How much should my daughter pitch?
Many parents who come to us after softball throwing injuries have requested information regarding pitch counts and recommended innings for their children. Sadly, there are no national standards listed for softball pitch counts and very limited research has been done in this area. Baseball has been more proactive and many state and national baseball organizations have limits on pitch counts or innings pitched beginning at age 8.
Although softball and baseball pitching motions are dramatically different, research has shown that the forces moving across the shoulder and elbow are very similar. Young baseball pitchers are frequently limited to 2 games a week. Softball pitchers, however, frequently average 90-100 pitches per game and can pitch in 5-7 games over a weeklong period. This could lead to over 700 pitches in a week not including practices.
Limits of softball pitching should be determined by several factors: age, physical condition, individual characteristics, fatigue and number of pitches in a set period. Mechanics and fatigue are the biggest predictors for injury. Solid mechanics and overall fitness and mobility allow softball pitchers to pitch multiple innings and games without doing harm. If a pitcher’s mechanics begin to fail, their body or legs begin to fatigue, or if they begin to have pain, it is time to stop pitching as these typically result in injury.
I have been a pitching coach and sports physical therapist for many years and have vast experience working with many pitchers on the field and in the clinic. Recommendations listed below were originally taken from national softball coaching expert Cindy Bristow.
- Pitchers 12 and under: 500 pitches per week – this includes full pitching at practices and lessons
- Pitchers 13+: 700 pitches per week – this includes full pitching at practices and lessons
I agree with Cindy’s recommendations with a few exceptions. I personally feel these recommended pitches may be too high when you consider the length of the softball seasons. I believe it may be more reasonable to limit all pitchers to no more than 500 pitches per week. It is important to remember this does include full pitching at practices and lessons. In addition to these recommendations, I personally do not recommend any more than 300 pitches (~3 games) over a 2 day period without at least 1 day of rest. Very young pitchers and early pre-season work may need to decrease these numbers as well.
The majority of the injuries I have seen have been from pitchers putting in a large number of games over a short period of time and then this cycle is repeated for weeks and weeks at a time. This is extremely troublesome in Nebraska with select ballgames beginning in late March and high school state tournament ending mid-October. That is nearly 7 months straight of high-level pitching. Pitchers are often not restricted with a pitch count and are not getting the rest they need to adequately recover. This results in a possible breakdown of proper throwing mechanics which leads to injury.
Hopefully, national organizations governing softball competition will continue to seek research and make informed decisions on this issue. Putting a limit on softball pitchers will allow parents and coaches to have guidelines in place for the safety of the players as well as possibly change the way the game is played.
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Have a question about pitching limits or a throwing injury? Call our Sports Medicine Hotline at (402) 609-2800.