The Pros and Cons of Youth Sports Specialization

By Dr. Jason Klein

It’s a common theme in youth sports these days: a child shows interest in a sport, plays it, enjoys it, and winds up being pretty good at it. Parents and coaches see potential, so they put a plan in motion, one that will surely create success for their child: private lessons, specialized camps, summer teams, traveling teams, workout regimes, and whatever else it takes to make the child a standout in that sport. Visions of playing on an elite team, getting a college scholarship, and signing a professional sports contract dance in their heads.

Youth sports participation has changed through the years. Once a recreational pastime that involved learning fundamental skills, teamwork, how to win and lose, and having fun, has evolved into a highly structured, deliberate training focused on developing dominating, sport-specific skills.

Participating in youth sports has many benefits. It helps develop socialization, gross motor skills, strength, endurance and self-esteem. But intense training in just one sport can potentially cause an overuse injury, burnout or both.

What is “sport specialization?”

A 2016 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health defined a sport specialized athlete as one who answered yes to at least four of the following:

1. Do you train more than 75 percent of the time in your primary sport?
2. Do you train to improve skill and miss time with friends as a result?
3. Have you quit another sport to focus on one sport?
4. Do you consider your primary sport more important than your other sports?
5. Do you regularly travel out of state for your primary sport?
6. Do you train more than eight months a year in your primary sport?

There are other slightly different definitions, but they all revolve around the same theme: an intense focus and training on one sport.

What’s so bad about “sport specialization?”

A higher susceptibility to injury is a major issue associated with sport specialization. In fact…

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Dr. Jason Klein is an orthopedic surgeon at OSMS and sees patients in Green Bay and Marinette.