I’ve written a number of articles on the trend for younger and younger athletes to specialize in just one sport instead of playing a variety of sports. Does this trend exist at the high school level? And if it is common for high school athletes to specialize in one sport, does it have any effect on injury rates?
High school athletes and sport specialization
David R. Bell and other researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed athletes at two high schools. One school was large, with about 2100 students. The other was small, with about 600 students. They surveyed athletes at those schools who played soccer, basketball, tennis and volleyball.
They asked each of the athletes if they consider themselves “single sport” or “multisport” athletes. They also asked three questions to define each athlete’s level of sport specialization:
• “Have you quit other sports to focus on one sport?”
• “Do you train more than 8 months out of the year in one sport?”
• “Do you consider your primary sport more important than other sports?”
With a yes answer equaling one, a score of three indicated high specialization. Finally, each athlete completed a questionnaire about prior lower extremity injuries.
Findings of high school sport specialization
• More athletes classified themselves as multisport athletes (70.5%) than single-sport athletes (29.5%)
• Based on the three-point scale of sport specialization, 36.4% of athletes were highly specialized.
• Athletes at the large schools were more likely to be highly specialized than athletes at the smaller school.
• Athletes with a history of overuse knee injuries were much more likely to be in the highly specialized group compared in the low specialization group.
• Of the three questions asked to determine an athlete’s level of sports specialization, training more than eight months in the year appeared to correlate most closely with the risk of lower extremity injuries.
Sports medicine stats: Age of single-sport specialization
Sports medicine stats: Trends in single-sport specialization for youth athletes
Sports medicine stats: Early sport specialization and the risk for overuse injuries
Bell DR, Post EG, Trigsted SM, Hetzel S, McGuine TA, Brooks MA. Prevalence of Sport Specialization in High School Athletics: A 1-Year Observational Study. Am J Sports Med. 2016 Feb 26.