My six-year-old is playing flag football this fall, and despite the misleading “flag” designation, the four nights a week two hour practices for the entire month of August have been pretty intense. Intense for both of us, since, as I tend to do, I’ve signed up to help coach as well. This is both of our first forays into the world of playing football. Despite many hours of practice watching from the couch, it is a sport for which I’d never formally ventured off the sideline.

My oldest son, now seven and a half, is signed up for soccer which starts in September (don’t ask who’s coaching), and because we believe in limiting the boys to one sport per season, it’s left him often sulking on the sidelines with Mommy and his baby brother when they come to watch football practice. Standing firm on that decision has not been easy for us as parents, both due to the pleas of my son and also the external cultural pressure that comes from other families, leagues and the community. I’m constantly hearing about parents and coaches talking about the travel teams, advanced practice clinics and multiple sports that other kids of similar ages are crammed into. It sometimes seems like it will drive them and their families over the brink.

Recently, there have been several issues that came to my attention related to safety and the volume of sports involvement by kids. Over the years living in New Jersey, even before I became a parent myself, I remembered waking up on Sunday mornings to thoughtful discussions on the radio on WFAN of Rick Wolff , a nationally renowned author/speaker in the field of sports psychology and sports parenting. While his weekly radio program addresses topics like coaching methods, over aggressive parents and the like, it increasingly seemed to mention topics around safety.

I recently attended the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) in San Diego for my day job in sales for a leading medical website . While at the conference, we shot a video with Dr. James Andrews, who if you follow sports, particularly baseball, you know that he is THE surgeon where pitchers and many others go to like no other to repair their ailing shoulders and other sports injuries. I was really looking forward to meeting him and enjoyed chatting with him for a few minutes in the green room. I couldn’t help myself from gushing about being a huge Yankee fan since he has operated on half the pitching staff. I was pleasantly surprised to find him a very friendly, aw shucks type of man, quite unlike many other orthopedic surgeons who often tend to resemble Alec Baldwin’s “I am God” heart surgeon from the movie Malice.

Our team with Dr. Andrews

Dr. Andrews spoke to us about an initiative he’s heavily involved with called Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention (STOP). The goal of this program and his message is that injuries among kids in sports are rapidly increasing. In 2010 alone, over 1.4 million injuries occurred amongst the 7.6 million high school students who participated in sports. In fact, sports are the leading cause of injury among the 30-45 million adolescents who play sports in the United States. It is also believed that more than half of the injuries occurring to youth could be prevented. Failure to do so can produce dire consequences, such as youth with ACL repairs developing arthritis ten years later or the uncertain long term impact of concussions.  The STOP program was developed by the AOSSM to build awareness about the risk for sports injuries in young people and how to avoid them. In my brief discussion with Dr. Andrews, he mentioned that year-round playing of sports, without down time, creates unnecessary physical stress on young bodies that often proves harmful.

As a Little League coach the past three years, I also have heard a lot about the safety issues around metal bats. To be honest, I didn’t fully understand all the issues (and still don’t, but I’m learning). Recently, I was contacted by the folks at Sports Authority to review one of their new BBCOR bats on MyBoys3. As a coach and a father, this seemed like a great topic for consideration, so I agreed.

Easton Power Brigade S3

I did some more research and learned that BBCOR stands for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (of course!). This measurement is the new standard for NCAA (2011) and high schools (2012). This is largely replacing the old standard called BESR, or Ball Exit Speed Ratio. BBCOR measures how much the bat compresses or trampolines when hitting a ball. Bats with greater compression send balls back faster. The standards are changing due to many years of discussion and debate that charged older style aluminum bats to be too dangerous for youth in that they send baseballs back towards the pitcher at much faster speeds than traditional wooden bats. While a return to wooden bats like they use in Major League Baseball may not be happening anytime soon, the BBCOR requirement seems like a good step.

I received my sample bat from Sports Authority this week, and was excited to try out the new Easton Power Brigade S3. The model I received was a 33 inch adult bat, so it was too large for my boys to try out but proved to be a perfect size for me in the backyard or on the diamond. I was pleased with how the bat felt in my hands. It had a narrow but sticky grip and despite a fairly heavy weight (it seemed thicker in the barrel), it was still easy to swing and felt very fast through the hitting zone. According to Sports Authority’s website, the Scandium Alloy material creates greater durability and extended sweet spots. This particular Easton bat becomes available in early September but is available for pre-order now at $199 retail.

Having grown up playing ball with both a wooden bat and then an old aluminum bat, I was curious to see how this new construction would feel hitting baseballs. The boys and I sorted out our practice ball bucket and found a batch of true hardballs from our lot of cushy tball variety. We set up the backstop and a hitting zone for me to pop a few into our woods. Despite the new safer construction, I wasn’t ready to have my 7 year old field my full strength efforts, despite his younger brother’s pleas for me to “nail him with one”. I was surprised at the feel of the bat as it made contact. It felt solid as it hit the ball and what really caught my attention was the sound. It wasn’t the typical “dink” of the aluminum bats that I was used to, but rather let off a “crack” that was similar to a wood sound. Pretty cool.

Where this whole bat certification issue gets important for any kids and parents involved in baseball is that, in addition to the safety concerns, to be sure that they have or are buying a bat that meets the criteria. Many non-BBCOR bats can be found at a discount but may prove problematic for kids either today, or likely down the line as standards continue to change. From my research, it is still a bit confusing about the policy of Little League, although it appears that starting in 2012, divisions for kids 13 and over will move to a BBCOR standard.

Here are a few links for more information about the Easton Power Brigade and other BBCOR certified bats at Sports Authority:

Easton Power Brigade Bats
BBCOR bats at Sports Authority

Sports, despite any of our efforts, are always going to carry a certain degree of risk and danger, much like life itself. The safest thing to do is to stay indoors, avoid contact with others and remain still. True living, however, and the kind of life that I wish for my boys, requires stepping between the lines, up to the plate. As Teddy Roosevelt famously extolled, to be in the arena. I want my boys out there experiencing life, finding themselves striving with the team and gaining all that can be achieved through the joy and competition of sports. As parents, however, we need to be diligent in monitoring and guiding our kids’ path through the sports world, whether it be safety issues like bat construction, or physical overuse issues like the folks at STOP and Dr. Andrews are advocating.

Disclosure: I have a material connection because I received an Easton Power Brigade bat from Sports Authority at no cost to me for consideration in preparing to write this content for review on my blog.

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