When Is It Too Early for Single Sport Specialization?

Am J Sports Med. 2016 Jan;44(1):234-41. doi: 10.1177/0363546515576899. Epub 2015 Mar 30.


Over the past 15 years, there has been an increase in youth sports participation with a concomitant increase in early year-round training in a single sport. Many factors contribute to the desire of parents and coaches to encourage early single sport specialization, including the desire to give the young athlete an edge in competition, pursuit of scholarships, and potential professional status, and the ability to label a young athlete as elite at an early age. Despite these perceived advantages, some data suggest that early sport specialization does not lead to a competitive advantage over athletes who participate in multiple sports. Although the data are limited, there is some evidence that early sport specialization may put the young athlete at risk for overuse injuries. The focus of this review is to highlight the evidence regarding early sport specialization and risk for injury; discuss the risk factors for overuse injury in high-risk sports including ice hockey, swimming, gymnastics, and baseball; and discuss future potential research that would help define the risk of injury for young athletes who participate in early sport specialization.

Keywords: gymnastics; overuse; stress fracture; swimming; ulnar collateral ligament; youth sports injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Baseball / injuries
  • Baseball / statistics & numerical data
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / etiology
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Gymnastics / injuries
  • Hockey / injuries
  • Hockey / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Specialization*
  • Swimming / injuries
  • Swimming / statistics & numerical data
  • Youth Sports / psychology*
  • Youth Sports / statistics & numerical data