Association of Competition Volume, Club Sports, and Sport Specialization With Sex and Lower Extremity Injury History in High School Athletes

Sports Health. 2017 Nov/Dec;9(6):518-523. doi: 10.1177/1941738117714160. Epub 2017 Jun 19.


Background: High school athletes are increasingly encouraged to participate in 1 sport year-round to increase their sport skills. However, no study has examined the association of competition volume, club sport participation, and sport specialization with sex and lower extremity injury (LEI) in a large sample of high school athletes.

Hypothesis: Increased competition volume, participating on a club team outside of school sports, and high levels of specialization will all be associated with a history of LEI. Girls will be more likely to engage in higher competition volume, participate on a club team, and be classified as highly specialized.

Study design: Cross-sectional study.

Level of evidence: Level 3.

Methods: High school athletes completed a questionnaire prior to the start of their competitive season regarding their sport participation and previous injury history. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to investigate associations of competition volume, club sport participation, and sport specialization with history of LEI, adjusting for sex.

Results: A cohort of 1544 high school athletes (780 girls; grades 9-12) from 29 high schools completed the questionnaire. Girls were more likely to participate at high competition volume (23.2% vs 11.0%, χ2 = 84.7, P < 0.001), participate on a club team (61.2% vs 37.2%, χ2 = 88.3, P < 0.001), and be highly specialized (16.4% vs 10.4%, χ2 = 19.7, P < 0.001). Athletes with high competition volume, who participated in a club sport, or who were highly specialized had greater odds of reporting a previous LEI than those with low competition volume (odds ratio [OR], 2.08; 95% CI, 1.55-2.80; P < 0.001), no club sport participation (OR, 1.50; 95% CI, 1.20-1.88; P < 0.001), or low specialization (OR, 2.58; 95% CI, 1.88-3.54; P < 0.001), even after adjusting for sex.

Conclusion: Participating in high sport volume, on a club team, or being highly specialized was associated with history of LEI. Girls were more likely to participate at high volumes, be active on club teams, or be highly specialized, potentially placing them at increased risk of injury.

Clinical relevance: Youth athletes, parents, and clinicians should be aware of the potential risks of intense, year-round participation in organized sports.

Keywords: club sports; high school; injury; specialization; youth sports.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / injuries*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Specialization
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Youth Sports / injuries*