Knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of parents of youth basketball players regarding sport specialization and college scholarship availability.

Post EG, Rosenthal MD, Root HJ, Rauh MJ. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. August 2021. Epub Ahead of Print.

Take-Home Message

Parents in the United States believe that sport specialization is very important to sport success.


Parents play an important role in whether or not a child specializes in a sport because they influence a child’s sports experience and the financial burden of specialization. However, previous studies about parents’ attitudes and beliefs about specialization have primarily involved affluent and White parent populations, limiting our ability to apply these findings to other parents. 

Study Goal

Post and colleagues completed a cross-sectional study of a nationally representative sample of parents to describe the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of sport specialization and availability of athletic scholarships.


The researchers recruited 805 parents of youth basketball players from Qualtrics Online Samples using market research panels. They recruited a study sample that reflected the distribution of race/ethnicity within the United States. Parents answered a questionnaire about 1) demographics, 2) child basketball participation (sport specialization), and 3) parents’ attitudes regarding sport specialization and availability of basketball scholarships. Sport specialization and household income were categorized as either low, moderate, or high.


Overall, 805 parents fully completed the questionnaire. One in 4 children were highly specialized in basketball (e.g., participation on multiple basketball teams, private coaching). Thirty-two percent of respondents believed that sport specialization was problematic, and 42% believed that specialization increased the risk of injury. Interestingly, a majority of parents believed that specialization increased their child’s chances of improving at basketball (86%), making a high school team (71%), or making a college team (70%). When asked about the availability of scholarships, parents underestimated the number of available scholarships at the NCAA Division I and II. However, they overestimated the number of scholarships at the NCAA Division III level. Finally, higher-income parents more often reported their child as highly specialized (30%) than parents reporting middle (22%) or low income (16%).


Overall, the data from this study supports a growing body of literature showing a troubling situation that parents believe specialization will lead to success. Furthermore, less than half of parents believe sport specialization is a problem or increases the risk of injury. These findings highlight a failure to educate parents, leading to tremendous pressure on children and their bodies. This study also demonstrates that educational efforts should address the overwhelming perception that sport specialization is needed to succeed in a sport. It would be interesting to see whether these results differ among parents of different socioeconomic statuses.

Clinical Implications

The sports medicine community needs to develop public health messaging that describes alternative strategies to improve performance without increasing the risk of burnout or injury. Clinicians can also help educate their local sports communities about the pros and cons of sport specialization.

Questions for Discussion

What age range of patients do you normally treat? Have you seen any changes in the number of overuse injuries over time?

Written by: Kyle Harris
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

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