Kids and Curveballs

We hear it all the time, "Kids should never throw curveballs!" The statement is gospel for most youth coaches, but how true is it? As a former college pitcher and high school pitching coach for the past five years in Broward County, I'm repeatedly asked at what age can a player throw a curve? I think a better question is how can we keep young arms healthy and still teach competitive pitches and ideas? Most injuries to pitchers occur from stress during muscle failure. Simply put, too many pitches without proper training and preparation. Add poorly constructed pitching mounds, the lack of mechanical training, and minimal recovery time to the equation and you have ripe opportunity for injury. First, it's important to distinguish the difference between a youngster's calender age and his biological age. I work with youth players from ages 8 to 18, and it's common to find a player that is physically bigger and stronger than his peers. The relative body size is a factor in determining the approach to arm care. The general rule is the larger the player, the more likely he is able to reach the high end pitch count totals without increased risk for injury. So, how many pitches should youngsters throw in a game? It's always important to remember that any pitcher whatever age increases his chances for injury when he continues to throw during muscle fatigue. Having said that, the following is a pitching chart produced by Baseball Prospectus, a baseball think tank, that is a useful guide in maintaining the health of pitchers:

Starting pitchers ages 9 - 12...............60 to 75 pitches per week at 15 to 20 per inning.

Starting pitchers ages 12 - 16...............75 to 90 pitches per week at 15 to 20 per inning.

Starting pitchers ages 17 - 21...............90 to 105 pitches per week at 15 to 20 per inning.

They recommend once pitch count totals are reached, no mound work should be performed for two to three days. Now we can begin to address the question of curveballs... (Next week, part two of "Kids and Curveballs")

My job is to give my team a chance to win.
..................................... Nolan Ryan