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Injury Odds Increase When Teens Focus on Sport Specialization

If your teens play just one sport, new research suggests you might want to encourage them to try others.

Researchers report that focusing solely on one sport puts high school athletes at increased risk for injuries and burnout.

The investigators surveyed 975 U.S. high school athletes and found that more than 1 in 5 had a high level of specialization in one sport, while more than 42% had a small level of specialization.

“A number of studies have pointed out that if you specialize in one sport, for example, you only play baseball or you only play football, you’re doing the same movements over and over again, so there are a lot of issues with repetitive use injuries,” said study author Dee Warmath, an assistant professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia.

“Other studies [have] pointed out that there’s also an association with burnout,” Warmath said in a university news release. “You want young adults to be engaged in their sport, and there are a lot of benefits of that. But if all you do year-round is play soccer, there’s a risk you’ll get burned out and possibly leave the sport.”

The study found that athletes who planned to play a sport in college and enjoyed competition were more likely to specialize in one sport.

“We need to recognize that athletes engage in sports specialization for what are really positive reasons: They want to get better at their sport. They want to compete more effectively,” Warmath said.

Understanding why a youngster likes to specialize in one sport can help parents and coaches find ways to get young athletes involved in other sports.

“We might need a more balanced approach to dealing with sport specialization when athletes are engaging in it for what are really positive reasons,” Warmath said.

“So instead of saying sport specialization is bad and you shouldn’t do it, maybe it’s more about finding ways to compete more effectively and emphasizing how even some professional athletes use other sports to train for their primary sport,” she said. “This diversity of sports can make you better in your primary sport.”

The study was published recently in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.


More information

There’s more on high school sports injuries at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, May 2, 2022

Photo by Weston Eichner on Unsplash

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