Someone tipped their cap to Dr. Tommy John and he wasn’t sure if to smile or frown.
John, an Encinitas resident with a famous moniker, has an insatiable drive to save the world.
“It’s getting harder and harder,” he said. “It really is out of control.”
John’s father was an illustration of balance in a big-league career in which he won 288 games. But his name made its mark as a surgical procedure to repair shredded elbow ligaments after undergoing the first one in 1974.
Countless professional pitchers had the Tommy John operation to resurrect careers. That goes for hurlers in college, high school and, really, youth baseball?
“The frustrating part is that the solution is in the parents’ hands,” John said. “They are being misled by a youth sports industry that makes them believe that their kids are better than they are.”
John, a chiropractor and director of a performance and healing center, goes a million miles a minute and that’s tapping the brakes. But he’s seeing more, and younger athletes, and their parents, seeking answers on why this hurts, why that aches and why is it always go-go-go.
It’s overuse, John screams, and it says so in his book, “Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance A Sports Parent’s Survival Guide.”
“If parents ever say their kid might not make a team, I tell them they just got a free pass,” John said. “It’s not the worst thing to take a season off.”
It’s what usually happens that drives patients to John’s Sorrento Valley office. A Little League team blends into a travel ball squad and then that morphs into fall ball and then there’s a spring league …
“It’s about understanding that regardless of how this baseball season goes, whether you played or didn’t play enough, baseball is over with summer. Don’t play winter baseball, don’t play fall baseball, instead find something else to do. Explore other sports, anything.”
John knows that’s a tough sell.
“It falls upon deaf ears,” he said. “People don’t want to do less and that leads to some very difficult conversations. I’ve talked to 10-, 11-, 12-year-old kids and their arms hurt and they are exhausted. Sometimes when the parents don’t listen we have another talk and it’s about anxiety and pediatric surgery.”
John isn’t out to sting baseball. He said it’s all sports with players being a pawn in a $15 billion youth sports industry.
“It convinces the parents the kids are elite and to compete they have to be a specialist in one sport and sign up for all this stuff,” he said.
John recalled a star softball pitcher’s mom inquiring about her daughter’s sore right knee.
“That pain was a warning,” John said. “Your body always gives you a whisper that something is wrong. You need to take care of it then, not when it yells at you if you don’t.”
John said rest was the key.
“A month later it’s feeling a little better, she plays, she tears the meniscus in her knee and has to have surgery,” he said. “Game over.”
But it’s spring with a game on in every direction and John stresses there’s nothing askew there. Just make sure moderation is stocked at every youth sports snack bar.