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Kitsap Youth Sports

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Sport Specialization

What it is and why to avoid it

Sport specialization is when an athlete spends the majority of their time focusing on a single sport. This is often done with the idea that they will become more elite and perform better - thus increasing their chances at playing at a higher level.

It is defined by the following:
- Spending greater than 8 to 12 months of the year training for a single sport.
- Competing on multiple teams of the same sport.
- Quitting all other sports to focus on just one.


Soccer Match


what it is


Studies show that sport specialization can have detrimental effects on the athlete's physical, mental and emotional health.

Specializing in a single sport provides a repetitive load to the body that can cause it to break down over time - leading to an increased risk of both acute an chronic injuries. 

Studies show an increased risk of burnout, depression and withdrawal from sport as a result of intense specialized training. Many factors can lead to this - including:
- Decreased input from the athlete into training and sports-related decisions.
- Performance pressure.

- Interference with positive peer relationships.
- Playing at a higher performance level.

is it harmful

It is important to recognize the signs of burnout in your athlete. If you are noticing these symptoms, we recommend speaking to your child's healthcare professional:

- Leveling off or diminished performance or conditioning.
- Chronic fatigue.

- Strength or stamina losses.

- An increase in resting heart rate and blood pressure.

- Cognitive issues such as difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness.

- A decrease in performance at school.

- Frequent illnesses that may be a result of a suppressed immune system.

- Emotional issues such as disinterest in normal activities, moodiness, irritability.

- A decrease in self esteem.

- Increase in anxiety or depression symptoms.

Swimming Race


Sports Team Portrait


The National Athletic Trainer's Association has released the following recommendations to help reduce the risks associated with sport specialization:

1. Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible.

2. One team at a time.

3. Less than 8 months a year (in a single sport).

4. No more hours/week than age in years (ie. a 12 year old should not be participating in more than 12 hours a week of organized sport)

5. Two days of rest per week.

6. Rest and recovery time from organized sport participation (at the end of every competitive season).


For more details on the NATA's recommendations click HERE

As discussed above, sport specialization can have many negative impacts on a young athlete's health an well being. However, many parents, coaches and athletes still believe it is necessary to focus on single sport to achieve the highest level of play. 


Here are some facts to help show you that is not always the case:

- 91% of first round draft pics in the NFL were multi-sport athletes in high school.

- 98% of NHL players were multi-sport athletes at least until age 14.

- Multi sport participation can lead to fewer injuries, better performance and less burnout.

- Athletes in the MLB who played multiple sports in high school experience fewer injuries, spend less time on the disabled list, play in more games and have longer careers than those specialized in only baseball in high school.

- Participation in multiple sports allows an athlete to develop a variety of skills that can help provide success throughout their athletic career.

- This recent article from the MLS highlights many professional soccer athletes who have excelled at multiple sports - Click HERE

Football Game


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