Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Even Elite Athletes Suffer the Backfire of Sport Specialization (Sports Med Res)


Monday, December 18, 2017

Even Elite Athletes Suffer the Backfire of Sport Specialization

The effects of playing multiple high school sports on national basketball association players’ propensity for injury and athletic performance

Rugg C, Kadoor A, Feeley BT, Pandya NK. 2017. Am J Sports Med: ahead of print.

Take Home Message: Though most of the NBA first round draft picks were single-sport athletes in high school they were also more likely to suffer injuries and participate in less games compared with their multi-sport peers.
Young athletes who specialize in one sport at an early age are at a high risk of burnout and injury. Many parents and athletes believe sport specialization is necessary to achieve athletic success later in life (college/university scholarship, professional status); however, there is little evidence to support this belief. Therefore, the authors identified the 237 National Basketball Association (NBA) first-round draft picks from 2008 to 2015 (who played at least one NBA game) to determine the frequency of athletes who played a single sport or multiple sports in high school and compare injury rate and length of careers. The authors used publicly available information on the internet to collect information regarding the player’s high school sport participation (evidence that they played a sport other than basketball in high school), major injuries while in the NBA (resulted in 10-game absence), number of regular season NBA games played, and if they were still active in the league. They also collected the players age, height, weight, body mass index, and position at time of draft. The authors determined that 36 (15%) were multi-sport athletes (76% participated in either football or track and field) and 201 (85%) were single-sport athletes. There were no differences between player’s demographics at the time of draft between groups. The multisport athletes played in a greater percentage of games (78% versus 73%) and were less likely to suffer a major injury (25% versus 43%).

The authors found a minority of the first-round draft picks in the NBA were multi-sport athletes. However, they also determined that the multisport athletes participated in more regular season games and were less likely to suffer a major injury compared with single-sport first-round draft picks. One limitation that should be noted was the methods in which the authors collected this information was not the most accurate. The authors did not receive any information from the athletes themselves or the NBA injury registry. Instead the authors used different websites to collect their information. Therefore, the authors may have miscategorized the athletes as single sport athletes, missed injury reports, or miscalculated the frequency of the player’s participation in games. The information presented in this study also only represents a specific portion of the NBA; so, more research is necessary to determine if this is representative of the league or just first round draft picks. Nevertheless, medical professionals need to be aware that even at the elite level single-sport specialization seems to play a role in risk of injury. Therefore, educating parents, coaches, and athletes about the risks of sports specialization is necessary to promote healthy long-term health.

Questions for Discussion: What are your current strategies to discuss risks of single sport specialization?

Written by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
Reviewed by: Jeff Driban

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