Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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RESEARCH REVIEW

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E

“Do MLB players who specialize early sustain more serious injuries?”

Early Sports Specialization – Effectiveness and Risk of injury in Professional Baseball Players11

Purpose: To determine the impact of early sport specialization on the frequency of serious injuries during a professional baseball payer’s career.

Subjects: 102 active professional baseball players from 8 MLB teams in 2016.

Procedures: Players anonymously completed a 7-question written survey developed by The Orthopedic Residency of York in York, PA. Early sport specialization was defined as “single-sport participation prior to high school.” Injury was defined as “a serious injury or surgery that required the player to refrain from baseball for an entire year.

Results:

  • 50 players (48%) of the players specialized early, i.e., participated in a single-sport prior to high school
  • The mean age at which specialization started was 8.91 +/- 3.7 years
  • 76% of the players were under 11 years of age when they started to specialize
  • 31% of the players experienced 1 to 4 serious injuries during their professional careers and those who specialized early had a significantly higher rate of serious injury that those who specialized later
  • 4% of the players believed that early specialization was not required to play professional baseball

Why do players specialize early?

  • Belief that focusing on one sport will provide an edge in competition and result in performance superior to that of athletes who play multiple sports
  • Belief that early exposure to collegiate and pro scouts will increase the chances of receiving a scholarship or pro contract

What does the research say?

  • Approximately 7% of high school baseball players play in college4
  • 1 in 200 (0.5%) of high school senior baseball players in the US are drafted by MLB and even fewer ever play in the major leagues6
  • Few athletes achieve an elite or professional level. Less than 1% of athletes ages 6-17 achieve elite status in baseball, softball, basketball, football or soccer9
  • Elite tennis players specialize later than near-elite players5
  • Olympic athletes are more likely to have participated in more than one sport after the age of 117
  • Among high-level athletes the greater the number of sport activities experienced; the fewer sport-specific practices are needed to acquire expertise in their sport1-2
  • Early specialization is related to an increased risk of injury during periods of rapid growth10
  • Early specialization may contribute to burnout and droupout3

 Conclusions:

  •  Professional baseball players may be at higher risk of sustaining a serious injury if they specialized early in baseball during their youth
  • Early specialization does not guarantee success
  • Young athletes should be encouraged to play multiple sports through high school, with the knowledge of doing so will not hinder their potential to become a collegiate or professional baseball player

References

  1. Baker, J, et. al. Learning from the experts: practice activities of expert decision-makers in sport. Res Q Exerc Sport, 74: 342-347, 1993.
  2. Baker, J, et. al. Sport-specific practice and the development of exert decision-making in team ball sports. J Appl Sport Pschol, 15: 12-25, 2003.
  3. Barynina, JL, et. al. The aftermath of early sort specialization for highly qualified swimmers. Fitness Sports Rev Int, 27: 132-133, 2003.
  4. Baseball: Probability of competition beyond high school: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/baseball-probability-competing-beyond-high-school
  5. Carlson, R. The socialization of elite tennis players in Sweden: Sociol Sport J. 5: 242-256, 1998.
  6. Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics. NCAA Research, http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probility-competiting-professional-athletics. Updated April 25, 2016.
  7. Gullich, A and E Emrich. Evaluation of the support of young athletes in the elite sports system. Eur J Sport Sci. 13(3): 85-108, 2006.
  8. Hill, G. Youth sport specialization of professional baseball players. Sociol Sport J 10: 107-114, 1993.
  9. Malina, R. Early sport specialization roots, effectiveness, risks. Curr Sports Med Rep. 9(6): 364-371, 2010.
  10. Maffulli, N. et. al. Long-term sport involvement and sports injury rate in elite athletes. Arch Dis Child, 90: 525-527, 2005.
  11. Wilhelm, A. et. al. Effectiveness and risk of injury in professional baseball players. Ortho J Sports Med 5(9), 2017.

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Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FASCM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Ranges). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Science Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager, baseballstrength.org.

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