By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
A new study released by Little League International claims that throwing curveballs is no more dangerous than any other pitch and that it is overuse, not breaking balls that cause injuries to young pitchers. I am not an expert, and apparently no one knows the answer for sure. My oldest son was taught a curve by my co-coach and great friend, who pitched in college. My friend assured me that if thrown properly, it could not injure his arm. So my boy had a pretty nasty breaker and got a lot of outs with it his 10 and 11 year-old seasons. The winter before his 12 year-old season we happened to go out to dinner with a friend we hadn’t seen in years, who’d married an orthopedic surgeon. I asked him about this issue and he was convinced throwing curves before growth plates are fully developed is a significant contributor to permanent arm injuries. He said he saw kids in his office requiring career-ending surgery every week. I made the decision then and there that if there was even a minute chance that throwing breaking balls might cause a long-term problem, it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t allow my son to throw it his final season in Little League. He relied on a knuckle ball for his off-speed pitch. Was he as effective on the mound? No. He would have been a more dominant pitcher if he could have snapped off that great curve, especially as a 12 year-old. But, ultimately, he got the job done for us. We won the league championship and TOC and I was able to sleep at night no longer worrying that maybe I was putting winning ahead of my son’s welfare.
Ultimately, you can research and read all you want, but I doubt you’ll find any definitive answers. Remember, the Little League study only claimed there was no evidence that throwing the curve caused injury – it did not claim to prove it to be safe. I opted with the choice of better safe than sorry and am glad I did.