By Maggie Franke

The United States is a competitive and capitalist country where winners rule all. It is no surprise that sports are an integral part of American culture. From a young age, children are taught to compete. Should this be the case?

What is sports specialization?

A widespread trend in youth sports is specialization. The National Federation of State High School Associations published an article in 2018 where the dangers of sport specialization were highlighted. They defined sport specialization as, “intense, high-volume training in a single sport at the expense of participation in multiple sports.”

What does this mean? Athletes choose to participate in the one sport they will be most successful in. For many, this means sacrificing participation in other activities that they might enjoy but are not as talented at.

Specialized injuries

The increase of sport specialization is a recent trend, and there is not a lot of distinct research on the issue itself. However, the NFSHSA noted that specialized athletes were much more likely to sustain injuries than less specialized athletes. Specifically, “…highly specialized athletes had an 85 percent increased risk of injury compared to the athletes with a low level of specialization.

This trend was reiterated by Brown University in their Sept. 2019 study. The study noted that specialized athletes exercise more vigorously and are more at risk of ACL tears, fractures, and tendinitis.

Everett, Washington’s Daily Herald published an article earlier this year questioning the commonality of sport specialization. The pressure to specialize, especially for high school athletes, was attributed to the potential of collegiate scholarship. The article wrote, “It’s not entirely clear whether specializing increases an athlete’s chances of earning a scholarship … but the perception itself has been enough to fuel year-round, single-sport training.”

Is it worth the risk?

The probability of competing at the collegiate level is extremely slim, and the odds of competing at the Division I level are even more dismal. However, the perception is that athletes have their best chance if they compete year-round in one sport instead of competing in different sports in different seasons throughout the year.

High schools in Wisconsin reported that 34% of their athletes participated in one sport during the 2015-16 academic year. While it does not seem to be that high of a statistic, the number has grown drastically over the years.

Again, the New York Post published an article about high school athletes who chose to compete exclusively in one sport during their high school career. Pitchers reported an increased risk of elbow injury from repeated throwing; soccer players blow out their knees. These injuries were much more common with the athletes that chose to specialize.

The correlation between these two trends is hard to deny, but whether or not they are directly related is still to be seen. Either way, families of athletes and athletes alike should think long and hard before choosing to specialize in sports. The very sports career they would hope to advance with specialization could be thwarted by that very decision.

Photo courtesy of CoachUp Nation