Youth Sport Specialization

By Jordan D.

It is every parents dream to see their child excel at a sport at a high level. Many parents tend to live vicariously through their child, which may cause them to push their child to obtain a scholarship or beat the odds and become a professional. There can be detrimental effects when it comes to youth specializing in sport at a young age. Not giving youth the chance to be exposed to different sports can have an effect on youth development. The requirements of youth to become successful in competitive sports can be very high and it is creating more pressure for young athletes to train at higher intensities. Allowing youth to attempt a variety of sports will enable them to discover sports that they enjoy. This will also give youth a chance to develop a different set of motor skills (AMSSM, 2013).

When youth specialize in one sport, overuse injuries can be a cause due to all the vigorous training. Specializing in a single sport accounts for 50% of overuse injuries according to pediatric orthopedic specialists (Changing the Game Project, 2014). A study by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, an orthopedist at Loyola University, followed 1,200 young athletes; he found that children who specialize have a 70 to 93 percent greater chance of overuse injuries than children who don’t. This is not surprising as it is apparent that a great amount of training is put into a competitive sport. Knowing this, I think it is a good idea to have children take part in a variety of different activities or sports that may not be competitive. Giving your child the chance to be exposed to different sports and activities they will give them the chance to build their social skills and interact with their peers. They may also be missing out on positive influences from coaches of different sports.

Specialization can also be seen as a cause for burnout among young athletes. Burnout can lead to physical and mental fatigue (Gould & Carson, 2004). This can cause youth to drop out of sports due to stress and loss of the fun aspect of the sport. When I was a kid, one of the main reasons I participated in sports was because I was having fun and enjoyed them. Pressure from parents for their child to succeed in a single sport can be very stressful for the child as well. It can be difficult establishing your child’s talent at a young age; some athletes may excel at a young age but they may not perfect the skills to become an elite athlete (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). Parents cannot predict exactly how their child will develop, so limiting them to a single sport impedes their physical realization in another sport that might be their calling. Only 25% of kids who are “standouts” in elementary school go on to be “standouts” later in their athletic career (Gould & Carson, 2004). Parents need to be aware of this when spectating at their child’s sports events.

Parents want to see their child succeed and it is often the goal of many parents to see their child become a professional athlete. Allowing your child to be exposed to different sports and activities will have positive affects on their development. A child is going to be more intrigued by something that he/she enjoys doing and does not feel pressured to succeed in. I feel that parents need to put their dreams aside and let their child figure out what sport they like or are good at independently.



Schmidt, R. A., & Wrisberg, C. A. (2000). Motor Learning and Performance: A Problem-Based Learning Approach (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Gould, D., & Carson, S. (2004). Myths surrounding the role of youth sports in developing Olympic champions. Youth Studies Australia, 23, 19-26.

American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. (2013). Effectiveness of early sport specialization limited in most sports, sport diversification may be better approach at young ages. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from

Changing the Game Project. (2014), Is it wise to specialize? Retrieved from


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2 Responses to Youth Sport Specialization

  1. gregsteele17 says:

    Great topic and feel the same about youth and the pressure by coaches and parents to specialize in one sport. Long Term Athletic Development model tries to promote sports as more inclusive, integrated and high quality with a place for the development of higher performance athletes within the system (LTAD). However, the model believes in gaining a good skill base before progressing into specialization. Specialization is not for all youth and they should not be forced into having to make that decision at early ages by coaches and parents. It is too bad that parents feel the social pressure and fear to expose children to this unhealthy approach to sports. Playing sports is meant to be fun and enjoyable and this should be what is the most important thing.

    Youth specializing at a young age run a higher risk of injury and burn out (Chapin , 2014). Professional coaches look for athletes that are multi-skilled and can adapt to situations . They don’t look for only a person being good at one particular skill. Positive youth development needs to meet the physical, emotional and mental needs of youth and specializing extensively in one sport often does not support these necessary needs. by Greg S


  2. Julie macfarlane says:

    Jordan Great Post,
    Early specialization in sports can lead to set backs in a child’s development. I agree that parents’ forcing their child into a certain sport in hopes that they with be a professional athlete is a lot of pressure for youth let alone a child. Children not being able to try out different activities for them selves and deciding which one they would like to participate in sends the message that their opinion is not valued. It is also a case of their voice not being heard. This can lead to a lack of confidence and decision making skills of the child. When youth voices are not heard it is hard for them to reach their full potential in development. The risk of burn out, injury and stress at a young age can also hider a child’s positive development. It is important for children’s activity to have the fun aspect incorporated into the programs, when the activity is no longer fun the chances of drop out are very high which leads to the child not receiving the development that they get form organized activates. I agree that children should try a number of sports so that they get a wide range of activities and adult and peer influences. Also that they should decide for them selves what they would like to do so that they feel valued and enjoy the activity they participate in.

    Julie M

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