Current trends and impact of early sports specialization in the throwing athlete. Orthopedic Clinics in North America. 51: 517-525, 2020.
Organized youth athletics in the United States has increased greatly in both participation and level of competition over the past several decades. This shift has morphed what was once a formative hobby for many children with sandlot baseball and free play into a nationwide collection of pre-pubescent semiprofessional sports leagues.
As parents and coaches strive for an advantage in this evolving and competitive landscape, early sports specialization (ESS) has become an increasingly common trend.
Paradoxically, ESS has been shown to be associated with increased rates of burnout, overuse injuries, increased psychological stress, and discontinuation of sport.
- There is no strong evidence that early sports specialization is a requirement to achieve elite athletic status in throwing sports.
- Early sports specialization is associated with increased injury risk in general, but especially in throwing athletes.
- Athletes who have specialized early have increased rates of burnout and lower rates of lifelong sports participation.
- Parents and coaches strongly influence the developing athlete’s choice to specialize early, often to the athlete’s detriment.
- Athletes allowed to diversify their sports participation have been shown to benefit both physically and psychologically and progress more frequently to elite levels of play.