What is Sport Specialization?
Sport specialization is defined as year-round training, participation on multiple sports teams of the same sport, and focused participation of sport at a young age.1 Over the past decade, there has been an increase in youth sports participation with an additional increase in training for a specific sport. There are many factors which contribute to this trend. They are to give the athlete an edge in competition, scholarships, and the youth becoming a potential professional athlete. Contrary to these perceived benefits, research shows the opposite; early sport specialization does not lead to a competitive advantage. In addition, many studies show that these young athletes may be at risk for repetitive use injuries.2
There have been several studies that have shown that participation in a single sport have increased risk of injuries. A few of the most recent studies are following:
A 2017 study revealed that athletes that were involved in individual sports (ex. tennis, dance, swimming) were most likely to specialize and reported greater rates of overuse injuries than those involved in team sports. Tennis, gymnastics and dance participants were the greatest at risk. Athletes that participated in these sports also reported higher training times. Soccer player were the youngest to specialize.3
Another 2017 study looked at specialization and overuse injuries. What they found was that athletes that played their primary sport more than eight months of the year were more prone to upper and lower extremity overuse injuries. Athletes that have played their sport for more hours per week than their age, reported more injuries than those that trained less. Those that exceed training times also were likely to have a greater risk of overuse injuries.1
What Should You Do?
These aforementioned studies show that youth athletes should not specialize in a single sport. Training time in hours per week should not exceed age. Parents should avoid having their children participate on multiple sports teams of the same sport, especially during the same season. Parents should also monitor their children’s training and sport activities. Children should be closely monitored for burnout, overuse injury, and decreases in performance. In addition, young athletes should be involved in a periodized strength and conditioning to help them prepare for the high physical demands of athletics. Specific training should include integrative neuromuscular training to enhance motor skill devleopement.4
If your child is injured, it is very important to get seen quickly. The longer the time after an injury, the longer it will take to recover!
1. Post et. al. Am J Sports Med. 2017 May;45(6):1405-1412.
2. Feeley et. Al. Am J Sports Med. 2016 Jan;44(1):234-41
3. Pasulka et.al. Phys Sportsmed. 2017 Sep;45(3):344-352.
4. Myer et. al. Sports Health. 2016 Jan; 8(1): 65–73.