Attitudes, and Beliefs of Youth Club Athletes Toward Sport Specialization and
Sport Participation.
Brooks MA,
Post EG, Trigsted SM, Schaefer DA, Wichman DM, Watson AM, McGuine TA, Bell DR.Orthop J Sports Med. 2018 May
Take Home Message: Young athletes believe sport specialization will improve
their sport performance and their chances of receiving a college scholarship;
but, underappreciate the risk of injury.

Young athletes are increasingly
choosing one specific sport to participate in year-round. Unfortunately, an
athlete that specializes in one sport is more likely to develop an overuse
injury without a better chance of getting a NCAA Division I scholarship
compared with their peers (see related posts below). It remains unclear why
young athletes specialize in a sport. Therefore, the authors surveyed 974
athletes (59% female) between the ages of 12-18 years old to describe the
attitudes and beliefs of youth club sport athletes regarding sport
specialization and sport participation. Each athlete completed a questionnaire,
which consisted of 4 sections: 1) demographic, 2) sport specialization, 3) attitudes
and beliefs regarding sport specialization and sport participation, and 4) previous
injury within 12 months. Approximately 39% of the athletes reported that they
were highly specialized. Athletes participating in basketball, volleyball, and
soccer reported the highest specialization rates. Ninety percent of the
athletes believed that they would get better at his/her sport by specializing.
Forty-five percent of the participants believed this would increase their
chances of receiving a scholarship. Furthermore, athletes who reported being
highly specialized were twice as likely to have a higher belief in receiving a
college scholarship compared with low-specialization athletes. On a similar
note, 81% reported that sport specialization will help them make a high school
team. Only 13% of the athletes reported to be “very” or “extremely” concerned
about injuries. Most athletes reported positive attitudes towards sports
participation, where they ranked becoming better at his/her sport (95%), being
physically active (88%), and having fun (87%) as either very” or “extremely”

These authors established that youth
athletes believe that sport specialization will enhance performance and improve
their chance of receiving a college scholarship. It is concerning that they are
specializing with little regard to the risk of injuries, where almost a quarter
of the athletes are “not at all” or “a little” concerned about risk of injury
with sport participation. It was also distressing to see that 80% of the
athletes reported that sport specialization will help them make a high school
team, which suggests that the pressure and need to specialize may decrease
opportunities for children to play sports at the interscholastic or community
level due to the hypercompetitive culture surrounding youth sports today. The
disagreement between reality and athlete beliefs indicates the need for
education and improved communication regarding the risks and benefits of
specialization between sport governing bodies, team and league organizers,
parents, coaches, and youth athletes. Due to the fact, many of these youth club
teams lack athletic trainers or other medical professionals this creates a
large barrier that will need to be bridged to protect these budding athletes. Currently,
medical professionals especially in the settings with access to youth athletes
need to stay vigilant about conveying information regarding the risks and
benefits of sports specialization. It is critical that our young athletes make
informed decisions about how they participate in sport.
Questions for Discussion: How should we educate athletes about sport specialization? Do you think rules should be in place to minimize sport
Written by: Jane McDevitt
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban
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