Monday, July 10, 2006

Are Head First Slides Necessary? [J. Mark English]

Mets phenom shortstop, Jose Reyes, will miss his first all-star game due to a head first slide into first base last week. Which calls into question the sanity of sliding head first in the first place.
Granted, I am not a professional athlete, and I have no chance of being a coach in the sport of baseball. But is sliding head first really a helpful tool to getting on base? Injuries due to sliding head first occur all the time. Just a few years ago Derek Jeter dislocated his shoulder by sliding head first into third base, and missing up to six weeks of playing time.
In the past year there have been roughly 124,400 sliding injuries nationwide. Medical experts at Thinkquest recommend that if "you are stealing a base, you should slide with your back and the back of the helmet towards the infield, so you don't get hit in the face. You should never slide head first unless you are trying to get picked off. If you slide head first, you could either cause a chest injury or brake your hand, fingers, or wrist."
Sliding head first may make a player more prone to injury, but is it an acceptable risk if it means getting to a base in better time? The American Journal of Sports Medicine says no. Here are the results from their recent tests:
Background: Two basic baseball sliding techniques, feet-first and head-first, are taught at all levels of play. Because of the risk for injury to the upper extremities and the cervical spine during head-first sliding, it is potentially more dangerous than feet-first sliding. There is an assumption among coaches that head-first sliding is more aggressive and faster, but there has been no scientific study to prove this claim.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine which technique provides a faster slide into the base.
Study Design: Controlled field study.
Methods: A total of 60 players ranging from Little League to college level was analyzed. Each athlete was evaluated three times from a standing start at first base to either a head-first or feet-first touch of second base. Each athlete was also timed in a 40-yard sprint and his or her preferred sliding technique was recorded.
Results: We found no statistically significant difference in speed between head-first and feet-first sliding at all levels of play in this study.
If Jose Reyes had slid normally into first, he may be playing in his first All-Star game, with a chance to show the entire nation just how good he has become. Instead he'll be watching the game like all of the sitting position.