As a coach and a parent, I’ve dealt with my share of injured kids. Did you know that according to Stanford Children’s Health, more than 775,000 children, ages 14 and younger, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year? Bruises, twisted ankles, a ball to the face, it’s all part of the game. Still, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your child or your player is playing it safe on the field.
Wearing the proper equipment is the easiest way to help ensure the safety of your child on the field. The gear they wear must fit properly and be worn as intended by the manufacturer.
By far the most important piece of equipment for any player, regardless of level, is a properly fitting, quality helmet. This is one item you don’t want to skimp on. The helmet should fit snugly, but not too tight, with good padding all around. Most youth leagues also require the helmet to be fitted with a face mask and chin strap. Make sure the mask provides a good field of view. The best way to avoid being hit in the head by an errant pitch is to be able to see it coming.
Let’s face it. For a young boy putting in a cup for the first time can be a little embarrassing. I remember as a young T-ball player getting my first cup, and to be honest, I didn’t want to wear it. Then, after my dad sat me down and explained what could happen if I got hit “down there” and I wasn’t wearing one, I was still embarrassed, but I wore it anyway. Don’t minimize the importance of that one piece of equipment.
Think about how much of a beating cleats take over the course of a season. You have practices and games with lots of sudden starts and stops, and of course the inevitable walking through the asphalt parking lot after the game and your little Miguel Cabrera is dragging his feet because he likes the sound it his cleats make as they scrape across the surface. Hey, we were all kids once too, right? It makes sense to invest in a good set of cleats knowing that they will be likely to last all season. The temptation may be to buy them a size too big so maybe he can wear them again next season, but buying shoes that are too big for his feet means they will have a tendency to slip in back, potentially causing painful blisters.
This is an optional piece of equipment worn on the shin of the leg facing the pitcher. For kids playing rec league, it’s not something I normally recommend, but for traveling teams where the pitch speeds can really start to climb, it’s not a bad idea and can prevent bad pitches and foul tips into the shin area from causing a painful bruise.
Again this is not a must have item, but I have seen teeth get loosened when a ball takes a bad hop and ends up in a player’s face. Usually it’s not too serious, but if a child has braces or thousands of dollars worth of orthodonture in progress, a few dollars worth of prevention is worth the price.
2. On-field Safety Practices
It’s not enough just to have the proper equipment, players should also observe good safety practices on the field as well.
Teach your child(ren) and/or players to always practice situational awareness when they are on the field. So often I have seen players thinking about the next play or what they’re going to do when they get up to the plate and they completely miss what’s going on around them.
I once saw a catcher in the bullpen bend down to tie his shoe, and one of the other pitchers who was still warming up lost control of a pitch and hit the catcher in the head. The catcher ended up being OK, but the pitcher should have stopped throwing if he saw the catcher wasn’t paying attention, and the catcher should have moved away from plate if he needed to tie his shoe.
Be especially careful around the on-deck circle. It happens every season, I see at least one kid who gets whacked in the arm, or torso, or even the head because he got too close to the player in the on-deck circle.
Always make sure the player warming up knows you are there, and, of course, don’t go near the on-deck circle unless you absolutely have to. Along those same lines, never pass in front of, or directly behind, the batter if coming across to go to the dugout after being called out at first or third. Always pass behind the umpire.
Don’t slide in “cleats high”. I know kids see the pros do it to break up a double play, and as appalling as it seems to me, I even see some little league coaches tell their player to do it (although many leagues have already banned the practice). It’s just a kids’ game and it doesn’t make any sense to me to maim another child for the sake of a game that will be forgotten in a week’s time.
These are a few of the tips for keeping players safe on the field I have collected over the years. Most are just common sense, but little reminders never hurt. There are also probably others that have slipped my mind that are equally important. If so, please let us know by commenting below.
How About You?
Are there any other safety rules, tips or equipment that I have forgotten to add? Do you feel your league adequately addresses the issue of player safety?