With spring baseball season coming up and kids ready to play ball, there is a lot of excitement for young players. Just like winning takes a full team effort, baseball safety needs players, coaches, officials, and families all working together to keep kids safe.
Baseball Safety: Before taking the field
Before children step on the field, some important preparation can help coaches better understand and serve their athletes.
- Kids with medical issues (asthma, diabetes, sting allergies) can best participate when they have action plans developed by medical providers that list key medications and how to respond to emergencies. Make sure that both the action plan and medications are at all games/practices and can be easily found and put into use.
- Encourage parents and coaches to learn basic first aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). First aid is more likely to be used on-field with players, while CPR might be more needed for spectators (grandparents) or even in non-sports situations.
- Stock (and restock) first aid kits with items such as gloves, gauze pads, and bandages. The kits should always be readily accessible to coaches and team parents.
- Before every practice or game, check the field for any rocks or holes that could cause injury or create a bad hop that goes by the shortstop. Inspect fences for any sharp edges. Warn players about any lack of warning tracks if going for deep flies or foul balls.
Baseball Safety: Responding to an injury
While you hope that injuries won’t happen, it is best to have a plan in place that covers:
- Who will evaluate the injured player and who will stay with the rest of the players?
- Who brings the first aid kit or who will be calling family if they are not at the field?
- If a 911 call is needed, who will make the call and who goes into the parking lot to guide the medics to the field?
- Which league officials need to be notified and what paperwork needs to be filled out?
- Who will stop a nosebleed from a bad hop or find a chipped tooth from a collision at first base?
Baseball Safety: Ball and bat control
There is not a more terrifying sight than multiple kids swinging bats in the dugout or several balls coming to the coach who just yelled “balls in”. All players and coaches must be aware of swinging bats and flying balls and know how many balls are live on the field.
Coaches should teach kids:
- To make sure the targeted player is ready before throwing the ball.
- Only one player should be swinging a bat at any time. This means no swinging of bats in dugout or on-deck circle in lower-level baseball.
Parents and coaches should use close supervision with bat use in and around batting cages.
To further protect players:
- Batting helmets should be required for any kid swinging a bat, running bases, or base coaching.
- Base coaches should not hesitate to move toward the dugout or down the foul line. This is especially important if a strong kid who swings early/late is up to bat.
- Dugout fences should be high enough to protect players from foul balls or errant throws.
- Ensure all gates are shut during play.
- Realize that no fence or helmet can provide full protection. Teach all players to be alert and always keep eyes on the field.
Baseball Safety: Teaching the running game
Using breakaway bases for sliding practice can help keep kids safe on the base paths. Coaches should not encourage or allow head-first sliding in younger players. It is better for shins and feet to use running shoes in place of cleats for outfield conditioning and running drills.
Baseball Safety: Concussions
A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury that can come from a hit to the head or body, or even from a whiplash motion of the neck. Kids do not need to be “knocked out” to have a concussion. Common causes include fly balls lost in the sun, foul tips, bad hops, line drives, and collisions. Signs of a concussion may include headaches, dizziness, problems with sunlight, vomiting, or acting out of character. This is where knowing your kids is key. Immediately remove from all activity any players who has changes in behavior or any sign or symptom of concern (when in doubt, sit them out). Good practice (and many state laws) requires medical evaluation and not allowing return to play until all signs and symptoms are gone. There is also a multi-step return to play process that can take several days to complete.
Baseball Safety: Warming up, stretching and cooling down
Unlike what most of us were probably taught, stretching is thought to be best done after a 3–5-minute warm up running/agility drills or even at the end of practice.
Warming up to throw starts with short-toss, then long-toss with an arc, then finally longer throws on a line. This should be done before and even during games for players coming in as defensive replacements. Pitchers can do this before starting to do warm-up throws from the mound. It is best not to bring in relief pitchers cold. Sending relief pitchers to the bullpen earlier in the defensive inning or while the team is batting gives them a better warm-up.
It is also important not to leave the field without an appropriate cool down. Use the same stretches and include light running for 3-5 minutes.
Baseball Safety: Protecting shoulders and elbows
At times it seems that all baseball players have shoulder and elbow pain, especially in the early-season when players are getting into shape or late-season when fatigue kicks in.
Using buckets can help protect young arms. Have kids field balls and drop them in a bucket instead of making excessive repetitive throws longer throws (outfield to home).
When do you determine that shoulder or elbow pain is a bigger problem that needs medical help?
Ideally, there should be no pain before, during or after throwing. No one will fault you for having a kid get seen with any type of pain. I particularly worry about any pain that can be located with just a fingertip. Pain “all around the elbow” is one level of worry but being able to use a fingertip to point out exact site of pain on inside of elbow does amp up concern.
Baseball Safety: Protecting pitchers
For pitchers, there are recommended maximum daily pitch counts and rests days from pitching between outings. Below are age-appropriate guidelines. Now, pitch counts work best if everyone is following them, but don’t be a slave to just pitch counts to determine when to pull a pitcher. Kids shaking their arm, walking around the mound between pitches, dropping elbows or getting lit up are all signs of arm fatigue. Tired arms often lead to injuries – so take tired pitchers out before more serious arm problems and tired outfielders really show up.