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Help children prepare for a healthy baseball or softball season

The crack of the bat, the cheer of the crowd — baseball season is here. Most children are eager to get back in the game after the long fall and winter hiatus. Preparing properly can help young players improve their game and stay healthy throughout the season.

Before beginning training for baseball, softball or any sport, parents can help their children lay the right groundwork:

▪ Get a medical checkup for the child, even if it is not required by the league. The doctor can make sure the child is in good health and evaluate how any chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, can impact sports participation.

▪ Make sure all protective gear is in working order and appropriately sized. Consider sport glasses if the child needs corrective lenses.

▪ Serve nutritious, balanced meals and snacks that will fuel the young athlete’s body for the coming season. Fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates should be part of their daily diet.

▪ Allow time for a good night’s sleep to provide energy for the next day’s activities.

Start in the backyard

The early years of T-ball and developmental baseball and softball leagues involve gentle physical activity that is easy on a child’s growing body. Coaches often do the pitching, players learn how to throw and bat and physical exertion is limited to running around the bases. Most young children are physically ready to have fun beginning with the first practice.

By the time kids reach adolescence, playing in school and community leagues involves more physical activity, and at a higher level of performance. That means they need to be physically fit before they jump into demanding spring training.

Children who played basketball, volleyball or another sport over the winter probably maintained their overall fitness levels. Those who were less active during the colder months will benefit from a gradual increase in activity in advance of spring baseball or softball training.

It’s a good idea to start “pre-training” at home, several weeks before the first team practice. Both parent and child can benefit from working together on overall fitness and sport-specific conditioning:

▪ Develop a stretching routine to increase circulation and range-of-motion. Warm up for five or 10 minutes before stretching.

▪ Play relaxed games of catch, working up to pitching practice. Both intensity and volume should increase gradually over time.

▪ Jog first, then run. Build up both speed and the number of running drills over time.

▪ Hit short, to specific targets. Work up to hitting long and hard.

Parents and coaches need to make sure young players understand the importance of proper technique. From pitching to sliding into bases, learning the right technique does more than improve performance; it also helps protect the player from both sudden and long-term injuries.

Beginning with spring training and continuing throughout the season, parents should watch for signs of overtraining, especially for children who pitch. Persistent muscle soreness, sharp pain and excessive fatigue are all warnings from the body that too much is being asked of it. This is especially important if a child plays in more than one league, since individual coaches might not be aware of how much he or she is playing over the course of a week.

Ignoring pain can lead to more serious injury. Pain can cause a player to change throwing or running mechanics, often without realizing it, making the child more susceptible to injury. If a parent or coach is concerned about pain or possible injury, it’s better to be cautious and make an appointment for a medical professional to examine the child.

Home run for health

Participation in baseball, softball and other sports helps children learn teamwork, advance their skills and improve their overall physical condition. By preparing properly for the coming season, a child can enjoy all these benefits — plus the fun of the game — while staying in good health.

Philip Bosha, MD, is a primary care and sports medicine physician with Penn State Sports Medicine.