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FastSports Photography will be posting photos of some teams at some tournaments during 2015.  There will also be photos from some league games, especially those in the southern metro area.

If you are interested in having photos taken of your team at a league game or tournament, please contact FastSports Photography by using the comments section on FastSports.com!  Thanks!

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Shakopee's Neil Johnson Finalist for NHSACA Coach of the Year Honors

Neil Johnson

It is with great pleasure that the National High School Athletic Coaches Association announces the advancement of Neil Johnson from Shakopee High School as a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association national coach of the year in the sport of softball.

Eight finalists from across the nation will be honored during The National Coach of the Year Awards Banquet which will take place at the National High School Athletic Coaches Association's national convention at the Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester, MN on the evening of June 20, 2015.

The highlight of the banquet will be the naming of the NHSACA national coach of the year in nineteen recognized sports categories. Coach Johnson was selected for this national honor by the Minnesota State High School Softball Coaches Association.

This selection was based on longevity, service to high school athletics, honors, championship years, and winning percentage. The nominees and finalists are evaluated by experts in the field of coaching using a sport-specific rubrics to assign points in each category.

The National High School Athletic Coaches Association is the oldest coaches association in the nation formed by coaches, for coaches, and has been recognizing national coaches of the year since 1978.

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UMD'S Schmoll and Smith Among Top 10 Finalists for NFCA II Freshman of the Year

Schmoll Smith
Hanna Schmoll Becky Smith

University of Minnesota Duluth outfielder Hannah Schmoll and shortstop Becky Smith are among the Top 10 finalists for the inaugural National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II National Freshman of the Year award. The 10 honorees, which were pared down from an initial list of 25 finalists, hail from nine different universities and UMD was the only to school to produce two finalists. Schmoll and Smith are also the lone representatives from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Schmoll, a native of Grand Rapids, Minn., Schmoll paced the 2015 Bulldogs in hitting -- the first rookie to do so since 2000 (Sara Braiedy) -- with a .406 mark and also ranked first on the club in hits (78), runs (48), triples (2), on-base percentage (.427) and stolen bases (27-of-29). She also got on base in all but five of her 54 games and advanced runners a team-leading 59.2 percent of the time. In addition, Schmoll topped all NSIC freshmen in regular season batting average, hits and runs and pieced together hitting streaks of 17 and nine games during the course of the year.

Smith, a Long Lake, Minn. product, ranked first among Bulldogs in slugging percentage (.663) and fourth in hitting (.349) while establishing program single-season records for both RBIs (57) and doubles (22). During the regular season, she reigned as the NSIC rookie leader in a host of categories including in home runs, doubles, total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage. Smith, who belted 11 home runs (the second highest total on the club), also hit .403 with runners in scoring position and was one of just three Bulldogs to play in all 55 games this past spring. "This is a great and well-deserved honor for both Hannah and Becky," said UMD head coach Jen Banford. "These two young women have been leaders by example on the field and exemplify a great deal of character off the field. I'm very proud of them and look forward to watching their future successes."

The Top 3 finalists will be announced on May 14 and the NFCA Division II National Freshman of the Year trophy will be presented during a live ceremony on May 20 prior to the opening of the NCAA II Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla.

NFCA Division II National Freshman of the Year – Top 10 Finalists
Janessa Bassett-Dixie State-OF
Sydney Beuthien-Lubbock Christian-IF/OF
Carmen Byrd-Spring Hill College-2B
Morgan Dufour-St. Edwards-3B/SS/C
Brandy Marlett-Angelo State-RHP
Cailah Niles-Anderson (S.C.)-C
Emmie Robertson-Pittsburg State-RHP
Hannah Schmoll-UMD-OF
Allie Smith-West Texas A&M-DP
Becky Smith-UMD-SS

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Coaching the Parents: Accepting the truth about a child's sports skill (or lack thereof) can be tough

Baseball coach George Oleksik remembers telling the parent of one of his players that he couldn't help the boy land a college scholarship.

