Why Early Specialization of Sport Is Bad For Young Athletes

February 10, 2020

Early Specialization of Sport: Injury Risks and Long Term Athletic Development

By: ATH Performance Coaches Shane Cronin & Victoria Scott

 

Select, all-stars, and every other esoteric league your kid "should" play in could potentially put your young athlete at risk. The trend in youth sports today is for young athletes to train year-round in a single sport with the exclusion of other sports. This trend is known as ‘early specialization of sport’ and begins in early to middle childhood, well before the athlete is 15 years old.

 

In this post, we’ll cover why early sport specialization could be causing more harm than good for your child. You’ll also learn why having a well-rounded training regime for student athletes is key in reducing their risk for injury and, ultimately, sets them up for success in the future.

 

Why is early specialization of sport bad for youth athletes? 

Early specialization of sport is desirable to some athletes and their parents because of the assumption that it will increase the development of skills – which will ultimately increase scholarship opportunities. 

 

However, research suggests that focusing on one sport, and therefore a dedicated set of movements, exercises and the like, could be putting your athlete at a far greater risk for injury, overuse and burnout. 

 

 

What is an overuse injury? Microtrauma damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process occurring when an athlete becomes overtrained.
Reference: McClelland, 2016. Early Sport Specialization: Overuse Injury and Burnout.

 

What is burnout? It is the psychological and hormonal changes that occur when the body is stressed too hard for too long without adequate time for recovery, which leads to the loss of passion and dropout from sport.
Reference: Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes Joel S. Brenner Pediatrics Jun 2007, 119 (6) 1242-1245; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-0887 

 

How does playing multiple sports benefit youth athletes? 

Now that we’ve covered why early specialization in sport can be harmful, let’s look at how playing multiple sports is healthy for your young athlete. 

 

We see time and time again, that being well-rounded in the field of sports helps better prepare athletes and helps to prevent injuries. One of the reasons this is true is because playing multiple sports helps build a range of mature fundamental motor skills to achieve physical literacy (like jumping, running and throwing). This helps athletes avoid overuse injuries due to too much focus on one particular movement or exercise.

 

Additionally, playing multiple sports helps with overall psychological wellbeing. Adolescents engaged in multiple activities tend to have healthier psychological profiles. And healthier psychological profiles equals less burnout.

 

Are you still on the fence on this topic? Maybe the following statistics and real-time example will help change your mind.

 

  • A study of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 athletes at 1 university found 70% did not specialize in their sport until at least 15 years old, and 88% had participated in more than 1 sport.
Reference: Quitiquit C, DiFiori JP, Baker R, Gray A. Comparing sport participation history between NCAA student-athletes and undergraduate students. Clin J Sport Med. 2014;24(2). 

 

 

At Athlete Training + Health we focus on the long-term athletic development of our Student ATHletes. The Student ATHlete classes are not sport-specific. Instead, the programming for our athletes ensures the development of overall athletic ability without increasing the likelihood of injury. Loads and intensities are dependent on maturation with prescribed focus on strength, power, and speed development. All young athletes have their personal best ahead of them. ATH provides training for athletes so they can reach their individual potential.  

 

If you’re interested in learning more, click here and reach out to the facility closest to you. We’re happy to answer any questions you have and to give you a tour!

 

 

REFERENCES

  1. Jayanthi, N, et al. “Risks Of Intense, Specialized Training And Growth For Injury In Young Athletes: A Clinical Evaluation.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 48, no. 7, 2014, doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-093494.139.
  2. O'Kane, John W et al. “Risk Factors for Lower Extremity Overuse Injuries in Female Youth Soccer Players.” Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine vol. 5,10 2325967117733963. 23 Oct. 2017, doi:10.1177/2325967117733963
  3. Rose, Marianne & Emery, Carolyn & Meeuwisse, Willem. (2008). Rose MS, Emery CA, Meeuwisse WH. Sociodemographic predictors of sports injury in adolescents. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 40. 444-50. 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31815ce61a.
  4. McClelland, 2016. Early Sport Specialization: Overuse Injury and Burnout.
  5. Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes Joel S. Brenner Pediatrics Jun 2007, 119 (6) 1242-1245; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-0887
  6. Quitiquit C, DiFiori JP, Baker R, Gray A. Comparing sport participation history between NCAA student-athletes and undergraduate students. Clin J Sport Med. 2014;24(2). 
  7. 2015 GOALS Study of the Student-Athlete Experience. National Collegiate Athletic Association. NCAA Convention. January 2016. 
  8. Ginsburg, R. D., Smith, S. R., Danforth, N., Ceranoglu, T. A., Durant, S. A., Kamin, H., ... & Masek, B. (2014). Patterns of specialization in professional baseball players. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 8(3), 261-275.
  9. Rugg, C., Kadoor, A., Feeley, B. T., & Pandya, N. K. (2018). The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(2), 402–408.)