Sports Specialization and Injury Risk

With a changing in the seasons we also see a changing of the sports in our Boulder County student athletes.  Athletes previously focused on winter sports including swimming and basketball are now able to focus on spring sports including baseball and track.  Prior research shows athletes who change sports during the sports year have half the risk of injury compared to their peers who focus on one sport all year round.  Early sports specialization  in school sports places athletes at greater risk of overuse injuries during their seasons due to lack of recovery/rest periods, muscle imbalances, and repetitive sports movements such as pitching.  

A recent article in the American Journal of Sports Medicine adds further support to the risk of student athletes playing one sport year round.  Bell and colleagues studied over 300 athletes aged 13-18 from 2 high schools to determine the prevalence and impact of year round athletics (2016).  Athletes were classified in 3 groups including low, moderate, and high specialization based on their single sport participation.  Not surprisingly, athletes from larger high schools were more likely to specialize in one sport and these athletes reported greater rates of overuse injuries than their peers who played at smaller schools or multiple sports per year. Specifically, athletes playing one sport greater than 8 months per year were at greater risk of injury than athletes who participated in one sport less than 8 months of the year.  

Parents, coaches, and student athletes are advised to consider the risk of spending >75% of the year training for an individual sport.  Coaches and athletes are advised to schedule their training year based on periods of dedicated to both training and recovery.