The young man had been an all-star youth player, but he didn't do much during his high school career.

Dad didn't see the current player and fixated on the early glory days. Oleksik felt obligated to speak the truth.

"I told him his son was hitting a 'Bingo number,' " Oleksik says, "O-68."

Oleksik played pro baseball for the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, reaching the AAA level there as a pitcher before getting into coaching, first at Boyd Buchanan, then as a head coach at Notre Dame High School, where he is currently an assistant.

He's dealt with all kinds of parents, including the ones he calls "delusional." Whether the player is male or female, there always seems to be at least one parent who believes his or her child is going to be a star if only the coach would play him or her more and in the right position. Anyone who has coached has dealt with overbearing parents.

Like the local high school mom who believed the basketball coach would pull her daughter from a game if she scored too many points to keep her average from outpacing other players. Forget the logic. That's what she thought.

Or the daddy who called the high school coach to discuss his son's recent case of what are known as the yips, the sudden loss of motor skills without explanation; in this case, the boy couldn't make a throw to first, sailing the ball into the dugout, over the fence, anywhere but the first baseman's glove. Backed into a corner by the dad, the coach finally said, "The problem is you. You put too much pressure on him constantly talking about baseball." After a long pause, the dad said, "Well, how are we going to deal with this?"

Or the mother who tried to argue that the reason her son doesn't pay attention during practices is because he isn't starting and playing every inning of every game. Again, logic doesn't come into play here.

There are mothers who get in the coach's face and complain that he needs to practice the kids for at least three hours a night -- her 9-year-old son needs it to get a college scholarship -- even though the coach must go by the league's rules on how long a team can practice.

Catherine Neely saw it all during her 50-year hall of fame career at East Ridge High School. (She's actually in eight halls, including the National High School Hall of Fame.) She coached volleyball and basketball primarily, but helped out with tennis and track when needed.

Her teams won state titles and more than 2,000 games and matches, so she knows a thing or two about coaching. Yet she was challenged more than a few times by parents who didn't like her handling of their child. It happened more often after college scholarship opportunities increased for girls when Title IX introduced gender equity into the college landscape in 1972.

"You have to try to get the parents to trust you and sometimes you just can't do that. I did try," Neely says. "It's tough.

"I usually just try to sit down with them and help them see where their child is as far as skills go. I even used film and tried to open their eyes. It's tough because they only see their child through their own eyes, and they think they are playing for a college scholarship."

More than a few times she offered to stay after practice to work on a player's shortcomings and instruct them on how to fix it. Too often, though, a parent believes the problem is with the coach and not the lack of hard work, or even innate ability, on the child's part. Her advice is for the kid to "to get a ball and get in a gym on their own."

"What's the saying? 'You get better when nobody is watching.'"

Spending money

Oleksik and several others who've coached in the Chattanooga area say part of the problem is that many parents today pay for private lessons, hoping their child will be good enough to land a college scholarship and then ... dare they even think it? ... a pro career. Those kinds of expectations and that kind of money add a new dynamic to the equation.

"It is really bad," Oleksik said. "Every parent wants to give their kid every opportunity to be good, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are good. If you are paying someone to coach your kid, they are going to tell you he is good to keep you coming back. If you are paying for an opinion, it's going to be a good one."

McCallie baseball coach Greg Payne takes it a step further.

"What I think is the biggest problem is their [parents'] sample is too small. They think if they have the best player at their school then he is a D1 [the highest college division in the NCAA] or pro prospect."

He says some parents further delude themselves by placing their child on teams that only play in tournaments they feel the team can win. "Trophy tournaments" he calls them. To truly gauge your child's likelihood of playing at the next level, you have to go where the best competition is, Payne contends. Being the best player on a weak team or in a weak league does not a superstar make.

