Dr. Tommy John: These 4 Steps Can Help Prevent Youth Athlete Injuries

The son of the baseball great is advocating for a shift in the American approach to training.

Both male and female athletes are more at risk of serious injuries at younger ages than ever before, according to recent studies, especially those who specialize too early or who aren’t in peak physical condition.

Dr. Tommy John — son of famed lefty pitcher Tommy John, and a sports performance and healing specialist — is exploring the sudden rise of “Tommy John” surgeries (named for his father) being performed on young athletes lately, as well as the many other injuries and the surgeries required to fix them that have been increasing at an alarming rate — in baseball and all youth sports — in his new book, “ Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance,” written with journalist Myatt Murphy.

“The book is ageless,” says John, who operates the Tommy John Performance and Healing Center in San Diego. “It’s bringing back the things that have always worked. I’m not rewriting the book on performance and healing; I’m just bringing back the chapters that everybody skipped.”

Image courtesy of Dr. Tommy John.

Featuring nearly 100 scientific sources, “Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance” focuses on prevention and offers tips on how to tailor the advice for athletes coming back from an injury with over 120 black-and-white photographs to guide coaches, parents, and athletes in their pursuit of better health and peak performance at any level.

GOOD spoke with John to learn the four elements of what he calls the “Tommy John solution” that every parent, coach, and trainer should know to help their favorite youth athlete maximize performance and minimize injury:

(Note: Parts of this interview were condensed and edited for clarity.)


We need to rethink our current approach. It’s the American lifestyle, the “I want it now” — the bigger, faster, stronger training mentality — where we want to increase the ability at the expense of durability to express our genetic potential as soon as possible. Don’t worry about a future; don’t worry about what happens after the sport. That’s what we’ve got going on now with the specialization and camps, trainings, and showcases.

Couple that with our American lifestyle of technology at the expense of human movement. Every technological advance is to get us to do less. That’s fine when it comes to beating potatoes. But when you’re talking about a cellphone, or you’re talking about something that’s moving us from point A to point B where we would have normally carried ourselves or carried our bags or walked stairs — now all of the sudden, technology has us staring at phones, and the bits of information coming off the phone are so stimulating and so much to process for this young mind and young nervous system to handle. There’s a sympathetic response and immune decrease, and all of a sudden now, we have them not healing from normal activity.

Before we do anything, we have to rethink the path we’re headed on and the decisions we’re making right now for our children.


Obviously, we need fuel to carry out these sports activities. We also need food to repair and regenerate and grow. And at this stage of the game when these kids are 8, 9, 10 — in the early patterns of our life — our nervous system is developing. It’s the brainstem and spinal cord — we’re learning our bodies, and we’re integrating these muscles and joints with this thick white nerve, and it’s growing, and we’re learning it. It’s building, and it’s rebuilding and redesigning itself every day.

Nourishment is huge. I say we’re overfed and malnourished, meaning we’re eating a lot of food-like substance but not providing the nutrients necessary for a young human, let alone a young human athlete, let alone a young human athlete who’s trying to specialize before they’re even developed.

A lot of times, the athlete will start craving the right foods. By connecting it to their performance, they can make the decisions on their own. And that’s the best thing — to try to get them to create these healthy habits so that they can become functional, viable adults and be healthy and optimal and function and perform in whatever they choose to do.


The rebuild section is based on the techniques I’ve applied with professional athletes on down to the amateur or the youth athlete, and it’s based around the long-term athletic development of a human. And what that means is, if you think of it in a pyramid fashion — the bottom of the pyramid being the foundational movements of a human being — the crawling pattern, the skipping, the squatting, the deadlifting, which are just movements. I’m not talking about training now, just the squat movement or the prone positions that babies do — all to provide the foundation is huge.

We’re supposed to do those thousands and thousands of times to provide the middle of the pyramid, which is the functional performance area where we would do strength and conditioning and take those movements that we’ve mastered, and we resist them. We would put weight behind them or tubing behind them. But you can only resist them when the movement is learned, so the bottom of that pyramid has to come first. The top little part of the pyramid is the skill — that’s the stroke of swimming, the dribble of the basketball, the throwing of the football. That’s the fun stuff.

In America, this pyramid is not shaped like a pyramid. It’s inverted, with competition and skill being at the top being huge. The top is enormous with the middle portion still being big. Everyone’s big and everyone’s fast, but we can’t sustain it, and it’s on this tiny little foundation. And then that foundation crumbles, and the inverted pyramid falls, and that’s when we have an injury. You’ll get a very good athlete for a very short period of time.

And that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing these flashes of brilliance, but nobody can sustain it. The principles in the rebuild section are based around programming designed or acquired from others that I’ve studied under that are easy to implement as a parent, coach, or even by the athlete herself. They’re simple to execute in the privacy of your own home or at a field or at a court with minimal equipment.


A training system or a performance or a healing system is only as good as what the person can recover from. It’s only what they can rebound from because training is controlled damage. If it’s done right, every time you see an athlete, they should be a higher-level athlete every single time. And so one of the biggest parts of this “Tommy John solution” is the recovery portion. It allows the first three to really do their job.

Something like sleep — getting to bed without computers or phones an hour and a half before bed. There are a lot more kids now taking anti-inflammatories, which baffles me. When I speak to groups, the whole place raises their hands when I ask how many of them take them during the season. In the book, I discuss what exactly those do and why you’d want to avoid them at all costs, especially as a youth athlete.

And then there are alternatives if your body is sore of your joints are inflamed. There are some recovery methods that you can implement that are easy to digest at any level.

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less