2017 ISAKOS Biennial Congress ePoster #2301


Single Sport Specialization in Youth Sports: A Survey of 3,090 High School, Collegiate, and Professional Athletes

Michael G. Ciccotti, MD, Philadelphia, PA UNITED STATES
Patrick S. Buckley, MD, Wall Township, NJ UNITED STATES
Meghan E. Bishop, MD, New York, NY UNITED STATES
Patrick W. Kane, MD, Lewes, DE UNITED STATES
Michael G. Ciccotti, MD, Philadelphia, PA UNITED STATES
Steven Selverian, BS, Philadelphia, PA UNITED STATES
Dominique Exume, BS, Philadelphia, PA UNITED STATES
William D. Emper, MD, Bryn Mawr, PA UNITED STATES
Kevin Freedman, MD, Bryn Mawr, PA UNITED STATES
Sommer Hammoud, MD, Philadelphia, PA UNITED STATES
Steven B. Cohen, MD, Media, PA UNITED STATES

Rothman Institute, Philadelphia, PA, UNITED STATES

FDA Status Not Applicable


Single Sport Specialization in Youth Sports: A Survey of 3,090 High School, Collegiate, and Professional Athletes



Youth participation in organized sports in the United States is rising, with many athletes focusing on a single sport at an increasingly younger age. There is considerable debate regarding the rationale, optimal timing, injury risk, and the psychosocial health of a young athlete specializing early in a single sport.


The purpose of our study was to compare youth single sport specialization in high school (HS), collegiate, and professional athletes with respect to the age of specialization, the number of months per year of single sport training, and injury factors related to specialization.

Study Design: Retrospective Cross Sectional Epidemiologic study


A survey was distributed to HS, collegiate and professional athletes prior to their yearly pre-participation physical exam. Demographic information, details of current sport commitment, and future athletic plans were collected. Athletes were asked if they had chosen to specialize in only one sport, and data was then collected pertaining to when, how, and why this decision was made. Continuous data was analyzed using one-way ANOVA analysis (P<0.05). Categorical variables (all yes/no questions) were compared using chi-square analysis (P<0.05).


A total of 3,090 athletes completed the survey (503 HS, 856 collegiate, and 1,731 professional athletes). 46.3% of HS athletes, 67.7% of collegiate athletes, and 45.9% of professional athletes specialized to play a single sport during their childhood/adolescence (p< 0.00001). Single sport specialization in these groups occurred at an average age of 12.7 ± 2.4, 14.8 ± 2.5 and 14.06 ± 2.8 years, respectively (p<0.001). At the age of specialization, HS, collegiate, and professional athletes spent an average of 8.5 ± 3.4, 10.03 ± 2.64, and 8.3 ± 3.5 months per year training for this single sport (p<0.0001). 61.7% of professional athletes indicated that they believed specialization helps that athlete play at a higher level versus 79.7% of HS and 80.6% of collegiate athletes (p<0.0001). Notably, only 22.33% of professional athletes said they would want their own child to specialize to play only one sport during childhood/adolescence.


In our study, 46.3% of current high school athletes specialized to play only one sport. Additionally, high school athletes specialized, on average, around two years earlier than collegiate and professional athletes surveyed (12.7 vs. 14.8 and 14.06 years old). This data challenges the notion that success at an elite level requires athletes to specialize in one sport at a very young age. Future research on early youth single sport specialization is needed in order to determine if specialization is beneficial or detrimental with respect to sport advancement, continued success in sports and injury risk.
Clinical Relevance: Increased participation in sports provides many benefits but has also been associated with an increased risk of injury. Sports specialization at a young age seems to be associated with an even higher risk of injury with questionable benefit. Further understanding of this phenomenon can help physicians better advise and treat their patients.