To be truly good in baseball, for instance, "you've got to go to East Cobb [near Atlanta]," he says. "All the best are there, either playing for them or against them. People around here don't play in those (tournaments), but they say, 'Well, he was an all-star in so-and-so league.' You're comparing apples to oranges."

Changing attitudes

Dealing with delusional and sometimes hysterical parents is an area that the local soccer community has dealt with fairly well in recent years, says Girls Preparatory School coach Patrick Winecoff. His team won the school's first-ever state soccer title last year, but he's coached several travel teams of various ages over the last several years as well.

He says the shift with the soccer parents has occurred, in part, because of the formation of the Chattanooga Football Club, which essentially brought most of the local players under one umbrella. Having a larger player pool weakens the power of a demanding parent, he says.

"The leverage for parents has always been, 'Well, we just won't play or we'll go somewhere else.' Back in the day, we'd have enough players for one team of 16 players, so you had to keep everybody happy.

"Now, there is more or less one club and an A and a B [team] in every age. If parents aren't happy, we still try to help them and keep them happy, but if it gets to Defcon 5, it's not the end of the world."

Winecoff says the Chattanooga Football Club also tries to educate parents about proper contact with the coach through the package that parents get upon signing up their child. In that package is an explanation on what sorts of topics -- like playing time -- are taboo for parents to bring up to the coach.

"They understand they are not to come across the field after a match to talk to the coach. Wait a day. Plus, parents in general do understand the game a little better the last 15 years. It's not just 'Run, run, kick it.'"

Winecoff says he's also had the pleasure of dealing with "a lot of great parents who just want to support the team. They just hope their son or daughter improves in a game they love to play.

"It's awesome when you see a parent who is on the side of the team, win or lose. Those are the rule more than the exception."

Family affair

Payne coached at Gordon Lee High School in North Georgia before coming to McCallie, where his team, led in part by son Tyler "TP" Payne, won a state title in 2014.

TP is a senior this year and has signed to play collegiate ball at Lee University, which next year is transitioning up to the D2 level in NCAA athletics, rising from the lower level NAIA. When it appeared that TP might have the talent to play big-time baseball, his father took him to East Cobb as the boy headed into his 13-year-old season to try out for its top team, the Astros. TP made the team and later the 14-year-old team, starting 103 of 104 games before being cut.

Payne says TP graded out at nine out of a possible 10 on the East Cobb rating system, "but [at 155 pounds] he's not very big. He would be a low D1 prospect."

Payne adds that, when TP chose Lee, it hurt his ego to realize his son would not play at the D1 level, but the decision was TP's. He says he worked hard to separate Dad from Coach over the years and that, from the beginning, working on baseball had to be TP's idea. TP confirms that and says his father handled things right.

"I felt like he pushed me to be my best," the younger Payne says. "It always had to be my idea to hit baseballs. I had to ask him."

Once there, Coach Payne took over, however.

"If he was messing up or goofing off, we left," Payne says.

"Yep, that's true," TP concurs.

Life lessons

Another trend in youth sports is specialization, with kids choosing -- sometimes at the strong suggestion of their coach or parents -- to drop all other sports and focus on one year round.

But TP also was a wide receiver on McCallie's football team and says the game, and head coach Ralph Potter, gave him a different perspective on sports.

"It taught me about life and how to be tough mentally and physically," he says. "Baseball can't teach both. (Football) helped me a lot more than I thought. Ralph is not a fun coach. He's old school and he pushes you to get the best out of you he can."

It's fair to say Greg Dennis, baseball coach at Chattanooga State Community College, is also old-school. His sharp tongue and quick wit have humbled scores of players who needed a dose of reality over the years. He's also dealt with his share of delusional parents.

"Oh, you get the whole gamut," he says. "Parents living through their kids. Parents who are more passionate about it than the kid is. I had one in today for a visit. The dad did 75 percent of the talking. Talking for the kid, answering my questions for him. I'm sitting there thinking 'I'm supposed to be excited about this prospect?'"

Dennis has a simple method for dealing long-term with such helicopter parents.

