Knowledge, 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 4;6(5):2325967118769836.
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” important.
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 specialization?