Are youth athletes training too much? When is sport specialization appropriate? What are the current research-based recommendations? In this blog post two articles will be reviewed on this controversial topic to help answer questions athletes, parents, coaches, and clinicians ask themselves. Lets first define sport specialization; according to Myer et al. (2015), “Sports specialization is defined as year-round training (greater than eight months per year), choosing a single main sport, and/or quitting all other sports to focus on one sport.” There is a growing concern that young athletes who specialize at an early age may be at an increased risk of overuse injuries, burnout, and possibly dropping out of sports altogether. The goal of this blog is to introduce this topic and make evidence-based recommendations to help guide athletes, parents, coaches, and clinicians to optimize enjoyment and safety for youth sports as well as improve overall long-term athletic development.
The degree of sport specialization can vary from low, moderate, and high based on the above definition. Notice there are three components to the definition. If the athlete fell under one of those components he/she was considered low specialization. If the athlete fell under all three of those components he/she was considered high specialization. Statistically speaking, the athletes who fell into the high specialization category had, “2.25x greater odds of sustaining a serious overuse injury,” compared to an unspecialized young athlete. Table 1 depicts the degree of specialization and risk of injury.
If my child doesn’t train year-round in one sport, how will they ever advance to the next level? This is a great question and one that clinicians hear often. What the research tells us is, lack of diversified activity may not give the athlete the opportunity to build his/her neuromuscular skills and does not allow for the necessary rest from repetitive use/movement occurring in one sport. Looking at part II of Myer et al. (2015) articles, early sport specialization does not necessarily guarantee sport success. A study cited within the Myer article, “found successful elite athletes actually specialized at a later age and trained less in childhood.”
There is the theory of deliberate practice, which is defined as a “highly structured activity with the explicit goal to improve performance.” This definition is directly related to the ten year/10,000 hour rule. Interesting though, some of the studies that researched this high training volume was based on elite musicians. Looking at the studies of the athlete population, the research says otherwise; early youth specialization may be detrimental in long term athletic development. Of course, there is always an exception to the rule, to name two, gymnastics and figure skating. These athletes appear to do well when they specialize at an earlier adolescence age. Table 2 depicts these recommendations.
Another consideration is the psychological risk of burnout and depression these athletes may incur with too early of sport specialization. Often, increased pressures from coaches and family to specialize early on may result in sport participation burnout. A talent development research group on young athletes found “adult-style” or “professionalized” practice is likely not optimal for facilitating talent development. Also, athletes who have less input into their training regimen and sport related decisions practiced fewer days with decreased motivation compared to players who did not burnout.
With all this information, there are a few recommendations to conclude this blog post with. • For most sports, specialization should occur at a later age then once thought, we would argue this should take place between 15 and 16 years old or sophomore to junior year of high school.
If you know an athlete struggling with an overuse injury, and you are wondering how we can help them get back to the sport he/she loves, here is the link to our contact information. Please call and ask for one of our physical therapists for a free phone consultation. We are conveniently located at the southeast corner of Mackay Stadium.
Clinical Athlete Podcast – Youth Specialization
Written by: Dakota Ezell, PT, DPT
Nick was so attentive to my needs and he structured his schedule to fit mine. My therapy was focused on my strengths and weaknesses; therefore, my recovery time was much shorter than expected. I highly recommend Nevada Physical Therapy for any lingering pain you may be experiencing.Read More Reviews
I cannot say enough positive things about this place. Came in with an ACL injury. I spent a few weeks working with jonathan. His evidence-based approach and motivational ability was really really inspiring. He helped me get back to normal and then some!Read More Reviews
DAKOTA EZELL is at the top of MY list as a highly skilled, intuitive, present professional who values and treats me as a whole person, not just someone to fill a time slotRead More Reviews
The best Physical Therapy place I have ever visited. Rare to see an emphasis on finding the best method to improve injury instead of giving everyone the same plan. But the best part about this place is it's approach to well being during and after PT.Read More Reviews
I was referred to Brian Fearnley by someone with significant credibility. I consider working with Brian a huge stroke of luck. This specific 'PT' is increasing my recovery potential a hundred fold. Brian knows his stuff. He is well versed in PT. He has athletic history at UNR and is active in our local community. He is clearly in this profession to help people recover and get under their own power.Read More Reviews
After two plus years of hip pain, three other physical therapists, quarterly injections and no relief, Crista made the pain go away! If I could give her and this practice 10 stars I'd do it!Read More Reviews
As a professional athlete, injuries can make or break a career. Luckily, in my case, I had Nevada Physical Therapy on my side. Not only did they physically help me recover from a meniscus surgery, but they provided the best emotional support you could ask for in such a difficult time.Read More Reviews
Phenomenal. I had some brutal injuries that resulted in four surgeries and seriously disrupted my life. There can be no doubt that the quality of life I enjoy today was a direct result of working with Nevada Physical Therapy.Read More Reviews
I attended Nevada Physical Therapy for my post surgery physical therapy and have nothing but great things to say. For any of you reading this, this place is by far the best physical therapy place I have ever attended with exceptional staff. I had the pleasure to work with Dakota who is extremely knowledgeable, patient and would go above and beyond to make sure you're taken care of.Read More Reviews