"I avoid them at all costs."

By not signing players with the pushy parents, he eliminates multiple problems, he says, and not just on the playing field.

"Delusional parents are setting the child up for failure, and absolutely in the classroom and elsewhere. I don't think you turn that on and off. I don't think a parent can be delusional about them on the field and realistic about them in the classroom.

"And it's not going to be Mommy or Daddy out there when it's hot and we're running or when it's freezing in December."

Dennis, the father of three, says he understands how some parents feel so strongly about their child, but that doesn't make bad behavior right.

"It's tough. You're a father, too, and it's their child. It would be presumptuous of me to say something," he says. "They [the players] need to learn how to handle their own business and be involved in what they are truly passionate about. It is tough because it is personal stuff."

The car ride home

Payne likes to remind himself of a survey of college athletes done a few years ago in which they were asked what their favorite thing they'd ever been told by their parents was.

"The No. 1 answer was, 'I love to see you play.'" Their least favorite memory was "the car ride home." That's often where Mommy or Daddy fill the child with how good he is, how bad the coach is or how the child is not being treated fairly.

After decades in baseball, Oleksik has no problem remembering his favorite summer with the game.

"I was 10 and it was the first year of player pitching. The coach put numbers in a hat [1 through 9] and we all drew. Whatever number you picked was your position and where you hit in the batting order. It helped us learn all aspects of the game. That was my funnest summer in baseball."

Source: Times Free Press

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Life Lessons from a Youth Baseball Coach

Forget the competitive dads. To teach children about baseball--and life--a coach looks to their moms for help

In two decades of coaching youth baseball, John McCarthy has learned that dads often have trouble with the most important parts of the game. They're too competitive, he says, and too emotionally wrapped up in the success of their children. Dads don't want to hear why batting practice is more important than games. They don't want a lesson about how to bury their own egos or why they need to build up what he calls kids' "emotional software."

So Coach Mac, as he's known to thousands of ballplayers and their mover-and-shaker parents in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., often tries something different. He works on the moms.

For the past two Octobers, he has held a clinic for mothers to teach them how to hit, throw and catch--and to share his views on how to motivate young baseball players. The rest of the year, he plies his philosophy at his Homerun Baseball Camp, now entering its 22nd season. He describes his coaching style this way: "You will hustle, you will be on time, you will give 100% to the team today and we'll see how the game comes out."

At a time when parents worry if their children aren't as overscheduled as they are, when each season of sports or theater or community service is seen as a line on a future college application, Coach Mac's real lessons are about supporting emotional and physical development. "Good coaches are gardeners, and they grow human beings,"he says.

With three locations in the Washington area and one in Brooklyn, N.Y., his camps serve more than 350 children, ages 4 to 12, each week during the summer, with smaller groups the rest of the year.

The camps have taken off, in part, because Mr. McCarthy, 46, coaches life as much as baseball. His royal blue T-shirts trumpet, "Talent Is What You Have. Effort Is What You Give."He tells his charges that the five most important words in the English language are: "How can I help you?"He tells them to polish their shoes, because a neat uniform shows that you care.

He has found that moms take to his philosophy more naturally than dads do. "He focuses so much on the why of the game--on effort and sportsmanship and the pieces that are not about winning but will get you to winning,"said one mother, Jordan Lloyd Bookey, whose 5-year-old son is participating in baseball camp this spring.

"Dads want to raise a performer,"Mr. McCarthy said. "I've seen really good boys quit baseball because their relationship with their dad was almost all performance-based, and the kid was like ‘I don't want to do this anymore.' You never see that with moms."

His advice isn't always popular. He isn't a fan, for instance, of travel baseball teams--the competitive leagues favored by elite young players. The problem, in his view: The kids spend too much time getting to games and not enough in volume repetition to build their basic skills.

