St. Petersburg, Florida -- The landscape of youth sports has changed over the decades. What was once seen as an extra curricular activity for fun and socialization is now viewed more as a child's ticket to a brighter future.
Kids of all ages aren't switching sports with the seasons as much as they used to. Nowadays, the thought of specializing in one given sport in order to boost a child's ability to land a scholarship or professional contract is opening a door to more frequent and costly injuries.
Dr. Bret Muloroni, director of sports medicine at All Children's Hospital, has noticed the contrast of how youth sports are being approached by kids, parents and coaches. "The climate is such that getting your kid to go to college is a big deal, and having them be the stars is obviously what you want for your child." said Dr. Muloroni. "So that overuse perpetuates itself."
Overexposure injuries in youth sports are on the rise. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, of the 30 million American children playing sports annually, 5.5 million will require medical treatment.
Outside pressures are a major contributor to one in every six athletes requiring treatment. Coaches' salaries are generally based on the positive production and their win-loss records. This method adds pressure to coaches, which is then applied on to athletes to excel no matter the cost. But accountability cannot be solely placed on coaches for physical damage on an athlete's body.
College tuition escalation is another culprit. With secondary education becoming less affordable, parents are pushing their children to strive to achieve an athletic scholarship.
Twenty years ago, baseball players would be viewed by collegiate and professional scouts at high school and American Legion games. Now travel teams have made it a one-stop shopping experience for those looking to acquire young talent. The addition of travel teams to the high school and recreational league schedule for young athletes is putting additional wear and tear on their growing bodies.
"Travel ball seems to be the big thing. You pay a lot of money and you go to a lot of tournaments and they seem to think there are more scouts there," said Gaither High School baseball coach Frank Permuy.
Permuy sits on the baseball advisory committee of the Florida High School Athletic Association and has written a letter to the FHSAA calling for an amendment banning scouts to take athletes for extra workouts. Other states like California already have this rule in place, but the extra workouts by scouts doesn't account for as many injuries as a coach's influence on a player to push through pain.
St. Petersburg High School senior catcher Aaron Haughton told 10 News as a year-round ballplayer he's seen the effects of a coach's influence. "They want to succeed as a coach, but at the same time they probably don't understand the pain because they think, 'Oh, you can play through it, it isn't that bad,'" said Haughton.
The Green Devils catcher was getting a consultation at the sports medicine facility at All Children's Hospital for lingering tendonitis in his elbow -- an injury that he and his mother, Tracy, are glad won't be more damaging to his future endeavors as a ballplayer.
"We came here because we don't want it to get any worse, because he has a scholarship he has to fulfill," said Tracy Haughton.
This epidemic isn't strictly a baseball problem; it's cast over all sports, with both boys and girls. Three-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Brooke Bennett felt the pressures too.
"I was going twice a week (to practice) and I pushed and pushed to go four times a week with the bigger kids," said Benett. "It was never a coach's decision or my parents' decision, it was always mine."
An athletes competitive drive to keep up with their competition has also laid the foundation for a booming sports medicine field.
According to the CDC, half of all sports related injuries are preventable.
All Children's Hospital director of sports medicine Dr. Drew Warnick advises parents, coaches, and athletes to think and train like a professional.
"One, they don't play on multiple teams. Two, they don't guest play for other teams. Three, they aren't throwing the baseball at home and they're taking an off-season, doing a different sport or resting" said Dr. Warnick.
Tampa Bay Rays team trainer Ron Porterfield told 10 News playing other sports helps an athlete recover from one sports season and trains the body in a different area instead of continual use.
A new trend in baseball is a bias against pitchers from the state of Florida due to overuse on their arms. While numbers and statistics have yet to be formulated on this, Permuy and other Tampa Bay area coaches are seeing this as an ugly trend.
This dark cloud of overuse and injuries is one that will continue to hover over youth sports until all parties involved realize in order for a young athlete to have a bright future, precautions must be taken.
Here are some links to learn more on techniques to prevent injuries in young athletes: