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Sport specialization in youth: A literature review

Hecimovich, M. (2004) Sport specialization in youth: A literature review. Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, 41 (4). pp. 32-41.

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Objective: Youth participation in sport is reviewed to include its history, current growth patterns, reasons behind sport specialization, and the implications of sport specialization. The effects of early skill acquisition, and the sociological, psychological, and physical/physiological aspects to help develop safeguards to meet the needs of young athletes are discussed.

Study Design and Selection: A review of the research and scholarly literature related to the youth population in the United States was performed. This included accessing the Mayo Clinic Library database, MANTIS, and Index Medicus.

Results and Discussion: Specialization in a single sport, although not new to society, has become increasingly popular. Sport specialization training can begin as early as at the age of 5 or 6. The training is throughout the year and may take up to four hours every day.

Some in the sports community find sport specialization to be a reflection of a highly developed society and see the skill acquisition and enhancement as beneficial to success in a given sport; the potential for a collegiate athletic scholarship or making a varsity, elite, or even professional level team.

Regular physical activity and sport, together with a balanced diet, are essential to promote optimal growth and maturation, sufficient physical fitness and mental vigor, as well as psychological and social benefits that help in coping with stress and anxiety. However, too much or too specific involvement with a sport or activity can be potentially dangerous, involving physiological/physical, psychological, and sociological risks to youth.

Despite the importance of this topic, there is a lack of a substantial reference base pertaining specifically to sport specialization. The results were often limited to a non-specific age range within the youth population and primarily of United States youth as opposed to a worldwide population. Also, a majority of the references contained more physiological results as opposed to psychological and sociological findings. The results and conclusions drawn from this sampling cannot be generalized to all sports or athletes as a whole.

Conclusion: Sport specialization by youth is a contentious issue that needs to be fully understood by all involved in sport. The potential health, psychological, and sociological risks must be weighed against the benefits of obtaining sharper skills, which may enhance playing time, possibly bringing scholarship opportunities, or reaching to an elite level of play.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: American Chiropractic Association
Copyright: American Chiropractic Association
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