He also works to expose his players to the world beyond baseball. For a recent Saturday session, he had the jazz saxophonist Antonio Parker play the national anthem. But before that, he interviewed Mr. Parker about his craft and compared music to baseball. "Both are performance-based. Both are joy-based. Both are rhythm-based. And both are practice-based,"he said. Then he explained to his young charges the proper way to stand, hat in hand, heels together, while the anthem is played.

His camp sessions all begin with a morning meeting like this. The first time I witnessed it, my baseball-crazed son, Luke, had just turned 4 and was finally old enough for camp. He practically flew from the car to the field. With a little help, Luke climbed onto the bleachers and took his place with the others for the morning meeting. Coach Mac began pacing in front of them, a dozen or so coaches behind him. He then asked all of the coaches--mostly high school and college students--what they were reading.

The next day, Mr. McCarthy came back with a pile of books--including "The Power Broker,"Robert Caro's 1,344-page biography of New York's "master builder"Robert Moses--and handed them out to his coaches. The goal: to make sure the coaches, and campers, knew that he was interested in their minds as well as their bats. The next day, in a similarly edifying vein, Coach Mac extolled the health benefits of kale.

Luke wasn't sure what to make of it all, but he was entranced. Most moms are too.

Mr. McCarthy started the moms' clinic in 2013 at the suggestion of a camp mother who thought other women would benefit from learning the fundamentals of baseball. It grew to about 40 moms in 2014. He plans to hold it again this fall.

He also talks to parents before and after camp, particularly if a child is struggling. He will ask for help, for instance, if a child is having trouble listening or isn't putting in much effort. "He's sort of the antidote to the business of kids' sports and pressure,"said Tamara Smith, a mom who attended last fall's mom clinic.

Colleen McCarthy (no relation to the coach) remembers two years ago when her son Carlos, then 6, was benched for not paying attention. Later that summer, she said, he resolved to win "camper of the day,"and figured out that the honor always went to the camper who hustled, volunteered to help, encouraged his teammates and was kind to somebody having a bad day. He focused on doing all that and one day, he won. Coach Mac's philosophy "comes a lot more easily to me because I was never any good at sports,"Ms. McCarthy said. "I never expected to win."

Coach Mac was born in Washington and grew up across the street from Friendship Field, where he has run his camp as his full-time job since 1994. He played baseball in high school and college and, in 1992, signed with the Baltimore Orioles organization. After a few months pitching for their rookie league team in Sarasota, Fla., he was cut. He then came home to start his Homerun Baseball Camp.

As a player, Mr. McCarthy saw differences in how his parents responded to the ups and downs of his career. At the moms' clinic last fall, he told the story of one summer when he was 22, playing for a team in Utica, N.Y. He was having a terrific year, and his father, Colman McCarthy--a former newspaper columnist and peace educator--flew up from Washington one day to see him play.

"I had a very bad game. And after the game, outside in the parking lot, he's crying. Really sobbing,"he said. "I said, ‘Dad, look, it's a tough game…winning streaks end.' "

When Mr. McCarthy was cut from teams, he remembers his dad taking it "very hard."He was on a "roller coaster,"he said--up when his son did well, devastated when he didn't. His father was incredibly supportive, he adds, just emotionally invested in his success. His father agrees. "I think that's natural,"Colman McCarthy said. "I think that's part of fatherhood."

It was different with Coach Mac's mother, Mavourneen. If he was cut from a team, "my mom would say, ‘They just don't see what I see. There will be another team for you,' "he said. And when she visited the towns where he played, "she would say, ‘It's so beautiful here…and your teammates are so interesting.' I was like, really?"He laughed remembering the moment. "She would find the joy."

As for my own son Luke, I don't know how much longer he will play baseball. He's 5 now, and pretty soon he is going to realize that other players are bigger, stronger and better able to throw and catch. But I hope he's the best at trying his hardest, and at being kind to the player who's having a bad day. I hope he keeps finding the joy.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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The Elite Athlete's Mom

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The Consequences of Verbally Abusive Athletic Coaches

My 10-year-old son was bullied recently. He was told that he was an "embarrassment." He was told to "shut up." He was yelled at and scolded in a tone of voice tinged with disgust and disdain. He was told he would be punished for any mistakes he or his peers made in the future.

