Don't think of younger athletes playing against older ones as one-size-fits-all

ASK CAL

December 17, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My daughter is in the sixth grade. In our state, they allow sixth-grade students to try out for freshman teams. What are your feelings on sixth-grade students competing against older and more mature athletes(in our case, girls softball)?

Steve Shelton, Owensboro, Ky.

DEAR STEVE -- Every young athlete matures physically and emotionally at his or her own rate.

There may be some sixth-graders (about 12 years old) who are physically strong enough to compete with freshmen (usually ninth-graders who are about 15 years old) but who aren't ready from a mental or emotional standpoint for the pressure of competing at that level. Likewise, there might be some sixth-graders who are emotionally stable and really understand the game but can't compete physically.

This decision really has to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

If the athlete is going to try to play against the older kids, the parent and coach shoulder a tremendous responsibility. They must monitor the situation and make certain that the kid is holding up from physical and emotional standpoints.

The games get serious enough fast enough. A sixth-grader has a lot of years in which to compete.

There's no sense rushing it and risking a bad experience that will make the kid want to quit playing altogether.

DEAR CAL -- I am trying to build my son's arm strength. We play long toss quite a bit. However, I have recently seen weighted baseballs on the market. They are available in various weights. Do you think these are a good idea to build a younger player's arm, and, if so, how would you use them?

Curtis Carter, Julington Creek, Fla.

DEAR CURTIS -- I've never been a big believer in using any type of weighted equipment to build strength for baseball. I'm a big believer in training with the same objects that you use on the field. I never used any kind of weight on my bat when preparing to hit, and I never threw a weighted ball.

In fact, I can't recall ever seeing any type of weighted balls being used for training purposes at the big league level.

It seems to me that if you train with a weighted object, such as a ball or a bat, that is similar to what you use in a game situation, you may in fact be teaching your muscles to react and move more slowly than if you just use a regulation game ball or game bat.

Additionally, the shoulder and elbow are very delicate areas, and there is no telling what type of long-term shoulder or elbow damage might result from throwing a heavier ball.

You're on the right track. There's no better way to build arm strength than by throwing.

Play catch and long toss to the point of fatigue and then follow that up with a rotator-cuff maintenance program to keep the shoulder muscles strong and free of injury.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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