maximizing development for an 11-year old kid, it is our responsibility to keep an eye on the big picture? to maintain physical health and make sure that the tremendous benefits of advanced baseball are realized. One of my favorite lines is this: A young athlete will play in the biggest game of his life every year. Whether it's the Mustang Major league championship or the Memorial Day Tournament Final, each year represents the next big challenge. It's easy to understand how an athlete can become caught up in the hype and desire to throw 11 innings over 3 days. As parents and coaches, it is our duty to monitor our athlete's performance, ensuring that they experience the thrills of peak competition but more importantly maintain proper health and safety.
Pitcher's pitch counts should be monitored as well as their rest times. While keeping an athlete under a pitch count of 50 is a good idea, it is NOT okay to turn around and throw him the next day! Expect your athlete to tell you that he feels great and is ready to pitch. Then, be disciplined enough to value that athlete's future and hold true to your allowed pitch counts and rest times.
Mental burnout is an accumulated state where the game of baseball no longer excites a young athlete. It is difficult to see a case of Mental Burnout coming because athletes seem to enjoy the sport up until the very day when they realize the game is no longer fun for them. Typically, Mental Burnout is an overnight symptom caused by a lifelong condition: Too much baseball. It's tough to know how much baseball is too much baseball, but here are some keys to keeping baseball fresh and fun:
- Encourage your athlete to play multiple positions - Increases baseball IQ and offers consistent challenges
- Work when you work, play when you play - Train hard during baseball season, rest (mentally and physically) during the off-season
- Encourage your athlete to play multiple sports - Develops athleticism
- Allow your athlete to be a kid after leaving the field - Try not to bring too much home
Both types of burnout can prematurely end a baseball player's career. Lets do all that we can to ensure that the game of baseball remains fun, even amidst the pressures and excitement of top-level competition. Put your ego aside, and bring the future of today's youth to the forefront.
You can find information regarding pitch counts, rest times, coaching the pitcher's mind and all aspects of coaching the physical pitching motion in Lifeletics Instructional Manual: Coaching the Beginning Pitcher. Purchase information is available at the Lifeletics website - www.lifeletics.com