Surprisingly, this didn't happen at school. The bully wasn't even a peer of his. The bully was his swim coach, a young lady of perhaps 26. She was desperately trying to motivate her swimmers to swim fast in the big meet the next day. And this was her attempt at motivation.

In speaking to the lady in charge of the coaches on this swim team, it quickly became apparent that this type of "incentive" was not only okay with her, it was actually encouraged. She said that 9- and 10-year-old boys were "squirrelly" and "needed to be taken down a notch." She was in full support of her coaches yelling at, embarrassing and insulting young children to motivate them to swim faster. "That's just the way swimming is," she said. Had I not spent 12 years of my childhood swimming competitively, I may have believed her.

How Do I Know if My Coach Is a Bully?

To determine if a coach is a bully, you must first know what bullying behavior looks and feels like.

Bullying is aggressive behavior that occurs repeatedly over time in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying can take many forms, including physical violence, verbal abuse, social manipulation and attacks on property. Physical violence is not usually a component of a coaching relationship. If your coach is physically violent with an athlete, call the authorities.

Verbal and emotional abuse is much more common in athletics. It can lead to severe and long-lasting effects on the athlete's social and emotional development. In a world where "more is better" in terms of training and "no pain means no gain," there is a great deal of machismo in coaches. Most coaches coach the same way that they were coached while playing the sport growing up. This means that many coaches are still operating as if the training methods used in the Soviet Union in the 1970s are state of the art. "Ve vill deprive you of food until you win gold medal." Central to this old school mindset is the idea that threat, intimidation, fear, guilt, shame, and name-calling are all viable ways to push athletes to excel.

News flash: None of these is a worthwhile motivator for anyone. These are the bricks which line the road paved to burnout, rebellion and hatred of a once-loved sport.

What Does Verbal and Emotional Abuse Look Like in Athletics?

Usually, this involves a coach telling an athlete or making him or her feel that he or she is worthless, despised, inadequate, or valued only as a result of his or her athletic performance. Such messages are not conveyed merely with the spoken word. They are conveyed by tone of voice, body language, facial expression and withdrawal of physical or emotional support.

This is a large part of why bullying in athletics is so hard to quantify: A clear definition of bullying is somewhat elusive. Even if we can define it, as above, it's highly difficult to measure.

Bullying is partly defined by the athlete's subjective experience. In other words, if the athlete feels shamed, frightened, or anxious around the coach due to his or her constant shouting, name-calling or threatening, then the label "emotional abuse" is warranted.

How Widespread Is Bullying by Athletic Coaches?

There are no hard and fast figures on coaches who bully. In school, we know that 90 percent of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of some form of bullying at some point in their past. In a 2005 UCLA study, Jaana Juvonen found that nearly 50 percent of 6th graders reported being the victim of bullying in the preceding five-day period.

In general, boys are more physically aggressive (physical bullying), whereas girls rely more on social exclusion, teasing, and cliques (verbal or emotional bullying).

In 2006, Stuart Twemlow, MD gave an anonymous survey to 116 teachers at seven elementary schools, and found that 45 percent of teachers admitted to having bullied a student in the past. In the study, teacher bullying was defined as "using power to punish, manipulate, or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure."

Psychological research has debunked several myths associated with bullying, including one that states bullies usually are the most unpopular students in school. A 2000 study by psychologist Philip Rodkin, Ph.D and colleagues involving fourth- through sixth-grade boys found that highly aggressive boys may be among the most popular and socially connected children in elementary classrooms, as seen by their peers and teachers.

Another myth is that bullies are anxious and self-doubting individuals who bully to compensate for their low self-esteem. However, there is no support for such a view. Most bullies have average or better than average self-esteem. Many bullies are relatively popular and have "henchmen" who help with their bullying behaviors.

