Posted: July 22nd, 2023
While many believe that early specialization will allow an athlete to excel, most evidence shows that early sports specialization does not lead to success. A study that looked at Olympic German athletes in various sports found that most of those who found international-level success in their primary sport also participated in 2 other sports (Myer et al., 2016). For example, Ford & Williams (2017) state that early specialization can be linked to many negative consequences, such as overuse injuries, burnout, dropout, overtraining and decreased social development. Injury and dropout are problematic because they may lead to a sedentary lifestyle as a youth and can have long-term consequences in adulthood (Meyer et al., 2015). A study of baseball pitchers showed that those who pitched for eight months or continued to pitch with pain had a greater risk of needing elbow surgery (Meyer et al., 2015). Another study showed that those who did not take at least one season off were more likely to sustain an injury regardless of whether they did multisport (Meyer et al., 2015). Another study on high school athletes showed that those who trained for more than 16 hours per week had an increased risk of overuse injury (Brenner, 2016).
On the other hand, contradictory information by Ford & Williams (2017) mentions that the more time an individual spends practicing an activity directly relates to the level of performance they achieve. However, this seemed to be linked to a few sports, such as gymnastics and figure skating, which increased the odds of excelling at the elite level (Meyer et al. 2016). A study by Ford & Williams (2017) showed that a female rhythmic gymnast began training at a young age and, by age twelve, spent all her leisure time training because gymnasts are required to perform at an expert level by mid-adolescence.
Participating in sports can provide many benefits, such as lifelong physical activity skills, socializing with peers, building teamwork and leadership skills, improved self-esteem, and having fun (Brenner, 2016). Those who delay specialization in a single sport will have higher athletic success (Brenner, 2016).
Brenner, J. S. (2016). Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes. Pediatrics, 138(3). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2148
Ford, P. R., & Williams, A. M. (2017). Sport activity in childhood: Early specialization and diversification. Routledge handbook of talent identification and development in sport, 116-132.
Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., Difiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., & Micheli, L. J. (2015). Sport specialization, part I: does early sports specialization increase negative outcomes and reduce the opportunity for success in young athletes?. Sports health, 7(5), 437-442.
Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., DiFiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., & Micheli, L. J. (2016). Sports specialization, part II: alternative solutions to early sport specialization in youth athletes. Sports health, 8(1), 65-73
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