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Safe Conditioning for Younger Athletes


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Tim Meadows cares about winning baseball games as a coach, but he knows there’s only so much he can do with a younger player. The former collegiate baseball player said he can teach a Little League player to throw a perfect curveball and strike out any other kid that age. But he doesn’t want to win at the expense of ruining a child’s arm.

“You have to remember that you’re working with young kids who have underdeveloped bodies,” said Meadows, a former Louisiana Tech catcher who had a brief stint coaching at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. “The idea I try to preach with other coaches and other parents is that kids are constantly growing, changing and evolving.

“Everything we do is teaching the right way to do it so when they stop growing, they know what they’re doing.”

Keeping young players safe over a long season — and thus keeping them on a trajectory to keep improving over the long term — is the coach’s No. 1 priority. Meadows now coaches his son’s 10-year-old Little League team in the greater Houston area. He said whether he’s working on pitching, hitting or conditioning, the key is teaching the game and its fundamentals first.

“I can teach a 10-year-old to throw a curveball right now and make it work, but it won’t be consistent when he’s 18,” Meadows said. “His body structure will be different, and he can accommodate that stress better when he gets older.”

The goal for young pitchers is getting them to throw nothing but fastballs, which helps them get their command down. Pitchers should learn to throw fastballs at various speeds but consistently work the strike zone, or their spots.

As a pitcher becomes more developed, then he can work on breaking pitches to complement the fastball. But even as a pitcher gets older, the really good ones know how to rely on their fastballs.

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As for conditioning, it’s not always necessary to have kids running long distance. Sometimes it’s better to work on short bursts and sprints.

“I might be one of the only coaches around who doesn’t send their kids running laps around the field,” Meadows said. “My conditioning plan doesn’t include a mile, because baseball players never run that much at one time.”

They do run quick sprints where they may need to stop on a dime, so shuttle runs and sprints with stop and go measures help a young runner with their explosiveness. The coach said one drill he uses is for kids to start into a full sprint and then stop as soon as possible when he gives the order.

Learning to run at a younger level can help build twitch muscles in the knees and hamstrings to prevent possible injuries as the body gets older, Meadows said.

“I’ve seen guys in high school, and even college, who didn’t train right when they were younger, and they wound up pulling their hamstrings or their quads,” he said.

And for the year-round baseball player, Meadows said don’t do it year round. Let kids be kids.

“We lay off of it completely for three solid months,” Meadows said. “We barely even pick up a ball during that time.”

So let kids be kids, enjoy their youth and learn things the right way before ruining their love of the game — or their growing bodies.

From GameChanger and Scott McDonald.

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