And so it is with the swim team that supports the coach's bullying. Bullying does not take place in a vacuum. There has to be an environment around bullying behavior which allows it and enables it to survive.

We know that bullying is rampant among children as well as adults. We know that 45 percent of teachers admit to having bullied a student in the past. On average, teachers have more training (1 to 2 years postgraduate) in areas such as child development and educational and motivational theories than the average youth athletic coach. So it appears safe to assume that teachers are less likely than the average coach to engage in bullying. Assuming that's the case, it seems safe to assume that roughly 45 to 50 percent of coaches have bullied an athlete in their past.

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, there are approximately 2.5 million adults in the United States each year who volunteer their time to coach. Using our tentative number of 50 percent would mean that there are roughly 1.25 million adult coaches who have bullied a child athlete in the past. And this number does not even take into account coaches who are paid for their services and who may be more likely to bully due to the pressures and expectations placed upon them.

Source:  Psych Central

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Should Pitchers Ice After Throwing to Prevent Shoulder Injuries?

Editors Note:  Fastsports.com and the editor of the the site make no claims on health related topics and feel it is best if parents of athletes consult with their family doctor or orthopedic doctor for the proper care of injuries, whether acute or chronic.  This article is added for your information and a topic that you may want to discuss with your physicians.

In a sport as rooted in tradition as baseball, some habits go back so far that nobody stops to think about whether they're actually useful. Phrases like "roll the wrists at contact" while hitting, or the idea that baseball players should not lift weights, are total nonsense but still get thrown around on a regular basis.

So what about one of baseball's most sacred traditions--using ice after throwing? At almost every game, from Little League to the Major Leagues, you'll see a pitcher in the dugout, wrapped up like a mummy with an Antarctica-sized chunk of ice on his shoulder after he's done throwing.

Countless pitchers have been icing their arms and shoulders for ages. But does it actually work? Or is it just a myth like Babe Ruth calling his home run shot?

An understanding of how the body works--plus a glance at the scientific research--should put this myth to bed for good.

What Happens When Pitchers Ice

When you throw, you damage the muscles involved, all the way from the forearm to the lower body. Muscle damage results in soreness, often brought on by chemical byproducts that build up during intense muscle contractions. Soreness is uncomfortable, and naturally, pitchers want to do something about it. So they ice.

Ice feels good (kind of). It numbs the sore area, shutting off communication between the muscle and the nerves. This is great for temporarily reducing pain, but not so great for the healing process.

When you ice, blood quickly rushes to the cold area to raise the temperature on the surface of the skin. Blood is good--we want blood to go to the injured area because blood brings healing nutrients. But there's a problem. Leave the ice on the area and you close up the blood vessels, trapping blood and waste products at the injured site. You may numb the area and reduce pain, but that doesn't mean you're healing the injured tissue.

People use ice, hoping to reduce inflammation, but in reality, icing only delays the inflammatory response. As soon as you take the ice away, blood rushes back to the area and inflammation ramps up again.

The Truth About Inflammation

Isn't inflammation bad? Don't we want to get rid of it as fast as possible?

Hold on. Inflammation is part of the natural healing process and a normal function of our immune system. We can't repair our muscles and tissues without it. Open any biology textbook and you'll read that inflammation is actually good because it protects the injured area, bringing antibodies, white blood cells and other substances to the site to speed up healing and kill invading particles.

Swelling isn't the problem. The problem is lingering waste products as a result of injury. These waste products need to be washed away by driving fluid into the area and flushing waste away using the lymphatic system, a part of the circulatory system that sucks up waste and debris for removal. The lymphatic system carries lymph, a clear fluid derived from the plasma in the blood. Junk from the injured site gets sucked into the lymph and carried away for removal. The system works via the muscle pump mechanism, which literally means muscles squeeze the lymphatic vessels to move the fluid inside them, much like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Icing literally freezes the lymphatic system in its tracks, preventing it from kick-starting the healing process.

A 2013 study found 15 minutes of icing immediately after intense exercise and three, 24, 48 and 72 hours after exercise not only didn't speed recovery--it made it worse.

Icing, Recovery and Performance

Many studies have tried to determine whether and how icing impacts performance and recovery. Bad news for ice--the results don't look good.

A 2013 study found 15 minutes of icing immediately after intense exercise and three, 24, 48 and 72 hours after exercise not only didn't speed recovery--it made it worse. This study looked at eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage, the same kind of damage that occurs to the muscles while pitching.

Icing is usually applied after a pitcher is finished throwing, but some athletes use cold therapy between bouts of exercise to increase performance. The research is split on this one, with some studies showing that cold therapy helps and others showing it hurts performance.

A study at the University of Alabama looked at the use of cold therapy on pitchers' elbows and shoulders between innings of a simulated game and how it affected pitching velocity. Interestingly, researchers found cold therapy actually increased pitching velocity, but only by about 1.3 miles per hour. It's a small difference, and only eight pitchers were studied, so there's no reason to start icing between innings to bump up your fastball.

What to Do Instead?

The point isn't that ice is totally bad or that you should never ice after throwing. But icing may not be the miracle cure it was once thought to be. There are other ways to speed up recovery without disrupting the natural healing process.

Light activity/exercise. The lymphatic system is triggered by muscular movement. Light exercise such as mobility work, dynamic stretching, weight lifting or foam rolling can improve healing and reduce soreness.

Proper nutrition. You can manage chronic inflammation with a proper diet. Foods like olive oil, fruits, vegetables and fish have been shown to reduce inflammation, while processed foods high in sugar and trans fat make inflammation worse. Cleaning up your diet may help you recover faster after throwing, without the need for ice.

Sleep. Not surprisingly, getting plenty of sleep will help recovery. Cortisol, a hormone that regulates inflammation and can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, is lowest during deep sleep. Growth hormone production also spikes during sleep, which increases protein synthesis and speeds healing.

The Stone Cold Truth

It's hard to argue with the science. Icing just isn't the magic healer we once thought it was. That doesn't mean you should ditch it completely. If a doctor or athletic trainer recommends ice to treat an injury, listen to that advice. But, don't be afraid to ask "Why?" They should understand the science behind icing and be able to explain why icing is the right choice for your situation.

None of us have Wolverine healing powers. We have to do everything we can to recover from games and workouts so we can play and perform at our best. When choosing a recovery method, think twice before you ice.

References

Adam, K., and I. Oswald. "Sleep Helps Healing." British Medical Journal, 289.6456 (1984): 1400-401.

Basu, A., S. Devaraj, and I. Jialal. "Dietary Factors That Promote or Retard Inflammation." Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 26.5 (2006): 995-1001.

Bishop, Stacy, Robert Herron, Gregory Ryan, Charles Katica, and Phillip Bishop. "The Effect Of Intermittent Arm And Shoulder Cooling On Baseball Pitching Velocity." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, E Pub Ahead of Print (2014).

Crowe, M., D. O'Connor, and D. Rudd. "Cold Water Recovery Reduces Anaerobic Performance." International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28.12 (2007): 994-98.

Kwon, Young S., Robert A. Robergs, and Suzanne M. Schneider. "Effect of Local Cooling on Short-Term, Intense Exercise." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27.7 (2013): 2046-054.

Tseng, Ching-Yu, Jo-Ping Lee, Yung-Shen Tsai, Shin-Da Lee, Chung-Lan Kao, Te-Chih Liu, Cheng- Hsiu Lai, M. Brennan Harris, and Chia-Hua Kuo. "Topical Cooling (Icing) Delays Recovery From Eccentric Exercise--Induced Muscle Damage." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27.5 (2013): 1354-361.

Source: Stack.com

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